By David Broderick
In this paper I will look briefly at the main types of churches that seem to be successfully church planting in our day, and then consider equally briefly some of the church planting models that are popular today. I will then look at a number of specific church planting experiences from the recent past and I will look at two ongoing church planting situations. I will ask a number of questions about church and church planting, some of which I cannot make any attempt to answer within the confines of this paper. Indeed, I will also ask why we church plant at all, and what our motives are in that church planting.
All the people that I interviewed in relation to this project raised issues and questions with me as part of a general reflection when I spoke to them, and I will consider these issues and questions before trying to see a way forward for church planting as it relates specifically to Neilston and to Queen’s Park Baptist Church, but also to the wider church.
My conclusions will take the form of my own thoughts and reflections on church and church planting, and they may seem to be too radical at first reading, but the declining church all around us is a radical problem. Radical problems need radical solutions because radical problems are radical opportunities – if we have ears to hear and eyes to see. Let me begin by describing briefly some types of growing churches and models of church planting that are employed.
TYPES AND MODELS
The models of church planting and the church types that I reference here are drawn from Stuart Murray’s book, Church Planting, (Carlisle, Paternoster Press, 1998). However, these models are extensively quoted in other books and, although there is some variance in the names and descriptions of models, the basic models remain the same. Growing churches are a rarity, at least in this country; and in some ways it is easier to point to types of churches that are growing, rather than denominations. Some growing church types are:
Based on the Willowcreek Community Church in Chicago, with very high quality presentation and communication of gospel content. The potential downside is that such churches can be seen as being entertainment driven.
Such as ethnic churches. Their downside is that they can be seen as being divisive because ‘the whole body does not meet together’.
Planted by organisations such as NGM (New Generation Ministries). These churches can be seen as also being divisive since they are age-specific projects and may not have a strong connection with another established (and more traditional) churches.
Popular model in Korea and China (and elsewhere). Not the same as churches that merely have home groups or cell groups where membership of the small group is secondary to membership of the main church. Cell churches are not house churches, which may tend to be individualistic and isolated.
I turn now from types of churches that are growing to the different models of church planting. There are many models of church planting that have been well documented in various books, but the main models are summarised here:
This is where a local church plants another fellowship which has a degree of autonomy but remains vitally linked to the mother church which supervises and supports the plant.
Similar to Mother/Daughter model, but the new church is not dependent on the planting church and will probably not be geographically close to it. Such plants are often in a different type of community from the planting church and may also be a considerable distance from it.
Teams are for evangelistic initiatives and become church planting teams not normally sent from other churches, but rather by para-church organisations which are usually evangelism or mission driven, and whose members are commonly drawn from a number of churches from which they also receive support.
This involves a local church planting out groups of members who operate in a semi-autonomous way, but there is no expectation that full autonomy will be achieved and the numbers involved can be quite small.
This is where a growing church adopts another struggling church, resources it and enables it to rebuild and grow, but usually without control from the parent church.
Growing churches and successful church planting can attract a lot of attention and may be copied as if the methodology was the important thing, rather than the life of a church or potential church plant. Before we look at number of the critical issues surrounding church planting, we will consider a number of specific church planting situations, beginning with Erskine Baptist Church.
ERSKINE BAPTIST CHURCH
Erskine New Community began life in 1970 as the Scottish Special Housing Association planned to provide overflow relief from Castlemilk, Drumchapel and Easterhouse. The Baptist Union of Scotland was encouraging churches and Associations to take note of any new developments in which there was little or no Christian witness. The appointment of a Pioneer Ministry in an area of no Baptist witness at all would have been supported entirely by the union; an Initial Pastorate would be jointly supported by an Association in partnership with the Union.
Renfrew Baptist Church wrote to the Renfrewshire Baptist Association in 1970 drawing attention to the proposed new development in Erskine and a sub-committee convened by the Rev Alan Stoddart began to look into how the church could bring new life of Jesus to the new community through the witness of his people.
In the early days of this initiative, literature was amassed, visits were made, discussions took place, and the Baptist Union of Scotland showed interest in a possible allocation of a site for a future church building. By the end of 1971, plans were well in place to begin some identified activity within the newly emerging township.
High Association enthusiasm led to plans for a Sunday morning service each week, ably supported by the Glenburn congregation. Around this time, the Girls’ Brigade volunteered to start a new Company in Erskine, courtesy of Mrs May Galloway, who was a member of Linwood Baptist Church.
Discussions with the Baptist Union of Scotland took place over a period on whether Erskine should be granted Pioneer Ministry status, but the matter was finally concluded when Initial Pastorate support was given. The Rev Alan Stoddart accepted the call to the Initial Pastorate in Erskine, and a service of appointment was held on Saturday 20th May 1972 in Renfrew Baptist Church.
