Planting Interdependent Churches

When talking about encouraging Black Country Church planting we’ve talked specifically about wanting to see a family of interdependent churches. What do we mean by this?Well, generally speaking, in church life you have two options. On the one hand you can be fully signed up to a denomination. In a denomination, you don’t have full autonomy over your affairs, you are accountable to a higher decision making body such as the Synod or Presbytery or an individual such as the superintendent minister or Bishop.  This means that even if a local church congregation are involved in the decision making process, they may still have to get permission from other people and local decisions could be overturned or outsider decisions imposed.

On the other hand, you’ve got complete independence where a church is fully autonomous. It may affiliate to an association of churches but they have no say in what happens. Independent churches are expected to stand on their own two feet for resources including people and finance, make their own decisions, appoint their own leaders etc.

Now, if churches are planted that are expected to quickly become fully independent churches, that involves a lot of risk.  Small church plants in tough neighbourhoods may struggle to raise the finances to continue, they may struggle to identify workers for key roles and people may be pushed into leadership too soon.

Now the new congregations we’ve started as part of Bearwood Chapel benefit from being part of the same church family. It means we all work together to do outreach including children’s clubs, Toddler’s groups, the community café and special events. It means that we pool our finance together. It means that people help out at different services, you may be a member of The 9:30 Service congregation but help run the 11:15 Sunday Club. It means that you may attend at 11:15 but teach at Sunday Night Church. We share people, resources and wisdom as we learn from each other and advise one another.  Each congregation is quite small and I think they’d all have struggled to survive the early days if they’d started out as go it alone churches.

And that’s the point isn’t it. They aren’t independent. We have encouraged autonomy, each is free to develop its own style and leadership teams have been created to look after each congregation’s pastoral needs but in the end they are still part of Bearwood Chapel under a single eldership. But is that really the point? Would a small new congregation meeting in Blackheath or on the Bristnall estate have to give up sharing all those things.  Would they have to provide all their own preachers and kids clubs workers even when they only had a few people attending and even fewer of them mature in their faith. If we planted a church in an economically deprived area would we expect it to be self-financing within x months or years? What if we went on sharing resources?  A church would genuinely become independent in time with its own membership and elders but what if we continued to share resources and work closely together. Wouldn’t that give all the churches in the family a greater chance of thriving?

Now notice two things. First of all, I’m not advocating a multi-site model.  I’m not completely against multi-site churches, there may be some practical benefits, at least in the early days but this isn’t the approach I’m suggesting.  However, I’m also suggesting something different to a mother-daughter church relationship where the main church supports the plant for a period of time. Here are the differences.

  1. It means recognising that a fully functioning and flourishing church may never (or at least for a long time) in its particular context be able to fully go it alone. The obvious example is financially.
  2. It’s not about dependence. This approach is about recognising that each congregation benefits from each other. The direction of help is not one way. So for example, in our current context, our largest and most robust congregation is 11:15 morning Worship but it still benefits hugely from linking with The 9:30 Service, Nueva Vida and Sunday Night Church.

A family of interdependent churches planted across the Black Country would have the benefits of seeing genuinely local churches embedded into local communities whilst continuing to work together and support one another.

If you are interested in this vision for planting churches in our region please have a look at the #PlantBC page here and then come and speak to us.

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