On Saturday 100 people from across the city of Birmingham are gathering together to think, pray and plan to reach our city for Christ. It’s the third time we have done this in the past 3 years. Our conference is called How to win a million.
We represent a variety of evangelicals (Anglican, FIEC, Independent, New Frontiers, etc.) and the reason we keep meeting is that we recognise that it will take many more new churches to reach our city for Christ and that collaboration in planting is the way to best achieve this.
Let me offer you five reasons why our city, and almost certainly yours, needs not just for your church to plant but churches to work together to plant so that we can reach a city more quickly and more effectively for Christ.
1. We need new churches to reach a growing population
The population of England and Wales has grown by 3.7 million people in just the past 10 years. Such a population increase, at 7.1%, represents the greatest increase in a single 10 year period in over one hundred years.
Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with 37% of the population under the age of 25.
2. We need new churches to replace the many churches that are closing
The total number of churches in the UK fell from 50,231 in 1980 to 47,635 in 2005 a drop of 5.16%, when in the same period the UK population grew from 56.3 Million to 60.2 Million a rise of 6.7%.
3. We need new churches to reach out to our ever more secular cities
A recent study of 64,303 adults in the UK found that of the younger generation: only 38% of the 18-34′s defined themselves as being Christian whilst 53% preferred to describe themselves as having no religion. Whilst the gospel doesn’t change and the message of Christ crucified is our only message we need to find innovative, creative and flexible models of church that best reach a secular culture. New churches have always led the way.
4. We need new churches to reach our religiously diverse cities
In the 2001 census 16.8% of the Birmingham population identified themselves as Muslim. The average for England and Wales is 3.0%. The challenge is obvious and the statistics demonstrate the direction of travel: ever-more diversity! Birmingham had a 30% ethnic minorities population in 2001 and that figure is set to grow.
New communities have entered our cities and reaching them for Christ presents fantastic opportunities!
5. We need new churches that will love and serve our cities rather than retreat from them
In that same study of over 60,000 UK adults
- 79% agreed that religion is a cause of much misery and conflict in the world today
- 72% agreed that religion is used as an excuse for bigotry and intolerance
- 78% agreed that religion should be a private matter
When 4 in 5 people are deeply suspicious of the presence of religion in their society there is much that the church must do to demonstrate a commitment to serve and bless our cities.
The challenges are so great and the need so urgent that it compels us to work together under Christ to make his name known.
Sheri Thomas spoke at the City to City Network Leaders Conference yesterday on church planters and their spouses. Here are a number of key points that really struck me from what was said.
1) Planters need to understand the pressure on their spouses.
That means planters need to spend time communicating deeply with their spouses on how planting or planning to plant is impacting their marriage – both positively and negatively.
It also means planters need to be aware, up-front, of the most common causes of pressure that face spouses and to factor into both church and marriage ways of recognising them and overcoming them.
2) Ministry will always win out over family unless deliberate steps are taken to prevent it.
Ministry will always be here. Family will grow up and leave. Make family a priority for their sake and for the sake of the church. Prioritise eating together, taking good holiday, celebrating together eg birthdays, etc.
3) Plan a retreat for church planters in your network so that planters and spouses can be refreshed and encouraged together or if that is not possible try and get together as a church planting couple with another church planting couple.
4) Boundary Ambiguity is a cause of stress and tension. What is the spouses role and responsibility in a plant? Is it clear and has it been communicated to the plant? What protection of boundaries are in place with regard to space especially when it comes to using the home a lot.
5. Role ambiguity. Just how involved does she have to be and how might that role change over time and if children are involved.
6. Isolation is an issue. Groups of church-planting spouses need the opportunity of meeting together and talking about their roles and situations
7. The greatest fear for a church planting spouse is often the fear that she cannot do it all and yet all is expected of her.
8. The marriage is the biggest thing as to whether the plant will make it or not. Therefore assessing a church planter must involve assessing the church planter spouse. The person most likely to want to pull the plug on planting is probably an overburdened spouse.
So in order to protect the marriage in a church planting situation we need to ask:
How is the marriage functioning ?
When it comes to boundary ambiguity does she fight (ie take issue with the plant and how its impacting her in negative ways eg. gossip or even undermining her husband publically) or flight (by becoming withdrawn and isolated)? Does she recognise and want to respond to these temptations in a godly way?
What does she do with problems as they arise in church? Does she have the level of maturity to cope with this?
Is she supportive – does she believe in her church-planting husband? If she doesn’t it’s going to be very hard for them both and the plant.
Who are the people she is going to open up with? Different subjects, different depths.
6 marks of an ageing church
Here’s his definition of a healthy vibrant and probably young church plant: ’It has vision and energy and a heart to reach the community around them.’