By the latter part of 1974 there was a clearly identifiable, committed fellowship working together and sharing in worship, witnessing to Christ, and serving the community. Running services in the community hall was hard work, but the fledgling fellowship was on its way to becoming a Baptist Church.
At a special meeting on Thursday 21st November 1974, a draft constitution was presented for information and questions, and on Sunday 19th January 1975 the Founder Members’ Roll was opened and the constitution presented. The Rev Robert King conducted the service of constitution on Sunday 16th February 1975, when the congregation confirmed their wish for the Rev. Alan Stoddart to continue in the pastorate of the newly formed Erskine Baptist Church.
The new community in Erskine presented Alan with many opportunities to be involved with people in his own right (rather than as THE Pastor), and he was, in a very real sense, both pastor to the congregation and a representative of Christ in the community. Alan visited the new areas introducing the church and offering a welcome, and could frequently be found in conversation with people in the community hall coffee shop or in the streets. The pastor was available for the people.
Erskine Baptist Church experienced steady growth. Deacons were ordained, baptismal services were held, Student Assistantships appointed, a second Sunday School started, and a building for the church began to come to fruition when work began in late 1977. As Erskine Baptist Church entered the eighties, Alan Stoddart reflected on the previous (nearly) ten years and felt that it was time to move on, and, in late 1982, received a call to the Pastorate at Cambuslang, taking up the new post in May 1982.
EAST KILBRIDE BAPTIST CHURCH
The Lanarkshire Baptist Association and churches at Rutherglen and Cambuslang saw East Kilbride new town developing and sent people into the area to knock on doors and begin to make an impact in the newly born community. After a request to Dr A B Miller, the first (student) pastor was Rev Jim Graham who arrived in April 1954, and his first contact was in a weeknight prayer meeting with around half-a-dozen people.
Meeting in a variety of largely unsuitable buildings (including the kitchen of the Masonic Hall!), there was tremendous encouragement amongst that early and faithful congregation. On 31/5/54 twenty-one members [Twenty-one according to the Souvenir Brochure of 9th April, 1960; twenty-four according to the Silver Jubilee booklet from 1979.] constituted the church with Mr John A Dick representing the Baptist Union of Scotland.
In those days Jim Graham travelled by motorbike from Glasgow to East Kilbride, and conducted his first baptismal service in the baptistery at Blantyre; flu was the result of the return journey to Glasgow on that bike! But these were exciting days, and Jim Graham remembered the quality of commitment made by the few, and this made a lasting impact on this student pastor. Jim moved on in September 1954 when his six-month student pastorate came to an end, and a vacancy committee was formed.
In April 1955, Peter Barber accepted the call to the church, which met in Murray Primary School in those days; Peter was inducted on 4th June 1955 into a church with thirty-six members.
The new church was not afraid to tackle new things, and they became the first Baptist church in Scotland to have a Stewardship Campaign and Vacation Bible school, as well as being involved in the community by the use of the old Church House by the mentally handicapped. Rev Andrew MacRae recalled the early days of the young fellowship meeting in rather dilapidated premises, but having a spirit of ‘confident anticipation of God’s blessing.’
Peter Barber’s preaching and leadership contributed much to the success of the church, and 1958 saw a hall built behind Moncreiff Church, which was then used until their own building was opened on 9th April 1960. The continued growth saw some people who lived in Westwood sent to the Westwood school to begin worship services (1964), and East Kilbride Baptist Church East Mains was soon to be joined by East Kilbride Baptist Church Westwood; and later East Kilbride Baptist Church Calderwood.
These names are very significant, for the vision of Peter Barber was for one East Kilbride Baptist Church with multiple congregations; this was an important deviation from the normal church planting methods which simply produced independent, autonomous Baptist churches.
Westwood was constituted in 1965 with Alex Rodger as minister, and a new building was completed in 1968. Alex Rodger looked back on that time in ministry as an organic rather than an institutional reality, speaking of ‘learning and growing together’ and discovering much about the pilgrim nature of the Christian faith.
There was a great deal of sharing between East Mains and Westwood, and these two linked congregations did a lot together. Alex Calder recalled that each church had a calendar of the other’s activities and they were careful not to have meetings and activities clashing.
Calderwood came into being as doors were knocked at the end of the sixties and start of the seventies, and Rev James Hamilton became minister of Calderwood congregation in 1971. Their building was opened in 1976. The close co-operation and unity of one East Kilbride Baptist church with three congregations was the vision that Peter Barber (‘Mr East Kilbride’) lived for.
As Peter himself wrote for the silver jubilee booklet: “The buildings at East Mains, Westwood and Calderwood are tangible monuments to a people’s sacrifice, living evidence that the congregations loved not in word only, but also in deed. And much of the beauty of this is that it has been achieved together.”
