Wineskins Part 1

This is part 1 of a series on church planting and young people, among other things. Follow the rest of the discussion hereherehere and here

A few days ago I tweeted that I don’t believe in church planting. Naturally, a few people wanted me to explain myself, especially those who happen to be involved with contemporary church movements!

For the purposes of this discussion, I use ‘church planting’ to refer to the contemporary movement toward starting new churches, particularly driven by young evangelicals. This movement transcends traditions and denominations, and could be criticised for being white/male dominated.

Several conferences, organisational bodies and leading personalities have emerged over the years including Acts 29, Ecclesia, Exponential, Verge and who knows how many others. Mention the names ‘Alan Hirsch‘ or ‘Mark Driscoll‘ in the right circles and just see the reaction you get.

These movements have grown and done good. Entire generations have heard the Gospel who might never have known anything about Jesus. Or those who had felt marginalised and forgotten by the church had a new opportunity to serve and be served and know community. Shedding the baggage of tradition has allowed expectations to be deconstructed and beautiful expressions of Christ to rise up in our modern culture.

These are good, good things. So much to be thankful for.

Yet still, I am frustrated.

You see, I am a member of a small Baptist church in suburban England. We have a 5-hymn sandwich often led by the organ. Sometimes we sing contemporary songs, but seldom anything newer than 5 years. Half our members are over 50 and wear their Sunday Best to Church. They don’t like the drums and don’t seem to get the point in singing 3 or 4 songs in a row. As for interactive worship? That’s for the children.

I love my little Baptist church. I love drinking slightly disappointing coffee with them after the worship service. I love fighting the minister for the last slice of cake. I love being around these people. These different generations, wealths of experience and depths of spirituality. I love the cheesy songs, I love singing ‘Shine, Jesus Shine’ at the top of my lungs with the organ leading. I love my church.

So, it kind of annoys me to see a generation of young, Biblically passionate, humble and gifted leaders walk away from the historic church.

Well, the inherited church at least.

What if those same talented, passionate and mature leaders invested themselves in their local church?

All the support raising.

All the connecting with non-believers.

All the time and energy.

All the innovative thinking.

The music and art.

The faithful Biblical preaching.

Commitment to sound doctrine.

Steps of faith.

What if all of these things were in our inherited churches?

I have a few ideas why these young leaders tend to power ahead with new expressions of church, but I welcome your feedback before I write on that.

Can you imagine how different your church might be if  a team of young, energetic, gifted families would pour themselves into your body?

Or if you are in a church plant, have you thought about what you could do in an established church?

What challenges would you have faced?

Let’s talk about this.

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  1. So, it kind of annoys me to see a generation of young, Biblically passionate, humble and gifted leaders walk away from the historic church.

    I know your frustration(s) yet what when the established historic church is killing you. where you know that God is asking you to do and share something yet no matter what you are told you dont have what they want in a leader or in gift or vision… do you deny that which God has given (yes there are time when we get it wrong, but what when the church leaders in the traditional established church get it wrong) there comes a point when you do have to leave. it isnt a easy choice to walk away its heart braking when you have a love a deep love for the church the body of christ here on earth. to stay faithful to preach the gospel to preach and live as you layout yes there is a lot to offer and some of the established/inherited congregations have spent years praying for just that there are on the other hand others who want the status quo to stay unchanged undisturbed.
    I’ve no answers and struggle constantly with this question stay or go, go and not burn bridges but form the community that is in my heart to do linking in with traditional churches… it is a hugh question.

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    • Thanks for your comment, I think you’ve perfectly framed one of the key issues: what about those who are not welcomed into the church’s systems?

      It is deeply frustrating to know God has given you a vision and a gift and to be unable to share it. It would be like a writer who was forbidden from writing even another verse of poetry!

      Is it on the emerging generation of leaders, or the existing figureheads to integrate this new movement into the established church? What would the young need to do? What would the old need to do?

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  2. Interesting read. Although the underlying argument strikes me like a white-european-american against immigration.

    Your church started sometime in the (fairly) recent past – and was thus a “plant”. It is what it is because it isn’t what was before it.

