I’m speaking at a workshop today at the Planting for Christ conference. My theme: Planting in a City Suburb. Here are my notes . . . part 1.
A. Cities and suburbs
Wikipedia defines it this way (highlighting how the term means something a little different in the US from the UK). A suburb is a residential area, either existing as part of a city or urban area (as in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom), or as a separate residential community within commuting distance of a city (as in the United States and Canada).
English Heritage goes for the following: In general terms, suburbs can perhaps be best described as outgrowths or dependencies of larger settlements – somewhere with a clear relationship with a city or town but with its own distinct character.
Maybe we can best say: a city suburb is a distinct, recognisable area within a city, often with an integrity and character that is valued by the local community.
2. What is the relationship between the city and the suburb?
For cities like Birmingham (perhaps to be contrasted with global cities) a typical pattern would be
Urban-core, inner city, inner suburbs, outer suburbs, rural
B. What does it mean to plant in a city-suburb?
Rather than appealing to a sector of society you are taking responsibility for a part of the mission field geographically – John James, Helier Chapel.
You might identify the community by a post-code, a housing estate, political ward, but usually by a named area.
1. Contextualisation is essential
- Contextualisation is inevitable
- Contextualisation is biblical
- Contextualisation is necessary
- Contextualisation is complicated
2. When planting in the suburbs, community is key to contextualisation
a. Learn the culture – Ron Edmunson comments: Every city, every village, and every group of people have their own unique identity. What matters most? What do they celebrate? Where do people live and play? What do they do for fun? What’s their language? What are the traditions unique to this area? What history do they value?
b. Learn the market – Chip Weeler asks: Are schools an option for a building? Is the community in a growth mode or a declining mode? What are the major problems, concerns, and needs of the community? Who are the leading employers? What are the demographics?
c. Commit to the community. Planting in suburbs takes time and a great deal of patience.
3. Top Ways to Connect to Your Community
a. Be specific and strategic with your contacts
Very often this means starting with the families; mums and toddlers, kids & youth, messy church.
We’re five years in and we’ve seen very little fruit. We are still right at the start. But there is a whole community of people whose kids have been with us and we’re having conversations we wouldn’t have had three years ago – Andy Weatherley, Grace Church.
b. Build missional communities as a key strategy to reach the community
In City-suburb planting the church needs to engage the community.
Telling members of the plant simply to ‘go and be missional’ in an impenetrable community simply won’t work.
Missional small groups are a surer way in to the community and a training ground for plant members. The leader’s job is to create a context for mission within a community setting. For these groups to work at least the hosts and leaders need to live in or very near the community being reached.
- Small group bible-studies are open to the local community (ie a mixed group of Christians and non-Christians). All the questions are aimed at our belief system – Andy Weatherley. The danger is that you de-skill the Christians in their Bible-handling skills.
- Small groups are intentionally outward focused and look to draw in members of the community through a variety of social gatherings e.g. Eating food, celebrating national events such as Jubilee, Football World Cup, Christmas, Oscars Film night, . . . whatever your community is in to.
- Small groups are often the first point of contact with non-Christians.
Small group leaders need to be evangelists as well as Bible-study group leaders. A church-planter adopting this model needs to give a disproportionate amount of time and attention to training up leaders
Community group leaders are the key to the success of our church – Andy Weatherley, Grace Church.
c. Be a servant
- Street Associations
- Neighbourhood Watch Schemes
d. Use media to connect with your community
Chip Weeler suggests: Invest as much as you can in a Web site—a good Web site. Have the Web site up and running before the launch of the church, and use it as a tool for outreach. Post sermons, worship services, and areas of involvement. Make sure that the Web site clearly spells out where you meet, when you meet, how to dress, what to expect, and how the kids will be taken care of . . .take advantage of online communities such as MySpace and Facebook, as well as YouTube and other popular, free online sources.
Use photos from the community, landmarks from community, community events, etc. on your page. Give the casual viewer of your site links to the community they can identify with.
Produce a local newsletter; highlighting what’s going on in the community, featuring church-run or hosted events but not exclusively.
Follow Twitter feeds relevant to your community.
e. Join with community events (to use the language of Brad House ‘read the rhythms of your community’)
Have a presence at community events but be careful how you use it.
Case Study: Grace Church: Co-Co Mad (arty, drama, crafty festival)
Where are the places people like to be in your suburb? Build in visits into your ministry as a planter and team.