The united church scheme in East Kilbride was not easy to establish or maintain, but it had much to commend it as an alternative to Baptist churches in the same town either ignoring one another or competing with one another. In Rev Andrew MacRae’s own words from the silver jubilee magazine of 1979, ‘The story of these 25 years is unique in Scottish Baptist history’ and so was the achievement of a pastor and people committed to venture together for God.
NEWTON MEARNS BAPTIST CHURCH
When Rev Edwin Gunn arrived at Queen’s Park Baptist Church from Ayr in 1979, one of his first suggestions to the deacons was the possibility of establishing house groups, and this idea was enthusiastically received and monthly house groups began. One of the groups was in Newton Mearns and was led by Douglas Inglis, in whom was the vision for a church plant in Newton Mearns. Within six months the group was meeting weekly (but not weakly!) and praying specifically about future church planting in the area. The vision was contagious and growing.
A careful survey of the south side of Glasgow had shown that most of the area was covered with Baptist witness except for a significant ‘wedge’ with its point at Queen’s Park and running south out along Kilmarnock Road and taking in the whole of the Newton Mearns area. Vision was therefore accompanied by careful research.
Early in 1981 Edwin was appointed President of the Baptist Union of Scotland at the same time as a steering committee was appointed to make plans for the establishment of a Baptist Church in Newton Mearns. The first meeting of a steering committee set up by Queen’s Park Baptist Church under Edwin’s chairmanship took place on 27th October 1981, just a couple of weeks after Edwin’s appointment as President. The vision was catching fire: ‘To establish a Baptist Church in Newton Mearns totally self-sufficient, self-financing, affiliated to the Baptist Union of Scotland, and having a full-time pastor; plus a building in due course’
It is important to realise that this was not Queen’s Park Baptist Church seeking to church plant in Newton Mearns, but rather a group of people in the Newton Mearns house group who had the vision and drive for the planting of a Baptist Church in the area. Queen’s Park did not originate the vision, but they did fully support it.
On Sunday 7th March 1982 the first morning service of the Newton Mearns Baptist Fellowship took place in Capelrig House with just over 100 people in attendance. This was close to the maximum attendance the hall allowed, and the vision was already bursting out of its first accommodation. On 22nd May 1983 twenty-four members of Queen’s Park Baptist Church were set apart to form the newly constituted church at Newton Mearns, and the baby was born; to change the analogy – the fire was well alight.
Realising that much could be learned from the experience of others, strong links were forged with the Bridge of Don Church in Aberdeen – itself a recent church plant – and, in May 1983 at Newton Mearn’s second anniversary weekend, Rev Douglas Hutcheon took as his text these words from Deuteronomy One: ‘You have stayed long enough on this mountain. Break camp and advance.’ Prophetic words which fed the fire. Newton Mearns Baptist Church was affiliated to the Baptist Union of Scotland on 6th September 1983.
Rev T Deans Buchanan was inducted as pastor on 16th March 1985. After moving through various rented venues, the church’s own building was started in September 1994 and completed five years later at a cost of £1.4m. It is interesting that acquiring the ownership of the Crookfur Road site took Newton Mearns Baptist Church nine and a half years!
In this new millennium the church has an ongoing accommodation problem, for their building has been struggling to cope with the numbers attending for some time. Another mountain to climb, another valley to cross.
LARGO BAPTIST CHURCH
Largo Baptist Church originally had a number of members who lived in Leven and worshipped in Largo, but it was Largo that experienced serious decline before closing completely. In May 1987, Ian Gunn and Jim McGillivray were concerned over the Largo closure, and a commitment was given to pray and seek God’s Direction; while, around the same time, Jim Todd was writing to Peter Barber about the Largo situation.
In the autumn the Leven deacons inspected buildings as a part of the assessment for a future work in Largo, and, by early 1988, were believing that a new Largo outreach would be right if God raised up someone to lead the work. Plans for initiating a work in Largo were drawn up and discussed by the deacons in Leven, and June 1988 saw the first monthly Sunday evening meeting take place.
In December 1988, Peter Barber met with the Largo Committee and Leven deacons to discuss the development of the work, and it was decided to begin an outreach to retired people as a base for a continuing outreach in Largo/Lundin Links. By the end of 1990, and after a change of location, a questionnaire was submitted to the congregation asking if they would support the work if it moved to a refurbished church building.
The Baptist Union of Scotland agreed in March 1991 to a refurbishment of the church building, and the building was duly opened and an ongoing work developed before David Vogan was called as student Pastor in 1994.