    I don’t know that you’re wrong though.

    Unity is the prime value behind your position – and should be the guiding value behind our decisions to plant or continue in the church we are in.

    For some churches the most unifying thing they could do is what you are suggesting – move forward together, as an evolving expression of the Church.

    For others, the culture they find themselves in has shifted so rapidly that adapting to it would take the organization in a direction that wasn’t authentic to its members. And that wouldn’t bring the unity Christ’s body should have.

    I guess the other underlying question is if we’re talking about a church or The Church. For The Church to grow the individual churches that make it up will be in a constant lifecycle of birth, growth, stability, birthing new, new growth, new stability, and on and on. It’s part of being alive. And reproducing.

    Perhaps the “solution” is that there isn’t a single solution. There is a trend today of churches that replicate themselves too quickly – and/or plant out of arrogance or self-promotion. This is as unhealthy as the church never reproducing.

    As in Acts, we must follow the Spirit of God and respond however he leads.

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    • I like your statement about the lifecycle of the church, but you stop short of mentioning the death of a church. Is that ever a good and necessary part of the corporate spiritual life?

      Yes, the lack of unity is what most irks me about modern church planting. On the other hand however, I understand that sometimes the church gets in the way of The Church. Where the Word of God is rejected, it moves on (Matt 10). Perhaps church planting shows historic churches the kind of faith they have forgotten, even calling them to repentance.

      I share your thought about the carbon-copy, self-replicating, video-screen church plants. I find those a little concerning.

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      • Life and Death are central to the Christian gospel, or should I say Death and Resurrection. We must be prepared to allow our `seed` to fall to the ground and die, be that on a personal or a corporate/structural level, so that the new can emerge through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. My bias would be that the older churches release their resources – often buildings and plant, but sometimes also money – to provide help and guidance, maturity and wisdom to the emerging church. Surely this is better than the established churches being focused on survival, (maintenance) and eventually facing a slow death!

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      • And here was me thinking we could have this entire discussion without mentioning the phrase ’emerging church’.

        Have you ever seen a church ‘plant’ a new congregation? That is, reach out to a different section of a community, perhaps providing a worship experience suited to them. One church started a 9 AM service to reach out to young families. It wasn’t that they were opposed to church, it was more that they didn’t really have the time.

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  3. Well, it seems to me that you are too stuck on tradition. If you take a look at stats, youngster are very disinterested in the ‘church’ and are falling away. We need to reach them, not by changing God’s Word, but by changing how it’s delivered. So what if no one wants to sing long, monotonous Hynms, let them sing contemporary gospel if that’s what attracts more people to Christ.

    God is not a God of religion but of faith. Many of these radical churches branched off because of the fact that tradition is more important to the older folks than adjusting to include a more diverse worship service that reaches MORE LOST people instead of catering to those already saved. I think it’s great that more people are being reached through churches who aren’t afraid to share God’s Word through the many new forms of media, music, and worship.

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    • Maybe.

      I said I loved my church, and I am saddened that much young talent and passion is not encouraged in established congregations. I wouldn’t say I stuck on tradition, just that I have gotten over the need for The Next Big Thing. Just because young people come to church does not mean they are drawn to Christ. Back in the day, I knew people who would go to the youth service at a local church because they thought the musicians were hot.

      You are quite right in pointing out the stubbornness of the old. That is one of the constant frustrations I have with many churches. Unwilling to take a risk on a young leader, unwilling to allow them to shape the church of today.

      As it happens, I struggle with the church services at my home church. Sometimes I drift off during the hymn singing and start counting the stripes on the preacher’s tie or something.

      Is it possible that church planting is driving a wedge between the generations?

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  4. Oh so much to say, let me get my thoughts together and I will comment fully
    🙂

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  5. Well I have done both. I grew up in a middle of the road Anglican village church, then later on my wife and I were part of a church that just drifted along on the verge of being closed down and we poured ourselves into it. The problem was that we can pour ourselves into things but what happens if the church won’t allow/ can’t cope with change? Surely that is what happened in the 18th century with the methodists breaking away from the Anglican church as the Anglicans wouldn’t cope with their enthusiasm? Or the rise of the black pentecostal movement in the UK because the churches didn’t know how to embrace them?

