The biggest challenge that we face in urban church planting is that the evangelical church is locked onto one very specific model of church planting. It depends on one large church or several medium sized churches setting aside between 20 -50 people as a core group to launch the church.
The problem is this. I look at our estate and I can’t see 20, let alone 50 people to start a church. It’s not going to be enough for a group of people who don’t live on the estate to start a meeting. That will just be a church for outsiders who commute. Nor is there the option of that number of people moving onto the estate to live here and plant. They would still be outsiders coming in. Indeed, something like that would probably look like a cult.
So, you can see the problem. It means that whilst some of the things we’ve mentioned previously including things that we have said could help to some extent are not the answer. It’s not going to be enough to encourage students to join an estate or inner-city church, a Christian organisation moving its HQ to a deprived area isn’t going to change things. Church plants from larger city centre and university areas, whether they classify themselves as resource churches or not will only get into those areas on the natural migration paths of students and graduates.
The problem is two-fold. First of all, we want heroics. We like the idea of the cavalry coming in over the hill to save the day. Secondly, on the other hand, we don’t like heroics that much, we like safety in numbers! This is also because we are scared stiff of failure.
The point is this. Church plants that embed into our estates and inner cities and see long term fruitfulness will be church plants where the leaders and core group of active members are indigenous members of the population. Now, estates where there are no Christians will need missionaries to go into them and do what missionaries traditionally did, live and die there. That’s why we talk about encouraging pioneer planters on our ActBC pages. They will be there for the long haul and they will witness, make disciples, train etc.
This means that people who are considering going as as church planters must be ready to go it alone. By this I mean don’t; expect the core team. You won’t be alone because you will be supported and encouraged by other Christians and local churches.
It means that those who are called to financially and prayerfully support urban church planting need to be in it for the long haul too. Don’t expect to be able to support a project for a few years, rejoice at the payback and move on. Just as you would support an overseas missionary for the life time, so too the planter.
It means that we will have to work even harder at providing top quality theological training for people that have grown up on our estates. It will need to be delivered in context. I firmly believe that in many cases residential campus based training will not be the answer but I also firmly believe that we must not dumb down or scrimp on the training (you don’t expect your pastor of your 500 member, student make-up, resource church to get by for a life of ministry on a 1 day a week, 1 year ministry training course -so why would this do for these fellow front-line workers).
Key to seeing the UK church getting …and getting involved in urban mission is that together we get a strong sense of what the mission, vision and approach is. We all need to be in it for the long-haul.