Schools, Library, Gym, shops,
g. Run your own church events & activities
• Curry club
• B-B-Q and family games day
• Clothes exchange party
• Gospel choir
• Football team
If you’re anything like me your natural temptation is to want to forget the mistakes you’ve made in ministry. Some are embarrassing because they highlight our immaturity or weaknesses, others are difficult to recall because we remember the impact they had on others. Bad news is for burying, isn’t that right? But maybe God wants to teach us through our mistakes (and our failures for that matter).
Ten most common mistakes made by new church starts is a book that aims to take our errors and put them to use. In their introduction Griffith and Easum write ‘Those of you who are already church planting will recognise yourself as we go along. If the pain gets too bad, take an aspirin or two.’
I think I probably made at least 6 of the mistakes they list. One of the mistakes I recognise was called ‘Failure of the Church to Act Its Age and Its Size.’ The key principle being that in a planting context decisions need to me made about what ministries should be started when. In other words there is the world of difference between knowing something is the right thing to do and knowing when is the right time to do it. When we started talking about buying a building as a one year old plant we certainly didn’t help ourselves or our congregation to ‘Act our age!’ Great idea, wrong timing. The same can be said of wanting to start a full-blown kids work from age 0-14 to draw in families to the plant at a time when our eldest child in the congregation was just 1.
Stepping out in faith is not the same as running ahead, unaware of the risks and at a pace that cannot be sustained by even the most servant-hearted, faith-filled congregation. Nor do plants begin ministries only to please guests. ‘It’s better to just let them walk away than to overextend and burn out. It’s also better than making promises you can’t keep.’
At our next 2020birmingham Planters meeting we will be sharing our mistakes and in turn I’ll try and share some on the blog.
God not only lets us make mistakes, he wants us to learn from them. He also wants us to teach others through our mistakes. The Bible is full of stories of those who failed from Abraham to Moses to David to Paul. Their examples are for our instruction. God has included their mistakes to teach us humility, patience, God-dependence and above all else that He is the one building His church sometimes because of us and sometimes despite us.
We live in a world where no-one will ever say they were wrong. As Christians we are free from the need to prove ourselves, our ministry successes and failures do not define us. But they do shape us and others. Let us put them to good use.
Movements are marked by a compelling vision says Tim Keller in Center Church and that is what we are discovering in Birmingham. 2020birmingham is a church-planting movement for the UK’s second largest city. We’ve been building the work for the past 3 years.
So what’s our compelling vision? 20 church-planting churches by 2020. It’s as simple as that and maybe that’s why there is momentum for 2020birmingham. In three years we’ve seen 6 new churches started – 3 new churches, 2 new congregations and 1 replant.
We are not a denomination, we have no staff (apart from a terrific part-time administrator who’s been with us 3 months) and so far we’ve had no money to invest in planters or plants.
What we do have is a team of 8 planters who are committed to the gospel, to the city, to their congregations, to the lost and to each other.
This last Saturday we held our third conference and we were amazed to find we were going to be 100 people from 29 different churches and organisations. I counted just six who came from outside the city to look at what we were doing and three of those used to live in the city and are planning to come back to plant.Tim Keller again A movement says ‘If this is where you want to go, come along with us’ and so at our conference this year we made our theme partnership. Our message was come join us – because we can do far more together than we ever could on our own.
We reminded ourselves why our city needed a church-planting movement. Birmingham is Europe’s youngest city with 37% of the population under 25. That’s a lot of people who are highly secularised, highly diverse, and pretty suspicious about the church.
We celebrated what God had done in planting the six churches and seeing them established and growing.
We were inspired through stories of church planting movements in cities of the world from Al Barth & Martin de Jong.
We were challenged by the need to reach new communities in our cities and the complexity of third culture communities growing up around us. How do we plant highly contextualised churches to reach every community?But most of all we wanted to be generous. We wanted to invite others to join us. We said you don’t need to be a church-planting church to join a church-planting movement – although be careful because that’s just maybe what you’ll become. We said why not become a 2020 Partner Church? Partner churches are established churches in our city willing and available to partner with a new church plant in their area; ready to pray, share wisdom, coach, mentor and train core-team members. The synergy created between plant and partner church ensures that the partner in turn is blessed not least in being motivated to keep an outward focus for themselves too. Who knows how many partner churches may in turn plant for themselves inspired by the example of the new churches they have partnered to create.
We also let the gospel of our God motivate this movement.
A church-planting Bishop from the Church of England shared his experience of planting in London (Rev. Andrew Watson, the Bishop of Aston). He described the powerful synergy only experienced when we choose to work together in planting and he reminded us that the God who is trinity is a God of partnership in his very being. It was something special to be reminded by the Bishop that we are at our most god-like when we are in partnership too.