    Of course some churches plant because they want to reach more people. We have just planted a new congregation on a local “working class” estate and its been a joy to see. Although we have sent some of our best people we are already seeing people grow and flourish as a result.

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  6. Interesting blog – a number of comments from me, first to “not believe in church planting” is to deny the call (great commission) of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples. Church plants are not (or should not be) about forming new cultural shapes for the church, but reaching people who are lost without God in this world. Paul says “By all means to reach some” Church plants are one of those means.

    The important issue you raise is about contemporary expressions of church, and you are right these can suck the live out of the established churches around them – but not necessarily. In our little town (Barnoldswick in Lancashire) we (that is the `new` church) work closely together with the other churches, of course we don’t always agree but we can serve – together. Actually the church that is currently attracting young families is the Baptist Church, but that is another issue for another time.
    Churches tend to attract like minded people, offering contemplative spirituality, liturgy, or traditional hymns is never going to reach the people that come to us week by week. It can never be either/or but always both/and.

    The third comments is that the new church planting streams – (we are part of the New Frontiers network) have set up separately from the established churches for two really important reasons. The first is that the leaders of these networks were given the left boot from the churches they grew up in when they started moving in the gifts and presence of the Holy Spirit, Yes I know that was a generation ago, but once you are kicked out and have started something new it is too late to invite them back…
    The second is that the churches we are invited to “invest” ourselves in often – and i hope this isn’t true of your church – simply do not have a mission focus. If we look back to the 18th and early 19th century Baptist churches they were planting new churches (or missions) and supporting those church plants as they grew. This is what networks like New Frontiers do today and this is why we can grow strong church plants rapidly.

    A possible, but very radical, answer could be a twinning programme. Why couldn’t your church adopt a church plant, to mutual benefit and encouragement – you could send your best people and resources to build the new church, they in turn could offer some of the gifting and enthusiasm that you are in need of.

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    • I suppose I haven’t made my story clear:

      I work for a church plant in America. I am spending a few months serving them and learning from them. But as I have been away and learned first had what this culture is like, it has led me to think of my home church who I have not seen since last summer.

      Church planting is absolutely biblical. Nobody can argue with that! But is it necessary in our churched culture? Are there unreached people groups? Yes.

      I do appreciate that church planting often becomes necessary for a believer with a calling that the established church refuses to recognise. That’s the story I’ve heard time and time again: Those who were called but not affirmed or nurtured had to find the fulfilment of their calling in a new expression. That is the sad consequence of the stubbornness of church leaders. They hold on so tight that it slips through their fingers.

      Thanks for your wisdom. I look forward to developing this conversation over the next few days.

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      • Church planting is absolutely biblical. Nobody can argue with that! But is it necessary in our churched culture?
        The church plants in the west today are reaching people for whom the Churches of the culture are largely irrelevant, so yes we need Church plants.
        I would go further and argue that the churches that Paul wrote to were not the structures we find today, but rather a network of house church plants that may have gather together from time to time as a city congregation. This makes sense of `throwaway lines` such as Paul writing “greet the church that meets in … home”

        What we need for our culture is the informal connections that church plants can provide, to offer purpose, acceptance, relationship and connectedness. The established churches struggle with this, not because they are not wonderful bible believing people with great hearts, but because they are constrained by the structures they are in.

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      • Well, being a part of New Frontiers of course you’d argue for house churches 😉

        However we are not in first century palestine and we DO have a heritage, a culture that remembers us. Weddings show that there are still large sections of society who want to go to the church to get married. They don’t want a house church, they want a little old chapel or something like that.

        Or people who want to see a guy with a white collar by their hospital bed, not someone wearing a new sweater from Hollister.

        That paradigm is one we largely created and I see that as the Spirit’s work in the Church Historic.

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      • “Well, being a part of New Frontiers of course you’d argue for house churches” Not at all – I am in a definite minority within NF for my views!

