Church planting is increasingly back on the Baptist agenda in Great Britain. Although more congregations are being started, it’s harder to reach people as fewer know the Christian story.
The results of a survey about new Baptist congregations from 2005 and the denomination’s latest work were posted recently on the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) website.
The information shows the number of new churches is rising with more on their way; a renewed focus on the subject at the national level is seeking to recapture the Baptist heritage of “radical mission, risky pioneering and planting” and to fund and equip those who wish to do it.
Nevertheless, for this activity to have a meaningful impact, there needs to be a sustained commitment across the denomination, according to a church planting expert.
The survey shows that 64 congregations were started between 2005-09, an average of roughly one a month.
This is similar to the period between 1990 and 2004 when Baptists joined in the ecumenical drive to plant more churches following a century of decline.
However, another 37 churches were either started in 2010 or were in the planning stage to start in 2011. In addition, another 20 strategic areas have been pinpointed by associations as possible locations where there is a need for a new church.
The research followed a resolution introduced at the Baptist Union Council in March 2010, which tasked the mission department to help build a culture within the Union where church planting is “expected and encouraged” and promote the planting of “healthy, contextualized churches and congregations.”
A church planting consultation for association team leaders and regional ministers with responsibility for mission recently agreed to follow up a number of points.
These included the rediscovery of the Baptist heritage of “radical mission, risky pioneering and planting,” the development of a strategy linked to available resources, and a releasing and equipping of all who are called to be planters.
Currently 10 percent of Home Mission funding is allocated to church planting activities; the Baptist Union of Great Britain has developed a close partnership with the Incarnate Network, a church-planting organization.
“We’re bringing to the attention of everyone that church planting is something they should be considering, as an expression of church mission,” mission adviser Rev. Kathryn Morgan said.
“Thirty-seven in 2010-11 would indicate a high rate, although new church plants are quite vulnerable.
“But the fact that many are definitely making a start or being planned is very encouraging. The interest and enthusiasm for church planting is still there.
“I believe we have raised the profile and the associations are taking on local strategies, looking at where they should be concentrating their resources on areas where there is no church, geographically or with different groups.”
Far more attention has been correctly focused on research, contextualization and proper missiological reflection, rather than goals and programs, according to Stuart Murray Williams with Urban Expression, an urban church-planting agency.
But he told The Baptist Times that raising the profile at the national level will have little impact “unless there is a wholehearted and sustained commitment in the associations, the colleges and many churches to prioritize church planting.”
“There are some signs in some places of heightened interest, such as the Incarnate Network, but this still falls well below the level of interest 20 years ago,” he said.
Releasing resources, revamping ministerial formation, equipping churches and properly supporting pioneers were all needed, Murray Williams said, because the circumstances are challenging.
“Church planting is harder now than 20 years ago as we increasingly encounter communities and individuals with little or no knowledge of the gospel and negative perceptions of the institutional church,” Murray Williams said.
Rev. Barney Barron is a Baptist minister who planted a church in a housing estate six years ago, after already living there for two. Church is very different – earthier, more interactive – but no less real, he said.
He said planters needed to be in it for the long haul, and the key has been to take time in building relationships.
“Perhaps in the past people knew a bit of the story, but now the starting point is much further back.
“There are all sorts of barriers you have to go through to gain their trust,” Barron said. “But after eight and a half years, we are really hitting a time of fruit. We’re really seeing transformation in people’s lives.”
This article appeared originally in The Baptist Times of Great Britain.