The Joint Largo Committee and Leven Deacon’s Court meeting of March 1995 considered the future of the Largo Outreach Fellowship, and agreed that the time was right for Largo to become an independent Baptist Church; moves were made towards a Largo Church Constitution in May.
Looking back, Jim McGillivray considers that they planted a ‘typical Baptist Church’ with all the systems and structures of that church, instead of the plant being set up for the local people; thus the styles of worship (etc) of the new church were out-of-date and irrelevant to the local population the moment that the church came back into being.
Largo Baptist Church consisted of a number of older people who had a particular mindset of what church should be and what it should do; was it then true that the motive was to plant a Baptist church rather than to see the kingdom of God enlarged? A number of those who transferred out of Leven did not actually go to Largo; these were people unhappy at Leven who used the Largo plant as an opportunity to get out of one church without getting into another. This had a positive effect at Leven but was of no benefit to Largo.
QUEENS PARK BAPTIST CHURCH
In the late nineteenth century when the Glasgow city centre churches were flourishing, a number of Christians were tired of continually travelling into the city for worship, and planted a church in their area so that they no longer had to travel to church. This new church plant was therefore entirely for the benefit of Christians living in the area, and had nothing to do with outreach or evangelism. That church was Queen’s Park Baptist Church.
Having planted Newton Mearns in the (relatively) late twentieth century (although this had not been a Queen’s Park initiative), the leadership of Queen’s Park Baptist Church now considered what their vision was for the fellowship. Was it to establish a mega-church in the city, or to grow by planting churches where they had Christians in communities?
During 1998/99 the leadership agreed a vision statement, part of which is quoted here:
TO IMPACT THE CITY THROUGH PEOPLE
By developing clear local identities through home groups, Alpha groups and community services. In particular we will encourage Neilston members to develop local evangelism with a view to establishing a viable church plant. By promoting city unity through prayer, worship, ministry and evangelism, accepting our responsibility to be a storehouse, resourcing and encouraging other individuals and fellowships as well as being ready to receive help and encouragement from others.
In two areas (West End and Neilston) Queen’s Park Baptist Church had people that were in the process of establishing local identities and engaging in community evangelism towards church planting, and, almost on their doorstep, was a Baptist church that needed help.
CASTLEMILK BAPTIST CHURCH
Originally a Pioneer Ministry church plant itself, Castlemilk had fallen into decline and was getting very small in the late twentieth century. Income had been reasonable when Baptist Union of Scotland support was available, but the late nineties saw people moving away or just stopping coming to the church, and the financial situation worsened with the declining numbers. A single-figure membership of whom around 40% were over seventy years of age saw no real way to survive, and closure was the most obvious destination.
The area of Castlemilk had been identified as having a stronghold of gossip in the community, and this had permeated the church, contributing to the decline of a church that simply had not flourished in the community in which it was set.
The struggle to meet the pastor’s stipend and other expenses was on an ongoing issue, but the pastor – Rev Stephen Anderson – had felt a call to a city-wide prayer ministry for Glasgow during the latter decline.
A merger with another Baptist Church posed a number of logistical difficulties, and another possible solution was explored. Edwin Gunn and Stephen Anderson had already established a relationship and they explored the possibility of Queen’s Park Baptist Church assisting Castlemilk in their need.
The formal approach to Queen’s Park came in late 1999, and Queen’s Park looked for some of its own members who would be willing to move to Castlemilk for a two-year period, after which members would review their commitment. A number of Queen’s Park church meetings led to around twenty agreeing to support Castlemilk for two years (to Summer 2002).
Yet this was no numbers game, for Castlemilk wanted people with vision and determination to move their small fellowship on – they did not want to simply inherit problem people or those who were only looking for a way out of Queen’s Park. Castlemilk wanted, and needed, people who would grow in their own gifts and ministries and be leadership potential for the church; that is exactly what they got. The church that had been hanging over a cliff edge now had a new lease of life.
It was in no way a take-over by Queen’s Park – neither Queen’s Park nor Castlemilk wanted that – and the people who came in were sensitive about not making it appear like a take-over; rather it was a real partnership with the Queen’s Park people, and a partnership that has worked well.
There are some logistical difficulties for those members who live outside Castlemilk and travel into Castlemilk for meetings, but the church has run two Alpha courses and has a huge work with asylum seekers that is staffed by a number of people, some of whom are from outside the church itself.
The church has, however, still not impacted the local community. The Alpha courses did not attract local people despite leaflet drops, and this issue is at the forefront of the church’s attention in these days. Castlemilk have a long-term vision for whole families to see the church as their local church, though it may mean re-inventing the local church. They now have a life of their own, and are not dependent upon Queen’s Park Baptist Church for life and resources, and pastoral care is handled by Castlmilk’s own people with home groups providing support to members.
