Why just grow your church when you can MULTIPLY it?
A new project to help Baptist churches explore a multi-congregational future is being launched. Simon Goddard explains more
Thanks to the incarnational ministry of Urban Expression teams, many new congregations have been planted across the country, often in areas of urban deprivation.
Although undertaken within the context of Baptists Together, and in relationship with supportive local churches, this type of pioneering frequently has an element of planting ‘from scratch’. The MULTIPLY project draws on the inspiration of these church planters, but instead seeks to grow multi-congregational churches by planting new congregations ‘from within’ churches that already exist.
Definition: a multi-congregational church has a single constitution but two or more distinct congregations.
Different to mother-daughter church planting approach...
The MULTIPLY model differs from the traditional ‘mother-daughter’ church planting approach where an independent congregation, which looks extremely similar to the original, is the intended outcome. In a multi-congregational approach, whilst it is possible that the new congregation may one day become autonomous of the planting church, that is neither the intention nor the expectation.
Additionally, a multi-congregational approach anticipates that each new congregation will look quite different to the others as it emerges organically in response to the context in which it is planted.
... and to Messy Church
Many Baptist churches have been inspired by the ecumenical Fresh Expressions movement of the last decade or so, and have started a Messy Church, or Café Church, or other regular meetings, for example in pubs or workplaces. Our Baptist ecclesiology, however, means that as relationships develop in these mission initiatives our usual expectation is that people will eventually become part of the Sunday morning congregation.
In true ‘fresh expressions’, however, the expressed hope is that these gatherings will mature into distinct communities of discipleship and worship, and will become ‘church’ for those who go to them. This means that people will be baptised at the fresh expression, and will go on to express their membership of the wider church through their commitment to and ministry within the new congregation.
Many larger churches have adopted the multi-congregational approach when, having limited seating capacity, they have introduced additional services into the same worship space. Whilst there is sometimes a similarity between the services, often each congregation has a distinct nature to it – for example, a traditional 9.30am service, a family-friendly 11.00am gathering, and a youth-focussed 7.00pm event.
Perhaps less familiar in the UK is the ‘campus’ model where one church has a number of congregations located across different worship spaces. These types of multi-congregational churches sometimes come about as a result of partnerships between smaller churches who benefit from working together or with a neighbouring larger church.
The vision of the MULTIPLY project
Whilst MULTIPLY may be of benefit to churches exploring these two approaches, the main focus of the project is to help churches start new expressions of church in addition to their established Sunday morning congregation. Journeying together as each church sows the seeds of the gospel in variety of places and networks and sees what contextually relevant expressions of Christian community emerge.
The vision of MULTIPLY is to see teams of individuals engage in incarnational mission and for their churches become webs of distinct yet interconnected congregations, each expressing themselves in ways that are appropriate to their own unique context.
One example of this vision becoming reality is seen at the Beacon Church in Stafford, “one church, serving four communities, across eight main meetings”. Over the last four years five new congregations have been planted, including a ‘pub church’ and a lunch time gathering for office workers on a technology park. They have also enabled an evangelist to start living on a new housing development, and in the midst of their ‘experimenting’ they are hopeful of three more congregations potentially emerging in the near future.
In a matter of a few years, across all of the congregations, adult attendance has grown from around 50 to nearly 300.
How will the MULTIPLY project work?
MULTIPLY will be using a learning community model for churches wanting to explore becoming multi-congregational, as well as for those who have already begun the journey. With a combination of online and face-to-face events and resources, alongside access to relevant training, the hope is to learn from one another and to share together in the challenges and the successes along the way.
Maybe you were involved in starting a Messy Church a few years ago, and although initially pleased with how many people came, you’re wondering what the next step needs to be.
Maybe you’re part of a Sunday morning congregation which caters well to a particular demographic but is not willing to change to become more attractive to other groups of people that you want to reach within the local community. Or maybe you want to start a fresh expression.
If any of these apply, then perhaps MULTIPLY is for you.
To register your interest, please fill in the enquiry form below, and you’ll be sent more information about how you and your church can get involved.
Simon Goddard is a Regional Minister in the Eastern Baptist Association, and a Pioneer Co-ordinator