According to research conducted by Tear Fund, 60 percent of adults in the UK never go to church, 26 percent go once a year, and less than 15 percent attend a church service of some kind once a month. That means at least 86 percent have no meaningful contact with church at all. The statistics are probably higher when you consider that church services attended once a month by 15 percent include everything that would call itself a church service, rather than contact with bible believing gatherings of God’s people.[i]
Britain is typical of much of Western Europe. If our dominant mode of church planting is churches planting churches after their own likeness then we aren’t going to make an impact on the unchurched of Western Europe. Church planting will be slow at best, tribal and contextually irrelevant when it happens. We need a gospel driven flexibility when it comes to the models we design and plant.
A hybrid approach
The ideal situation for Western Europe would be to see a hybrid approach to church planting. This is where churches of one model are enthusiastic to partner with and plant churches that adopt a different model for the sake of gospel witness in the context they want to reach. For this to happen we need to establish what is non-negotiable and what is negotiable about church planting.
Negotiables and Non-Negotiables
The ‘non-negotiables’ for church planting models should be: making disciples through the planting of gospel-centred communities; biblically qualified leaders; witness to the context by speaking the gospel and displaying the gospel through shared lives; serving the local community. When, where, how often you meet, how the bible teaching is delivered to christians and non-christians and the methods you use to equip the saints for ministry are all negotiable. But all of those should service the growth and witness of God’s people on mission in context. Too often what should be regarded as negotiable practices function as non-negotiable principles. This produces suspicion of alternative models and results in a failure to partner with anyone outside of our favourite ways of doing things.
Those who prefer structured churches with programs rarely plant organic models and vice versa. Those who plant missionaly relational churches rarely partner to plant events based models and vice versa. Those who plant models of church that take church to the unbeliever rarely plant churches that are attractional. Those churches that see sermon preaching and monologue as the main point of missional contact don’t tend to plant models that contextualise the gospel through social action projects and gospel conversation. There are notable exceptions but so far the hybrid approach is not the norm.
Achieving the hybrid approach
To achieve this hybrid approach for Western Europe we need to break down the prejudices on both sides of four currently polarised models:
– organic vs structured
– attractional vs sent
– monologues vs social action and conversation
– events vs relational mission.
These have to become contextual choices rather than non-negotiable, opposed points of principle and tribal markers.