Many people who went to Castlemilk from Queen’s Park have made a real commitment to the small church and will remain after the two-year deadline, and try to build bridges into the local community and make contact with Castlemilk folk. Castlemilk needs a church that will listen to God and not just do their own thing, and that is what the people in the church are trying hard to do. As a part of this effort, Castlemilk Baptist Church has been renamed Castlemilk Community Church.
WEST END (ANNIESLAND)
Sometime around three years ago, John MacDonald, who was one of the Queens Park Baptist Church Core Leadership Team, felt that God wanted to move in the Anniesland area of the city and asked to become Pastoral Leader for that area. [A Pastoral Leader oversees a number of home groups and is responsible for the pastoral care of that area.]
A Pastoral Leader is not one of the Pastoral Team of Pastors, though the term may be confusing to some. John shared his vision with the Queens Park Core Leadership Team and received general support, the West End vision fitting in with Queen’s Park’s general city vision for church planting through local identified communities.
John and his wife Fiona, along with Neil and May Young who had joined Queen’s Park Baptist Church and then discovered that there was vision to church plant in the West End, are at the centre of the vision for the West End, and have spent much time envisioning others from the four area home groups.
The profile of the West End vision has been raised through weekends away, prayer meetings and meetings with people from other churches in the area. The four people at the heart of the vision are very keen not to be seen as independent or as having all the answers, and are fostering relationships with other church leaders in the area.
John feels that some find the term ‘church plant’ to be threatening and possibly misleading, and prefers to speak of a satellite congregation of Queen’s Park Baptist Church that retains links with Queen’s Park while working towards holding services in the West End. There have been three Alpha courses in the West End supported by Queen’s Park, one of which took place in partnership with three other churches and was situated in a café; those converted simply went to their nearest church.
Monthly afternoon services begin in March 2002 at a venue yet to be decided. The next year will see the establishment of a thirteen-week course based around material by Neil Anderson, and the year after will include a discipleship course and public meetings. Their philosophy for the West End is conversion growth, not simply a redistribution of Christians in the area.
[David Broderick is the ‘I’ in this and following accounts as he was both a member of Queen’s Park Baptist and a part of the local Neilston community.]
The three home groups of Queen’s Park Baptist Church in Neilston are working towards a church plant of their own, and this began with a number of Queen’s Park members moving into the Neilston area over a relatively short period of time. Living in a village gives a greater sense of community than is usual, and such was the case in Neilston.
As a means of reaching into the surrounding area, a number of Alpha courses have run in Neilston over a few years, but they have found it difficult to hold onto the people who came through the course, and they did not become part of a home group even though most also went through discipleship courses. This is a major issue both for Neilston and Queen’s Park Baptist Church generally, because such a transition from Alpha to home group has rarely happened to date.
The most recent Neilston Alpha group met on a Monday night, while the home group to which I belong met on a Thursday night; the other two Neilston home groups meet on a Wednesday and Thursday night. This makes integration of the Alpha folks into a home group even more difficult than it otherwise would be, since those who have attended a finite Alpha course lasting ten to twelve weeks often struggle with the open ended nature of a home group – not to mention the issues of integrating with a number of new people in a group that is on a different evening than they were used to.
Our home group wrestled with the issue, and a course of action was decided upon. The Alpha course and our home group have now merged, with the new and relaunched group meeting on a Monday night. This created a ‘new’ home group of nine or ten people, and the group will spend the next few weeks working through some of the Icthus discipleship material that is based on a ship voyage.
At the end of those six weeks, the group will be reviewed to ensure that the ex-Alpha people have settled in the new group, and have become comfortable with praise, worship and prayer being a part of the group life in a way that it wasn’t in the Alpha course itself. All of the people who came to the Alpha have remained as part of the ‘new’ group, and one or two others have started coming, too.
I am Pastoral Leader for the Neilston home groups, and, as such, I was directly responsible for moving the work on in the village. However, the speed of development of the church plant at Neilston has been slower than the Queen’s Park leadership church had anticipated, since the they had originally envisaged that the new church would be in existence by the end of 2001.
The forward direction the Queen’s Park Core Leadership Team had foreseen was an increase in the frequency of the Sunday evening services that are held once a month in Neilston; but those people involved in Neilston felt that the right path to take was to recognise and establish a local Core Leadership Team to drive the work on, to receive and make real the vision. The work would not then be dependent upon one person.
The Neilston Core Leader Team was formed in March 2001, and there are now seven people who work together to lead the work in the village forward. I feel (as do the rest of Neilston Core Leadership Team) that the right leadership is critical to any church planting project, and that the leadership team should be in place well before the plant actually takes place. It is relatively easy to ‘plant’ a church by just throwing members and money at an area, but the success of the plant depends very greatly on the right leadership of that plant. As Singlehurst wrote: ‘The role of leadership is crucial in any church’s strategy to reach its community.’
