In a few weeks time, it will be 13 years since I became the National Director of Together in Mission (now ForMission). The staff consisted of two people (myself and Kevin Popely) working half time with a budget of less than £40,000 a year. The priority was to try and get church planting back on the agenda of the denominations, networks, mission agencies and churches.
Why was it not on the agenda? In large measure the attempts of the forerunner of Together in Mission (Challenge 2,000) to run a saturation church planting strategy based on DAWN, caused people to realize that church planting was a step beyond where most churches actually were.
Instead of resulting in many churches being planted, the DAWN project produced a period of soul searching about the nature of church, the meaning of mission in a western context and some reflection on what kind of churches needed to be planted to reach a 21st century culture.
But following at least five years of such questioning it was time to raise the question of actual church planting again. As I talked with a wide range of church leaders I asked them the question , “what would it take for you to place church planting back on the agenda?”
Nearly every church leader told me that they did not have the right kind of leaders to engage in church planting. Most told me that there was a need for a new kind of training to produce such leaders, equipped with a missional mind set as well as with church planting skills. Those various conversations led to the launch of the first version of our MA in Missional Leadership. Within five years some 300 people had signed up for the MA. It was an astonishing response.
This initial response led directly to a proposal for a major church planting conference, Mission 21, held in Sheffield in 2005. Around 650 leaders from a wide range denominations attended. In many ways this was a remarkable event.
A good number of church leaders can trace their renewed interest in church planting back to this event. A second Mission 21 was held in Bath a few years later. Around 450 people attended this event and a number of significant conversations took place between church leaders that again gave rise to a renewed interest in church planting.
Today, there is hardly a denomination in the UK that does not have some kind of church planting policy in place. Some are moving towards the formulation of a policy and others have been active in church planting for some years. So is Together in Mission (ForMission) solely responsible for the present enthusiasm for church planting? Absolutely not! But we can claim to be part of the work of the Spirit, making a contribution to all that God seems to have on his agenda.
There is now a need for action in encouraging what has already been started. The most urgent need is to train as many leaders as possible in the kind of missional activity that leads to church planting. We already have our BA in Mission and our re-launched MA in Missional Practice in place. This coming year we will be launching the Forge practitioner training course that will train those who want to be equipped and coached in a very practical one year programme.
A second need is to bring together as many leaders involved in creating and operating church planting strategies in regular communication. We do this through the annual Church Planting Forum that ForMission organizes and hosts. (The next ForMission Church Planting Forum will be held on Wednesday 10th February 2016, sponsored by Trevor Hutton. For more information contact email@example.com)
A third possibility is to put together a major church planting conference designed to raise the profile of church planting with the intention of mobilizing as many planters as possible. Discussions about such an initiative have began with a range of church leaders. Watch this space.