        And actually I never wore a collar when I was a Baptist minister, but it didn’t stop me being the person people wanted to officiate at their wedding, take a funeral or be around when they were in hospital, and that includes the hospital staff!

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  7. Great post, but I have some issues. Church memberships to established historic churches are dropping, especially in the youth sectors. This is directly because of the ‘5-hymn sandwich’ approach to worship. I totally agree that established churches have a wealth of wisdom and biblical strength within them, and it is their duty to help new church plants maintain a strong biblical foundation, by investing their wisdom there. If young, Biblically passionate, humble and gifted leaders, did invest their energy in the established church, they will be pushed aside, all because their approach is ‘too young’, ‘the congregation is too old’ they will say. I’ve seen it happen in my church in Oxfordshire, young people on fire for the Lord, pushed away, all because they won’t fall in line.

    I for one, like the idea of a church twinning program. It could work.

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    • I’m certainly no fan of the 5-hymn sandwich either!

      Sorry, sarcasm really doesn’t communicate on a blog, does it?

      Your response seems to be rooted in a very common experience. Dismissing the youth. Churches shooting themselves in the foot.

      Twinning would be good. Humble teamwork and repentance would be better.

      I want to imagine what it would be like for the established church to really believe the Spirit is doing something unique in the emerging generation, and then to really jump on board with that.

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      • “I want to imagine what it would be like for the established church to really believe the Spirit is doing something unique in the emerging generation, and then to really jump on board with that.”

        It has happened to some extent, indeed the Anglicans and Methodists (in particular) are those leading on “fresh expressions” to do just that. However IMHO they are missing the point in seeking to run these `experimental` wineskin’s alongside the established ones thus maintaining denominational ownership, rather than having the courage of their convictions and allowing the daughter churches support but freedom and independence.

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      • I’m in a little Methodist Church in a UK backwater……we have been given room to have freedom and independence in pretty much everything while still being in the Methodist local Circuit. That includes building and worship style. So what areas do you see our little church being constrained in by ‘the Methodists’?

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      • Sorry, I am generalising. There are of course excellent examples of people being supported and given freedom. But these are perhaps the minority rather than the majority.
        I had in mind the `alternative service approach` where alternative forms of service are tolerated around the edges rather than being integrated into mainstream church practice.

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      • I know what you mean. I’ve been to churches where there would be 2 services going on simultaneously in the same building. One in the sanctuary with a hymn sandwich, the other in the hall with a band.
        I would call that far from ideal.

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  8. Honestly, I don’t believe that the established church will make the impact that it needs to until it embraces new ideas and methords of worship. (I know too many churches that despise the use of Powerpoint). The problem I see is that the established church (or at least my experience of it) does not pay any attention to the things of the Spirit, I find this very troubling, for it is only with equal parts Word and Spirit that a church will grow effectively.

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    • They should quite rightly despise powerpoint.

      Keynote is far superior.

      I think you might be right about the established church not listening to the Spirit. Perhaps it’s lack of awareness or teaching on things like God’s leadership of the Church?

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  9. I whole heartily agree. Keynote is very much a better product.

    Surely there is enough material out there for churches to be informed? If not, then that might be a great area for deeper investigation. Bible Outlines has a great post on Local Church Leadership http://bit.ly/l1Vu5t, but I think part of the major problem is the lack of open’ness in established church leaderships, the old ‘we have always done it this way, so why change’ attitude. Thats where change needs to happen, first. Otherwise things are unlikely to change.

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  10. “As for interactive worship? That’s for the children.”

    I love it! It is great getting to know you Ian!

    Personally, I have seen the passionate, spirit filled and gifted young believers not welcomed into the inherited model. So they go do their own thing. I believe that every church structure and model is good if it is what God has called the person to do. It is more about the functionality of how do we actually equip and activate everyone involved to allow them to participate in the body of Christ in the way God intended. I do not think that we should run from anything, but rather be called to something.

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    • I hope you don’t think I was being serious. That seems to have been the thought behind ‘family worship’ at many churches. Fun interactive stuff is for kids, hymns and sermons are for adults. It’s a bit sad if you ask me.