As we build towards a local church plant in Neilston, I know that things have not moved as fast as Queen’s Park might have hoped here; but I also know that moving in the right direction is more important than the speed at which we move. Though the direction that we have taken in Neilston is not what Queen’s Park would have anticipated, I believe it to be the right way; and I believe that, in this year of 2002, we will see growth which demonstrates that to be true. As I oversee the work in Neilston, I see ongoing discipleship and training of all believers as a critical issue that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, not just for Neilston but also for Queen’s Park as a whole.
In Neilston, the move of our home group to a Monday night to accommodate the guests of our local Alpha course puts into action a principle that I believe is vital for church (not just Queen’s Park) as a whole – that the church is flexible to accommodate people, instead of expecting the people to be flexible to accommodate the church.
The Neilston Core Leadership Team was appointed, not elected, and the Christians in the Neilston home groups have given us a clear mandate to lead without referring everything back to them first, and we appreciate the trust that has been placed in us. The issue that we have most recently dealt with was that of what we call ourselves in the community, so that we have an identity that means something to the community but does not put them off.
MANY PLANTS – ONE PLANTER
I have heard it said that the church is ‘growing and expanding’. As the church expands, is there a direct relationship between the type of church that plants and the model of church planting that it employs? How does a church choose which model of church planting to employ? Where do divine strategy and human activity meet, and where do they collide?
The apparently simple church types and church planting models raise many fundamental questions that are very difficult to give overall and binding answers to; indeed, it often seems that there are more questions than answers. In addressing these issues and trying to answer some of the questions, a number of examples of church planting situations have been looked at and will be reflected on; but, before that, there is an even more fundamental question to be asked: Why church plant at all?
Should church planting be on the agenda at all in an age of church decline since, according to Tozer, ‘In our churches, we have fairly well programmed ourselves into deadness and apathy.’
If church planting is the answer to deadness and apathy, then it would seem to suggest that the answer lies primarily in quantity rather than in quality. This assumption must be challenged, and we begin with the motive for church planting.
One such motive for church planting is the denominational motive, which says that there is no Baptist witness in a certain area, and therefore we should seek to church plant there. However, there may be half-a-dozen evangelical churches already in the area, and a Baptist church would only further the cause of division among Christians, rather than bringing them together.
But perhaps there is no Christian witness in a certain area, and that is why we want to church plant there. If this is so, is it a Christian church that we want to plant, or is it a Baptist church? The issue of denominational reproduction is an important one, although it is actually often an issue of denominational survival; but is denominational survival really that important?
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
For us in Neilston, an issue that we had to resolve was what name to use to identify ourselves in the community, since we were not yet a church (in the constituted sense). Furthermore, we were trying to win people for the kingdom and not for Queen’s Park Baptist Church, therefore we were reluctant to use the Queen’s Park name and appear to be recruiting for the church. Furthermore, what does the word ‘Baptist’ mean to the unchurched people in Neilston?
After grappling in the home groups with the issue of a name for use in Neilston, the Neilston Core Leadership Team eventually settled on ‘Neilston Christian Fellowship’. We considered that the negative aspects of the ‘Baptist’ name outweighed the positive, and did not include it; for we did not want only Baptists to be able to join us.
In my discussions with Alan Stoddart, he had felt that you would not know what a church (or fellowship) was unless the name told you, and we in Neilston had felt that ‘Christian’ was more meaningful than ‘Baptist’ to those who were not Christians. Nevertheless, my discussions with Alan were important to probe the motives for a name (or name change), and it was therefore interesting to see that Castlemilk Baptist Church had renamed itself as Castlemilk Community Church. This was something that they wanted to do in order to make contact with local Castlemilk people, and yet that was something the church had historically failed to do. Alan Stoddart had warned against changing names for the wrong reasons, but Castlemilk were clearly concerned to reach their local people, and felt that a change of name was crucial to achieving this.
Is this issue about a name indicative that denominations are losing their importance and that being Christian is crucial, or is it a watering down of the presentation of ourselves to the people in our communities? Alan had clearly and powerfully impressed upon me that, for church planting, we need to understand the community in which we are working, and build a Christ-like reputation before them.
He also said that church growth cannot be engineered by human beings and stressed the importance of being our own people in church planting. Following that advice led us in Neilston to try and be Christ-like Christians to the people of Neilston, and be community-focussed rather than building-focussed. We wanted to keep the people that we reached.
LIFE, THE UNIVERSE AND EVERYTHING
Why do so many Baptist Churches lose so many people? Even to ask a question like that, as Alan Stoddart did to me, is to bring out the defensive in people and (usually) leads them to point out that most of the other denominations are losing people too – and some much faster than us! Yet, this is a crucial issue, and one that we cannot answer for other denominations but we must answer for ourselves.
