Monday, 14 May 2012

When The Planters Become the Planted

It is now a well known fact that the chaps and chappesses at the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity in the Archdiocese of Brompton are buying up pretty well all of Greater London. "Church Planting" they call it, so we don't worry too much. Like a game of ecclesial monopoly, the Alpha-cash-advantaged posse of Jesus Lovers at SW7 are staking their claim on every empty church in the area. 

I will say now, that I favour "church planting", and that it is a credible way of reaching out to new communities. Perhaps where I struggle with it, whoever the planter of choice, is when it imposes a single-mode approach to our broad faith, or if by the advantage of cash it can replace the impoverished. If I had millions in the bank, I could church plant to my heart's content - badge them all as contemporary modern catholic and staff them with those of my own perspective. I wouldn't because I am not sure that the Gospel would want that of me. This is just my perspective - as one who favours breadth of expression in a geographical area - not one that says we are all the same, thank you very much. 

But there is a new peril on the horizon for the spare un-planted bits of very-planted London. It is this

Saddleback Church is of the American model of church - which is to say that it is big. There are smaller Anglican Provinces. I can't claim a great knowledge of its workings, but it is a very large organisation. You may have heard of others - Willow Creek, the one that invented leadership is another such example. In fact, in the case of the latter, its members all have good thighs, because the church has so many summits. Enough if that.

I have to say here that I don't get this idea of MegaChurch. Is bigger better? Is size important? Is success and the appearance of success a key factor in church growth? How must it be when the 'vicar' is a world-famous, away on conferences sort of person whose time you will never get? There may be answers to all of things, and good answers too - and I am not setting my stall out against these organisations. If I believe that the Holy Spirit is present in my church, then I have to believe that The Lord knows what he is doing over there! I am almost certainly a product of my middle-class white English upbringing, so a parish gathering that exceeds 150 gives me a nose-bleed! 

However, I do have a problem with this idea of church planting London from the comfort of US high-octane Holy Spirit central. This sort of feels like "our way is best, so we are coming over to set up our corporate model and do the job that we think you aren't doing well enough". The idea of 'church as franchise' is where I have a fundamental issue with planting - because I believe a church is a contextual gathering of Christians in a geographical area (you know, like a parish) that bears the specific characteristics of the interaction between the people and their spiritual leader. I don't believe that I can cut off a limb of Ss Philip & James Whitton and shove it in the ground somewhere else (already served by a parish church and its priest, lest we forget) and believe that it is another, new, Ss Philip & James. What we do works here because it is of us and for us, and for those who live around us. 

So, will American MegaChurch Inc work in London? The business side of my cerebral cortex feels that the market is saturated in these parts, and the other part just thinks this is, well, arrogant. Even before we count the churches outside of the Church of England, there are 400 odd parishes in London, over 500 worship centres. Add to that the Catholics and the Free Churches, the independents and Uncle Tom Cobbly and All, and I think that we have London covered thank you very much. Yes, you could buy my church with your cash and yes, you might even get more bums on seats in the short term but there is more, so much more, to London parish life, or indeed British parish life, and money just won't cover that. 

However, in the end I sense that this won't be my battle. I do wonder if Saddleback aren't going to queer the pitch of my brothers and sisters over at HTB. Upon their turf of choice will this fight be fought. 


  1. 'I think that we have London covered thank you very much.'

    Are you genuinely saying that EVERY person in London is 'reached' already? Really?!

    I can't stand brand-name church either, but however much we mistrust their style, these guys are actually attempting to do the Great Commission - go into ALL the world - so God bless 'em. London (and Britain generally) is a mission field, as will be attested by the number of church plants and missionaries from all over the planet. And thank God for them.

    By the way, you say you have a problem with HTB planting congregations and with megachurches too, so what should a church do when people join it?

  2. Hi 'other David' - thank you for your comment! Do I think that? Of course not - the same can be said for every person in the US, I suppose. My primary concern (if that is the right word) is why London? There are many churches of all breeds and brands working at it here already. To paraphrase Philip North, who not somewhere where there is no church, in the less attractive parts of the North East, for example?

    As regards your last point - a very valid one - my answer is this: learn from it and ask the questions of ourselves, as we have a valid approach too! There is no doubt that what they do, they do well - but as I said, breadth is best, not lots of little HTBs or indeed Saddlebacks, let alone All Saints Margaret Streets

  3. Thanks for the reply :)

    I kind of reckon that London attracts missionaries for the same reason it attracts immigrants - because they've heard of it. But then, my city (Sheffield) has church plants directly from Australia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, America etc. so maybe it's not so clear-cut.

    I guess we all bring our own presumptions about the faith to mission/church-planting (whether under a brand-name or not) and I'm so glad to hear that people are actually doing it that I try to avoid criticism, regardless of their stripe - they're doing more than me.

    On the wider subject of outreach, I guess the things I don't see but long for are:
    i. Awareness and love for the Church Catholic (ie. avoiding self-centred 'we are the answer' self-centredness).
    ii. More genuine evangelism/international missions in the High Church to go with/balance out the charismatic evangelicals.

  4. We only have ourselves to blame as you pointed out in a post a while ago (a post which greatly influenced me). Unless we stop being so embarrassed and apologetic about our faith and unless we get out there and proclaim it loudly and defiantly our "brand" of kinder, more thoughtful, Christ-centred Christianity will continue to wither and die.

  5. Hi, your blog really touches me, have been reading it for a while... Just wanted you to know about a website i started It's a place for Bible study guides.. I also put a forum in that can be viewed from a mobile device.. I couldn't find where to contact you privately so I'm commenting, hope that is okay. :) God Bless!



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