What about Resource Churches as a planting/urban strategy?

I’ve hinted at this in a few posts but I want to pick up on it more explicitly. The concept of “The Resource Church” is something gaining currency among Anglicans and I suspect that where Anglican Evangelicals go, independent evangelicals will follow.

The concept is this.  Every city needs a large “resource church”[1] which is then able to resource the wider church in the city. This is usually a city centre church or a church near the student population.  It seems to primarily be a feature of charismatic Anglican strategy and examples are given of HTB in London, St Thomas’ in Sheffield etc. It was part of the thinking behind the launch of Gas Street church in Birmingham. 

Problems with the Strategy

Now, before I go any further, I want to be clear that although I’m on a different page theologically to those churches and the stream particularly involved in this, I wish them well.  We want to see lots of fruitful churches where the Gospel is clearly proclaimed around our country.

However, here are some concerns, limitations and potential flaws in the thinking:

  1. The fact that the conversation locks onto one particular church raises questions about whether or not these are genuinely “Resource churches.”  In Sheffield, you also have Christ Church Fulwood from a different brand of Anglicanism and The Crowded House on the FIEC side that are busy planting churches and supporting revitalisations whilst in London there’s places like All souls, St Helens etc and in Birmingham you already had St Johns as a large C of E church plus a number of fairly strong, open hearted and outward looking FIEC and New Frontiers churches. Whilst all of them are generous and outward looking, are the really resourcing a city or focusing on their own mission objectives?
  2. As I hinted at in Move Us into Action, very often, it is the smaller churches in hard to reach areas that resource the larger churches. We do this as people whose lives have been turned around by the Gospel also start to progress up the social ladder and move into more prosperous areas. We do this as young people who have been discipled from an early age head off to University each Autumn. We do this as men and women who have been part of our churches go to train for ministry and then take up assistant-pastorships in those churches. I am not raising this as a complaint. This has long been the way of life.
  3. To take point 2 further, we have learnt that you don’t have to be large or wealthy to engage in Gospel partnership that serves the wider kingdom. Here is a local church that has never been massive but has constantly seen people go to serve all around the world, provided preachers for other churches, worked with 2020 and CPI to act as a catalyst for church planting, through a  5 year partnership with a mission organisation helped train over 50 young people from all around the world and is now hosting a hub where future pastors can train for urban ministry.  Within what we are doing, Nueva Vida, a 2 year old congregation with not a lot of resources gives as well as receives providing a Christmas day lunch, helping staff our community café,  etc.
  4. It assumes that this is what the City needs – but are pastors and vicars labouring in the hard to reach areas ever consulted on what they need or is it just assumed? And let’s put it bluntly, what would happen if all of those resources going into the resource church were  shared out to other churches on the front-line. True, we may not see the “results” we’ve seen in terms of big churches and rapid growth but are we sure that this is Gospel fruit? By the way, I think because such strategies have an impact on the wider church (see point 7) that you can’t really plan them within the silo of a denomination, tribe or tradition. The affect for good or ill crosses those boundaries.
  5. Point 4 is particularly an issue because reading the linked documents (see footnotes) suggests a building heavy focus. The resource church needs a large venue first and then appropriate staffing etc.
  6. This means that because large funds are poured into these churches and because goals are set beyond the simple responsibility of making disciples it means that they are under pressure from bishops and backers to “succeed” and quickly.  I don’t envy them that but I am concerned that this risk creating unhealthy pressure.
  7. The model seems to be “attractional” and to my mind that seems most likely to attract people looking to move from one church to another.
  8. I worry that this also to some extent remains rooted in the same type of Evangelical thinking that produced the Iwerne Camps movement.  This may relate to the fact that many leading Evangelical Anglicans came through under that strategy.  The idea is that you can pick out potential leaders and shapers by focusing on a particular demographic. It is trickle down effect evangelism. You reach the elites and powerful in society and they go on to reach everyone else.
  9. The talk seems to be about starting new churches or re-vitalising struggling churches in large buildings with the aim that they become “Resource Churches.” But that’s not how it happened with HTB, St Thoms, Christ Church Fulwood, St Helens, All Souls etc. Rather, those churches grew because there was a focus on the Gospel and the ability to support and resource others flowed naturally out of that.

Positives -Things to Learn and Things to Rejoice in

However, because this is not my style, my theological background or my preferred approach I may close my eyes to positives and things to learn. So, here are some positives I want to highlight.

  1. We should rejoice when people are coming to Christ and when young people are going on to University and to work and continuing to engage with the Gospel and church who might have been tempted to drift away.  Even when this means people are moving between churches, although we would all rather that they were settled and growth came from new believers rather than transfer, there may be some good in it. You see, if someone is struggling, becoming disillusioned or discontent, on the fringes, just not getting it with us then would I rather that they went to another church or that they dropped out and went no-where. The answer should be obvious but I wonder if it always is?
  2. What many of these churches have is a passion, vigour and clear focus. We can all learn from these things.
  3. I believe there is a genuine desire to be generous and to give away.  This is a good thing. It is far better than having churches that are completely introverted in on themselves
  4. Church planting and revitalisation is on the agenda and is happening.

Another way forward

I want to suggest another way forward. It’s a way forward that I think those churches can play a part in. It’s “Interdependence.”  What I mean is this.  Let’s get away from the notion of one way traffic out of specifically nominated churches and think about how we all work together as part of the body of Christ.

This means that:

  1. Smaller churches with few resources can welcome the support and involvement of larger churches.
  2. That larger, “better resourced” churches recognise how much smaller churches also have to give and how much they already receive from them. It is mutual interdependence not dependence.
  3. That all churches are encouraged to see their part in the wider mission no matter how large or small they are, no matter how prosperous their congregations, no matter how young or established they are. Right from the start it should be in our DNA to work in partnership with others and to give people, money, prayer, time not just to our own specific patch but to the wider work of God’s Kingdom.

[1] See http://www.churchcare.co.uk/churches/guidance-advice/making-changes-to-your-building/resource-churches and http://www.churchgrowthrd.org.uk/UserFiles/File/Resourcing_Mission_Bulletin/June_2015/02._City_Centre_Resource_Churches.pdf