Co-Mission is about reaching London for Christ. It’s why we exist. We desperately want to reach the wonderful diversity of contemporary Londoners with the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We’d love for them to know who Christ is, what he’s done and why he matters. We’d love them to put their faith in him and experience the forgiveness of their sins. We’d love them to follow him as Lord and discover for themselves his liberating way of life. And we’d love to do that together, rather than as independent, disconnected churches.
But how are we going to do that? It’s a good question.
The simple answer is ‘planting churches’. But that’s a ‘tip of the iceberg’ answer. There’s more that needs to be said: How are we going to plant? Which type of churches are we going to plant? Where and when are we going to plant? These are the kinds of questions that land on my desk. We want to be responsible stewards of the people, money, time, energy and opportunities that God has entrusted to us.
In the past, our church planting has been primarily organic and opportunistic. God has presented us with gift horse opportunities. And wonderfully he’s given us the faith not to look them in the mouth. Recently, we’ve made concerted efforts to be organised in our church planting. Let me explain what I mean:
Our organic church planting has come through the numerical growth that God has given to some of our ministries. For example, planting Fairfield Community Church (that went on to be renamed Cornerstone Church Kingston) from Dundonald Church in Wimbledon. A significant crowd of people travelled to Dundonald from the other side of the A3, largely from New Malden and beyond. So it made good sense to start a new congregation in the Kingston area.
We continue to help church leadership teams think through opportunities both for internal multiplication of congregations and for planting into areas untouched by gospel ministries. Some of my time is spent working with Senior Pastors and local church elders as they consider nearby opportunities to plant new congregations. Obviously, if this were our only model of church planting then the rate at which we could plant would be limited by the growth of individual churches.
Our opportunistic church planting has taken the form of revitalizing churches and pioneering planting. Revitalization has been especially fruitful in the Church of England through the Diocese of London. For example, Rupert Standring and a team from Emmanuel Church Fulham were sent to revitalize St Peter’s Fulham. We continue to liaise with organisations like the Church of England, the FIEC and the Grace Baptist Association to identify and act on opportunities. Increasingly, such organisations are approaching us to ask for our help.
Pioneering planting is the adventurous, high risk but potentially high reward church planting trialled in the Antioch Plan project launched in 2014. Pioneering planting is really congregation planting in embryonic form. Usually, we’re talking about an entrepreneurially minded planter with a willing and able wife who seek to recruit a launch team from their existing networks and evangelistic activity. It’s bold. BLoC epitomises this approach. Jay and Julie Marriner were willing and able to plant a church in Brixton, and were convinced that God would provide them with the resources to do so.
In addition to growing organic church plants and grasping opportunities, we also want to be getting more organised. Co-Mission is a network co-operating together to plant churches rather than simply a collection of churches who once were planted. Therefore, we co-ordinate our resources and think about how to launch plants collaboratively. For example, Christ Church Earlsfield was planted by Christ Church Mayfair, Dundonald and Christ Church Balham working together. We’re currently involved in a consultation with a handful of churches in South East London to try to plant a new church in a significant Greater London suburban town.
As you might expect, there are many obstacles to our planting endeavours. Church planting on paper is very easy. But church planting in practice is a very different beast, and not only because it involves people! There are things that make starting new churches difficult to do, and we’re working together on trying to overcome those difficulties.
For example, church planting costs money. There are always two questions to answer and we’re keen to distinguish them. First, what will it cost to plant this church? Secondly, how are we going to pay for it? The answer to the first question is well established and understood. Assuming a planter earns the average national wage, has a pension and rents a three-bedroom house then there is little change from £60,000 a year. We can tweak the arrangements but that won’t fundamentally alter the costs. The answer to the second question has many forms, but the issue is one of fundraising. And God has been consistently good to us through the sacrificial generosity of many who’ve contributed their financial resources.
Church plants need pastors who can get churches up and running and are willing to live with the uncertainty involved in planting. That’s a different skillset to being a church pastor. And so we need to keep recruiting men who have the ability and capacity to survive and thrive under a different set of pressures to a more predictable pattern of ministry.
Finally, church plants need church planting teams. If we are to extend our activities beyond the neighbouring suburbs of our existing churches, we need people who are willing to be enterprising, and willing to move. That’s going to be easier for those who rent and who’ve yet to put down roots in a local community. But hopefully the gospel needs of our city will make some of us face the possibility of relocating to help get a new church up and running.
These are some of the obstacles we face. There are others. But let’s move on to the outcomes of our prayerful deliberations.
What’s happening behind the scenes? As you might expect, it’s an ongoing conversation. We’ve learnt lots over the last 15 years and continue to learn. Whilst we’re not quite yet in possession of a faultless grand plan, we’ve moved beyond the back of a paper napkin with which Jay Mariner and I sketched out a five-year plan for BLoC.
There have been some encouraging outcomes from our prayerful consideration and ongoing discussion, including:
- We’re paying renewed attention to our training pipeline. We want to keep encouraging men and women to consider our Ministry Training Scheme. We’re hoping that from within this group some will emerge who are keen to be involved in planting. In addition, Andy Harker has been beavering away behind the scenes planning the launch of a London Church Planting Academy which will build on our collaboration with existing church planting partners and foster greater coordination and cross-fertilisation of best practice.
- We’re identifying potential locations that could become church planting hubs, much as Raynes Park has in South West London. And so we’re doing what we can to understand the social geography of our city. We want to build up a picture not simply of which churches are where, but who is where, how long they’re there for, where they go next and so on. For example, a central London church like Christ Church Mayfair can plant, every few years, into a zone 2 or 3 suburb 20 minutes tube journey away. They’ve done that in Haringey in the North East and they’re planning to do it again in a different location in 2-3 years’ time.
- We’re working with like-minded, Bible-believing churches and organisations to deepen our gospel partnerships. I spent a very enjoyable morning in April with a group of church leaders in a Co-Mission regional cluster exploring possibilities in their patch of London. We’re liaising with organisations like the FIEC, the Church of England and London City Mission to open up opportunities. It may be that the churches we help plant aren’t Co-Mission churches. That’s alright. But some choose to be so. We’re helping to plant new churches in a couple of London locations right now with church leadership teams who are on the same page as us (theologically speaking) and who would like the church to be a part of our network of churches. That’s exciting.
Our tagline is A Passion, for Planting, for London, for Christ. We know why we’re planting churches: for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know where we’re doing it: this great diverse and densely populated capital city of ours. And we’re getting better at how we’re doing it: we’re focused on planting because although we’ve got lots to learn, we’re aware that the Lord has already given us experience and expertise in developing successful strategies for planting. We’re asking people to hang around and be part of something bigger than their own Christian lives, than even the life of their local church. And for that to be a credible ask we’ve got to show them the plan. This brief article can only scratch the surface of what’s going on behind the scenes. I hope it’s encouraging. Please pray for us as we work on planting another 30 churches in the next five years.