The establishment of 10,000 new churches, mostly run by lay people over the next ten years, is among the ambitious goals that will be discussed at this month’s General Synod, when the Archbishop of York, the Right Reverend Stephen Cottrell, will provide an update on the Vision and Strategic Discussions announced last year (News, November 26, 2020).
This is one of six results set out in a background paper, released last week, which also envisions doubling the number of children and “active young disciples” in C of E by 2030. .
More details on the 10,000 were provided at last week’s MultiplyX 2021 church planting conference, hosted online by the Gregory Center for Church Multiplication, which is chaired by the Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe. The initiative received the title of “Myriad” and is led by Canon John McGinley, Church Planting Development Officer at New Wine and Priest in the Diocese of Leicester.
In his speech, Canon McGinley described Myriad as a vision that people could buy into, rather than a project or initiative. His scale – it is predicted that the 10,000 new churches will make a million new disciples – was deliberately large, to “get us to plan and pray, and work differently than if we think we just need to make a little adjustment or add a few of the extra things to the side ”. While he was aware that not all 12,500 parishes in the Church were able to plant, “this is the scale of God’s calling upon his Church and this nation.”
In other countries, including parts of Africa, it is lay leadership that has enabled the church to grow rapidly, he said. “Churches run by lay people free the church from major limiting factors. When you don’t need a building, a stipend, and long and expensive college training for every church leader. . . so in fact we can free new people to lead and new churches to form. It also frees people’s discipleship. In church planting, there are no passengers.
The vision had emerged from the Gregory Center, and Bishop Thorpe had since tested it by speaking to national leaders, including every diocesan bishop. There was still work to be done, Canon McGinley admitted, to address the issue of priestly oversight and sacramental ministry.
Many of the 10,000 churches would start small, and some would stick around as 20 or 30 people meeting in one house. But the definition of a church was “tight,” he said: it must proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, have regular worship, be open to all and sacramental, and have more than 20 people.
Examples included churches planted by Wole Agbaje, a lay leader in Holy Trinity, Leicester, who had planted churches in Leicester and London (Articles, May 1, 2020).
The Bishop of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Emma Ineson, noted that “throughout history most of the growth of the church has been led by the laity. . . Numbers should be seen as an invitation and inspiration rather than pressure. “
Establishing new worship communities is at the heart of Vision and Strategy, the attempt to set the C of E agenda for the next ten years, currently being formulated by a task force chaired by the Archbishop of York. Most key measures of attendance fell 15 to 20 percent from 2009 to 2019, and a median church has an average weekly attendance for all ages of 31. For a quarter of churches, that figure is 11.
Archbishop Cottrell believes the solution is more, not fewer churches. His article reiterates the commitment to a “mixed ecology”. The new term is used to include church planting, new expressions of church and chaplaincy, as well as a “reinvented” parish system. The goal of doubling the number of children and young people must be achieved by increasing the number of churches from over 25 young people, currently only 900, to 3,000.
The newspaper expects challenges in the direction of travel indicated, including fatigue with central initiatives. “There is a lot of fatigue in the Church,” he wrote. “We had a lot of initiatives. They have not always been well received. Nor have they always been particularly effective. It is very likely that the Covid-19 crisis has increased this feeling of weariness.
“We must prevent this vision and this strategy from appearing as ‘one more initiative’. Rather, it is a resetting of the compass around our fundamental vocation to follow Christ and to make Christ known.
A final list of “ten things to constantly keep in mind” includes the observation that the decline the Church of England has experienced over a long period of time is “not simply the result of a failure. We can’t just say that if only we had different strategies, better plans (and better bishops), everything would be fine.
“We have undoubtedly failed several times. There are things we should have done differently. But it would be foolish to ignore the enormous shift in the tectonic plates of European and global culture that have shaped the world in which we serve and witness.
“Likewise, it would be disastrous folly to ignore God. Whatever strategies we develop must begin and stem from deep spiritual renewal and greater expectation of God.