In a really helpful section of his closing talk Al highlighted some of the signs that a church or church-plant is growing old. Essentially he said ‘churches age as people age’.
8 marks of an ageing church
1) Loss of vision. As you get older you find it harder to see clearly – you lose your vision. So to an ageing church in which vision for reaching out is lost and contentment to be a church that cares for it’s members is suffiicient.
2) Loss of flexibility. Just as when we age physically we find it harder to touch toes, etc. so in ageing churches leadership demonstrate a lack of ability to flex and change.
Every church says it wants to grow but Stewart reminded us that very few want to change.
3) Comfort. As the body begins to creak comfort becomes a necessity and a priority. In ageing churches we are more and more concerned about the comfort of our members than anything else. A church can be slowly declining for decades and be comfortable
4) A loss of urgency. As you get older you get slower. Older churches take decades to make decisions!
5) Harder to make new friends. Ageing churches are not good at welcoming new people. When you’re young you love making new friends and you are excited about meeting new people. Older in life and you have all the friends you’re looking for. Churches reaching retirement are churches in which everyone has all the friends they want or need and new people are not going to find their way in.
6) Loss of hunger. Just as older people lose their appetite for food so an ageing church loses its appetite for challenge and growth. Decline is inevitable once the hunger has gone.
Al had two further points that I didn’t fully get down at the time but I’m working on that and will add those in due course. If you were there and you know what they were feel free to let me know!
What would you like to ask the man whos church baptised 1392 people in 2011 in one of the most secular, least churched, cities of the United States of America?
I had the privilege of gathering a small number of people, including a Bishop, to have dinner with Pastor Mark in Birmingham last May. He gave us two hours of his time to listen to the challenges that face our city in how we get the gospel out to a lost generation. Not one of us had any connect with Acts29. He neither asked for, nor took, any of our money. We did a lot of listening and learning.
A number of people including some good friends of mine argue Driscoll goes too far. I don’t doubt it for a moment but he’s right to say that he does it in a church culture where hardly anybody goes far enough.
I live on a council estate in Birmingham and the one thing I know for sure is that men where I live are not going to church and there is no church I could think of many of them would want to go to including my own. Millions of people are going to hell and the church is not ready or able to do something. I’ll take all the help I can get from a guy who is helping me see how to get working class, blue-collar workers to hear about Jesus. Driscoll preaches expository sermons, over an hour in length, promises no-one wealth or health, talks honestly and openly about the reality of heaven and hell, calls upon people to live radically holy, self-denying lives and above all else talks about Jesus, Jesus, Jesus AND people are converted. It’s time to listen.
Whatever we think Driscoll has got wrong it pales into comparison with what he’s got right and for that I praise God. If I had to choose, I would rather he continued to go too far than not far enough provided that his basic conclusions are sound. The trouble for British evangelicalism, as it seems to me, is that we don’t like it.
The decision of Christianity Magazine to pre-lease a web article with highly edited and potentially misleading quotations from a Driscoll interview on his views on the British church can hardly be considered responsible publishing, and Mark Driscoll has a point when he questions the motives of the magazine in choosing to do so. I for one would not appreciate such a pre-release.
Whatever Mark Driscoll may have got wrong he’s got a whole lot more right. So come on British evangelicals – let’s take the medicine – and learn.
If you want to know Pastor Mark’s views on the British church at greater length in his own words then this might be a place to start A Word for all seasons.
Looking for a great holiday in 2012. According to the New York Times Birmingham is ranked 19 in their list of 45 places to go in 2012. In a list that didn’t mention Paris, Rome or Madrid Birmingham even came ahead of Space! The reason? ‘Could England’s second city be first in food?’
David Thomas writing in the Independent said ‘six months ago I did something that few others can claim, or would even want to claim to have done. I took my wife, Clare, to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary with a night of romantic bliss… in Birmingham.’
‘It could be LA. It could by Sydney. It’s actually Birmingham. And The New York Times is quite right. It’s a great place. You should absolutely go there in 2012.’
But if you’re a Christian I have better reason than food for you to not just make a visit but to come and live in our great city. 2020birmingham is looking to work with people, churches and organisations seeking to plant churches in our city. Maybe God would say to you ‘It’s a great place. You should absolutely go there in 2012, 13,14….’
The latest IX marks e-jounal focuses on the why and how of church revitalization. At a time when church-planting is all the rage here is a reason to stop and think about the place and opportunity of renewing a church.
Including an interesting article by Mike McKinley on the relative merits of church-planting vs. church-revitalization. The article could have been even more interesting if he had discussed the third option of church-replant. What is replanting and how is it different from church-revitalization?
The City to City Europe conference is getting off to a great start here in Berlin.