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  11. I think that motives have a lot to do with which mode of furthering the gospel is best in a given situation. Often, I have seen more historic/stable churches die because pride has caused them to not only reject differing forms of expression, but also those who bring the differing forms of expression.

    I have also seen church plants fail because it was the pride of thinking that they had the answers for success that no one in a couple of thousand years could think of before them.

    So, yeah… I guess you get my point. It’s probably not the mode that fails, or falls short, or kills the very people who are trying so hard to worship and reach out. It’s the pride- thinking we are smarter, more orthodox, more correct, more pious, cooler, more gifted, more sophisticated and more attractive to the world. Thinking that it is right that we look just like the world; or conversely to be completely isolated from the world.

    It seems that in this little part of the world, the more church plants there are- the more thinly spread people and resources become. I think this is why nearly 70% of church plants fail, and why there is such a concerning rate of moral failure or extreme burnout among their leaders. We seem to want our own yard to play in more than we want to come together to have greater impact.
    It is hard to transition an established church. It is hard to plant a new one. (I’ve led in both scenarios) Some of that is unavoidable, clearly. But, if we could just erase the pride and figure out what is best for each group, each community, I think we might be on to something better and more fruitful- something less deadly for leaders and something that can not only provide the gospel to the lost, but true loving community for the found.

    I don’t necessarily believe this holds true in areas where there are few churches and believers. I’m speaking relatively to a standard urban/suburban western kind of area.

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  12. Ian

    I’ve not read through all the comments in detail, just skimmed them so forgive me if someone has already mentioned this.

    Rob Bell did a talk at Greenbelt last year called ‘Two kinds of New’. And it really speaks into this conversation quite well. (http://www.greenbelt.org.uk/shop/talks/details/GB09-97)
    The thing that jumped out to me was the common things that happen when people get old are that in the West, they mentally calcify as well as physically. Thoughts and beliefs tend to become less flexible along with their joints. This can lead to the probem of the ‘we do it this way because this is the way it’s always been done’ attitude which is very difficult for the next, younger generation to cope with. It results in either the Elderly generation being shipped off to old people’s homes in Bournemouth or Southend or Southport (or Florida in the US) when they retire and being jettisoned or discarded, when really, we can do with their experience and wisdom to help guide the younger generation. Or, the young people going off and planting a church on their own and leaving the old congregation to slowly fossilise.

    What Rob argued was that we should be engaging all portions of the spectrum of age and integrating them all a lot more and the Older generation should work really hard at being flexible and bend towards the new generation like a large, deply rooted, strong tree that can bend and sway in the wind in the way a sapling can’t – the young sapling would be uproted or snap if asked to bend too far and all too often this is what happens in the church, you can see the analogy I’m sure.

    So, I understand the heart of your blog and I’m pretty sure I agree with it on that principle.

    I also agree with the commenters that there are times and places where new churches need to be set up to serve new people in new places where there may not be a church or may not be one any more.

    I definitely think an eclectic mix of ages makes a vibrant church and if everybody is trying thair hardest to love and accommodate to each other, pretty good things happen (in my personal experience). God can shine through that and it’s an attractive place to be and it attracts other people to get involved with it too.

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  13. The main thing for me is the motivation behind setting up of a church plant. Like with fresh expressions, there is a danger of just perpetuating the consumer culture we live in. A designer church perhaps.

    Also in defence of the church plant, there has to be a willingness in the traditional church, I know churches that could have the young, Biblically passionate, humble and gifted leaders who are turned away because they do not want to change, I know young peope literally thrown out of their church and they started to have church on the street!

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  14. In my experience the reason many of the young talented people leave the Church Historic is because those with new ideas on ministry and passion to see art and culture become part of the local church are disregarded or flat out denied expression in thier home congregations. If the local Church Historic is open to these new ideas and passions then your point is valid. If they are not, then church planting is the way to go. This does not taken into effect those who are planting churches in areas with priority people’s or those who simple like living in one country over thier home country, those who are called away from a home church for school, work, etc.

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