The apostle Paul told us from Romans 13:12 that we have an on-going obligation to love each other. There is never a time when I can say ‘I have loved you enough.’ The church may have a mission, a mandate, and a motivation that forms a movement but more than anything else it needs the love of Christ pulsing through its veins.
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.
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!
Speakers included Mark Driscoll, Steve Timmis, Neil Powell and Jonathan Bell.
The audio is now available to download and enjoy.
On Thursday and Friday of last week ‘for all seasons’ church planting conference took place in Birmingham co-hosted by Acts29 Western Europe and 2020birmingham. Audio and video from the conference will be available soon. But here are eight take homes for me from the two days.
1. God is doing amazing things in our nation(s). To have 400 people all seriously thinking about church planting (and a further 220 at a London based conference on planting the day before) highlights a transformation in the church scene in the UK and Western Europe.
2. The atmosphere at the conference was just fantastic. A real unity was evident and the whole time was remarkably free of tribalism and suspicions of others. There was just a huge desire, borne out of a spirit-filled generosity, to bless others. The attitude was one of ‘how can I help you? How can I bless you?’ By passing on freely anything and everything we really wanted to help others be better planters! At a dinner with Mark Driscoll on the Thursday evening we had representatives of New Frontiers, FIEC, the Anglican Diocese and Elim Pentecostal all sitting down together thinking how we might work together to get the gospel to the city of Birmingham!
3. Our failure to attempt great things for God is often borne out of fear of men. That means we need to recognise that ‘it is a sin to take too much of a risk in planting but it is as much of a sin not to take a risk out of fear.’ Mark Driscoll
4. On a similar theme it’s not enough for a small church to think we can’t do anything when it comes to church planting. True a small church may not be able to plant itself but it can contribute to a bigger vision (prayer, finances, wisdom and knowledge of a community or city).
A church planting conference should not just be full of church planters any more than a missions conference should be full of people about to head off overseas. As Rick Warren has said elsewhere ‘it is not a sin to be a small church but it is a sin to be a small church with a small vision’.
5. It really does matter what motivates us in church planting. To have a healthy church plant we need a healthy church planter and the gospel at the heart of our motivates is essential.
Steve Timmis challenged us with the question ‘Are we looking to church planting for our justification? Looking to church planting for our place in the world?’ And when that is a danger the antidote to that is remembering ‘church planter, our identity is ‘in Christ’’. And that has huge implications because succeed or fail (humanly speaking) I am secure in who I am. ‘My church plant can break up into a 100 different pieces but nothing can change the fact that I am ‘in Christ’ Steve Timmis.
6. ‘Every year you plant your church again’. Mark Driscoll reminded us that the way to grow your church plant and be effective in leadership is never to stop being a church planter but to look to the same mindset to keep growing.
7. The 2020birmingham initiative reminded us all that it takes a big vision to impact a big city. If our vision is to plant a church, even a large church, it has to give way to God’s vision which is nothing less than his global fame. If our vision is to reach our cities for Christ rather than plant a church that requires a paradigm shift in our thinking. In the past 10 to 15 years we have undergone one important shift from accidental planting to intentional planting. Now we need the second shift from intentional planting to intentional partnerships in church planting. Working together to fulfil a vision that no one church is equipped to make on its own.
8. Finally, church planting must, if it is to be true to the gospel, never be about empire building. ‘How do I live out my identity? By being a lover of God and a lover of others. Whoever it is about it is never about me.’ Steve Timmis
Nine ‘take-aways’ from Viral Churches
I’ve been reading Viral Churches: helping church planters become movement makers as we look to plant 20 churches in Birmingham by the year 2020. Why should Birmingham churches make this an urgent priority? Let’s start with nine reasons in this post from Stetzer and Bird.
1. What this country needs is for each person to have an opportunity to hear the gospel in a way that they can understand and respond to.
2. Church planting must be our default mode for evangelism
‘The story of the book of Acts is that ‘the early church implemented the Great Commission primarily by planting churches’.
‘The reason why church planting is the new evangelism is the disproportionately high number of spiritual conversions experienced in new churches.’
3. No single congregation or denomination can reach a million people in our city of Birmingham.
4. It will take the planting of many new churches working alongside existing churches to reach every person in the city.
‘Among churches of all sizes, growing churches are rare. In fact, they only make up about 20 percent of our churches today. The Continue reading »
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