500 delegates from 26 countries representing over 100 nations all concerned to see churches planted across Europe has to be reason to rejoice and a reason for hope.
We’ve heard of God richly blessing planting initiatives and we’ve heard of God richly blessing faithful church-planters who’s work is hard because there is little fruit.
One planter of a church in Paris described ‘the privilege of ploughing where the ground is hard’, another in Frankfurt described the challenge of being a bi-vocational Pastor with a weekly congregation of 15 of so. Both stories are reminders of why we need to pray for our countries in Europe.
Tim Keller gave the first keynote address on the gospel-centred church and here’s one gem of an answer to a thoughtful question that came out of his talk.
How can we know whether our church is either too accommodating to the culture of our city or not accommodating enough?
Keller’s answer: A church that is not accommodating, culturally, will be seeing no conversions because no-one will ever come through the door. A church that is too accommodating, culturally, will be seeing lots of new people attending but no changed lives because the church is only mirroring the culture rather than critiquing the culture.
So a gospel church in a city should be willing and able to flex on the negotiables making it’s meetings accessible to non-believers but not flexing on gospel-living as the church challenges the culture by being an attractive and distinctive gospel-community.
Deciding when and how to celebrate the culture of a city and when and how to critique the culture of a city is the art of being a church-planter.
I’m with 4 others from 2020birmingham and in total 500 church-planters, network leaders and city catalysts from around Europe meeting in Berlin for the next 3 days. Our goal; to consider just how we reach the great cities of Europe with the gospel and how through such a network as this we can work together to see it happen.
Here’s Tim Keller on speaking at CitytoCity Europe
For more details about the conference visit citytocity: europe
In the book Spurgeon on Leadership Larry J. Michael introduces us to the man and his ministry that made him, arguably, the greatest evangelical of the 19th century.
The book has chapters on a variety of leadership essentials including calling, character, creativity and casting vision amongst others. Each one is packed full of inspiring examples, quotations and principles from his life and ministry.
As I work alongside other church leaders in church-planting in Birmingham here are a few that have inspired and encouraged me to in the words of William Carey ‘Expect Great Things from God, Attempt Great Things for God.’
It’s Spurgeon’s confidence in God and the gospel that prepared him to make bold, ambitious plans for the expansion of the gospel:
The common policy of our churches is that of great prudence. We do not, as a rule, attempt anything beyond our strength…We accomplish little because we have no idea of doing much. I would to God we had more ‘pluck.’
I make it bold to assert that, in the service of God, nothing is impossible, and nothing is improbable. Go in great things, brethren, in the Name of God; risk everything on His promise, and according to your faith shall it be done unto you.
It was that same confidence that gave him a great vision for church-planting
We must build this Tabernacle strongly, I am sure, for our friends are always with us. . . But our desire is, after we have fitted our vestry, schools, and other rooms, that we shall be able to build other chapels….I will not rest until the dark county of Surrey is covered with places of worship. I took on this Tabernacle as only the beginning; within the last six months, we have started two churches, one in Wandsworth and the other in Greenwich, and the Lord has prospered them, the pool of baptism has often been stirred with converts. And what we have done in two places, I am about to do in a third, and we will do it, not for the third or fourth, but for the hundredth time, God being our Helper. I am sure I may make my strongest appeal to my brethren, because we do not mean to build this Tabernacle as our nest, and then be idle. We must go from strength to strength , and be a missionary church, and never rest until, not only this neighbourhood, but our country, of which it is said that some parts are as dark as India, shall have been enlightened with the gospel.
Buy the book and learn to lead!
Tim Keller has written
There are only two kinds of churches;
One kind says to its community: ‘You can come to us, learn our language, learn our interests, become like us and meet our needs.
The other kind says to its community: ‘We will come to you, learn your language, learn your interests, join in your life and try to meet your needs.’
It is pretty obvious which approach will do most to gain the gospel a hearing as we take Christ to the world.
Josh Reeves is planting a church in Round Rock, Texas. There’s nothing like planting a church to stretch your thinking as to how you and the church family can make the most of opportunities to develop community relationships.
Recently I made a list of 100 ways to engage your neighborhood. I have found that it is often helpful to have practical ideas to start engaging the people around me in order to be a better neighbor. Most of the things on this list are normal, everyday things that many people are already doing. The hope is that we would do these things with Gospel intentionality. This means we do them:
- In the normal rhythms of life pursuing to meet and engage new people
- Prayerfully watching and listening to the Holy Spirit to discern where God is working.
- Looking to boldly, humbly, and contextually proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed.
For a look at Josh’s top 100 ideas visit here
- Church Planting
- Global Church
- Jesus Christ
- Medical ethics
- Social media
- Suffering Church
- The Christian Life
- Transforming Society
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