It must look strange to any outsider that the Baptist denomination is losing people in their hundreds each week, yet we go on planting churches. Alan saw no point in planting churches if we continue to lose members, and we need to be truly open to what the Spirit may say to us if we are to face up to this issue.
Planted churches have generally tended to pick up the Baptists in an area, but see no conversion growth. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to address the issues of what church is and how we do church, these are critical questions that need to be asked at this critical time.
While Newton Mearns Baptist Church may need to consider whether they have grown through conversions or just through the redistribution of Christians (or both), there is an area in which they and East Kilbride Baptist Church have shown clear leadership to the denomination. Learning from others and working together with others is surely one of the greatest weaknesses in the Baptist denomination, and yet those who have done it have benefited greatly – why do we not learn this lesson when it comes to church planting? As Rick Warren says, “You can learn from other churches without becoming a clone.”
Newton Mearns Baptist Church are currently focussing on the needs of the community of ‘Valium Valley’ (a name given to that area of Newton Mearns by a local doctor) in which they are placed – is this not the beginning of true church planting? Furthermore, if Newton Mearns Baptist Church have members in Neilston (and area), should we not work together with them towards a Neilston church plant?
Castlemilk Community Church are determined to reach the community in which they are placed, and they have been prepared to shoot the golden cow of the ‘Baptist’ name in order to try and be effective in that. They have a long-term vision to be a place where families can come to, where young people and children can come; where everyone can be family together. A crazy dream? Or is that much closer to what church should be?
Surely the experiences of even the few churches whose stories are told briefly in this paper should cause us to ask fundamental questions about what the local church actually is and is not? How can any church reach a local community when most of its members do not live in that community?
Jim McGillivray is leading East Kilbride Baptist Church East Mains into missionary concern for their community, and wants the members to be friends of the people in the community – for Jesus was a friend of sinners. Jim pointed out that making contacts is not the same as making friends, and contacts are not enough for church planting. Indeed, as he pointedly asked, ‘Is planting churches a consequence of making disciples, or is it a substitute for it?’ How we can seriously think about planting churches elsewhere when we have not become friends of the people in our own community?
John MacDonald stated very clearly that conversion growth would be the hallmark of any church that they planted in the West End, and that no conversion growth would mean no church plant. But it seems to me that most Baptist Christians are not terribly keen on the cost of truly reaching the people in the communities around them, and that is precisely why there is so little growth in the denomination. Are the Christians in our Baptist Churches willing to put their own comfort, convenience and tradition aside in order to be friends with the people around them where they work, live and play?
‘Churches can become so traumatised by their internal problems that they fail to notice that society at large is in the midst of a cultural shift of seismic proportions, which affects every area of society.’ If Eddie Gibbs is right about this, then are our Baptist Churches willing, like East Kilbride, to say that life and growth together is more important than autonomy, or do we prefer to die alone? Growth through redistribution of Christians is not growth at all, it is merely a desperate rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic. Great story, lousy end.
What we are determines what we plant, and how long that plant will live. At the end of everything, only the gardener can plant, only the gardener can give life. A radical rethinking about what church is lies beyond the scope of this paper, but the issue must be tackled for, according to Hall, ‘It’s not just the ordinary person in the congregation who is enslaved by the traditional way of doing church. The leaders are enslaved too.’ How we think through these issues determines how and what we plant; it determines the way ahead.
THE WAY AHEAD
It seems somewhat obvious to say it, but church planting should surely be the result of conversion growth. If it is for any other reason, I would seriously question the validity of it. If churches are seeing conversion growth, then it is that growth itself that will determine what kind of church is planted.
Could we see church plants that are modelled around Alpha? Jim McGillivray certainly thinks so, and why not? Are we so tradition bound to the congregation that we cannot see past the gathered meeting and will consider no other concept of church? Could we see churches beyond the congregation? Could we see church plants in businesses, sports clubs, coffee shops and schools?
Furthermore, can we see beyond the building itself? Murray says that ‘The closure and disposal or demolition of many church buildings acts as a salutary reminder that previous generations of church planters enthusiastically erected too many buildings, some of which were never effectively used.’
Growth in the number of buildings does not equal growth in people. It is common today to see church buildings being ‘converted’ for use as housing – does that say it all? If there are a number of Christians in (for example) the place where we work, then those Christians are church – but a building is out of the question.
We need to see church planting as an appropriate response to growth, not as a desperate measure to try and create growth. Only the gardener can plant, and he will only plant where there is new life. Shuffling saints around must become a relic of the past; making friends with the people we share our world with must become our priority. All this is relatively easy to write, but are we truly open to what God would say to us about being church, and how and why we church plant? If we say we are but we are not, it will be too late to repent on reflection.
