The changing face of church planting in the countryside (Sally Gaze)

Monday, 16 February, 2009

Sally Gaze explores the changing face of church planting in the countryside.

CowsA few years ago, when the working party for the best-selling Mission-shaped Church report asked questions about church-planting in a questionnaire, there was a less than enthusiastic response from rural areas. As one Church of England official wrote,

With 648 churches in this diocese, there is little incentive to plant more.

This is understandable; in the countryside there are typically many more churches per head of population than in urban areas – and some of those congregations struggle to keep going. A person might well conclude we don't need any more.

However, deep down, we know that when we think like that we've got it precisely the wrong way round. God's mission isn't there to keep existing particular congregations going. Rather it is the church as God's people, which has been called into being to participate in God's mission – the sharing of his love with his world. The whole point of church is God's mission – doing what God sends us to do. The need for church planting is often something that emerges when people consider what church in a particular area of countryside would look like if we started from that perspective: If God has sent his people to this rural area, what is it that they need to do to carry out his mission, including the making of disciples?

One particular characteristic of good rural church planting is the degree to which it works in a complementary way to older forms of church. This is partly aiming for the Heineken effect: Reaching the parts that other churches have not reached! It is also about appreciating the strengths of other churches and loving them. A church plant which is great at communicating the gospel to teenagers through contemporary youth culture, might struggle to make Jesus real for elderly people and vice versa. When those two churches meet for joint projects or to socialise together, they give a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

Urban church plants with larger numbers and working in larger populations may get away with independent witness. In a rural village, everyone can see whether the Christians truly love and support one another. As Jesus said, 'By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.'

To find out more about the Rural Churchplanters' Forum, including how to join, please contact Peter Hallsworth, the current convenor.

About the author: 

Rev Sally Gaze is the author of Mission-shaped and rural – Growing churches in the countryside. She is also the convenor of the Rural Churchplanters' Forum.


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