If God is leading his people to truly become part of a community (of any kind or location – business, coffee shop, sport club, school, etc), then we need to see that the right appointed leadership is critical to the development of the life of God in that community. Life that grows is more important than methods, and it is critical to have a leadership in place that has the absolute trust of the people concerned and of the overseeing church(es).
The future of church planting may be quite different than anything we have considered up to this point in the life of Baptist Churches in Scotland. Indeed, the future of church itself may be quite different than anything we have considered up to this point in the life of Baptist Churches in Scotland. As Ravenhill said (quoted by Cymbala), “People say the church is ‘growing and expanding.’ Yes, it’s ten miles wide now – and about a quarter-inch deep.”
We need to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in a way and to a depth that we have never been open before. The declining church of our day is a major opportunity for God to reveal the leadership that will transform it into the life that it should be.
As Sanders pointed out: ‘The problems we select to address, the evidence we cite, the interpretation we give to the evidence and the rhetoric we use to communicate our proposals owe a great debt to the communities to which we belong.’ The Baptist community has remained insular and independent for far too long; do we have the will and the heart to open ourselves to others that they may open themselves to us? What does the future hold? Cymbala declared that ‘You and I will never know our potential under God until we step out and take risks.’
In Neilston, we may sometimes think that we can see the future; that we can see where we are going. But, as we take risks, what God will do in our midst will astound us in the days to come. What the gardener will plant will be beautiful and bursting with life, and the birds of the air will nest in its branches.
Church planting is not about me or us, it is about the life of God throbbing through a community and growing into independent life. The Neilston Core Leadership Team is gently feeling its way forward and wanting to be open to whatever God has for us.
Queen’s Park Baptist Church will see what develops in Neilston and realise that it is unique and cannot be replicated in the West End, or anywhere else for that matter. The Queens Park Core Leadership Team will discover new things about how the Spirit of God wants his people to be his church, and this will profoundly impact how Queen’s Park thinks about church planting. Queen’s Park Baptist Church may never have a church planting policy that lasts longer than five minutes, but the life that it plants will live, grow and be healthy because God himself is the gardener, and only the gardener can plant.
The Baptist denomination in Scotland needs to stop grumbling about decline in its congregations, and catch the breeze of the Spirit and discover the direction that he is blowing in. The autonomy of each congregation can create a mindset of independence that needs to die, but being a part of the body of Christ creates an interdependence that grows life. As Lloyd-Jones said: ‘Belong to a denomination, but do not stand fast in denominationalism.’ I would also paraphrase Lloyd-Jones in this way: Belong to a denomination, but do not stand fast in autonomy.
The gardener wants to replant us! Will we allow him? Or will we kick and scream and cry foul? What do we really value: Life or structure? What Eddie Gibbs has said of the individual is equally true of the organisation: ‘The longer a person lives, the more he or she tends to dwell on the past rather than live in dynamic interaction with the present or be inspired by the hope of future possibilities.’
Questions about church planting inevitably raise questions about the whole truth of what church is and is not; and how we can make the change from what we are to what God would have us be. Warner said that ‘The modern world will not be reached effectively by traditional forms of church’, and traditional forms of church planting will be just as ineffective. Singlehurst pointed out that ‘We must hold a tension between the Holy Spirit and revelation on one side, and the Scriptures and strategic planning on the other.’
If the Baptist Union of Scotland wants to give leadership in this whole area, then I ask what is more important to the Union: Life or structure? Rick Warren has said ‘Every church must eventually decide whether it will be structured for control or structured for growth.’ Is the same not true of any Christian organisation? We all face a challenge to change, but what we have seen so far is only the tip of the iceberg; woe betide those who are still shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic when the whole iceberg is encountered.
Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, Grand Rapids, ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1997
Eddie Gibbs, Church Next, (Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 2000)
Simon Hall, Anna Robins and Pete Ward, ‘Liquid Ministry’, Christianity and Renewal, July 2001, pages 14 to 17
Iain H Murray, D Martyn Lloyd-Jones – The Fight of Faith, (Edinburgh, Banner Of Truth Trust, 1990)
Stuart Murray, Church Planting, (Carlisle, Paternoster Press, 1998)
John Sanders, The God Who Risks, (Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 1998)
Laurence Singlehurst, Sowing Reaping Keeping, (Reading, Crossway Books, 1995)
A W Tozer, Faith Beyond Reason, (Bromley, STL Books, 1987)
Rob Warner, 21st-Century Church, (Eastbourne, Kingsway Publications, 1999)
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, (Michigan, ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1995)