Thursday, April 28, 2011

Church Planting and Church Renewal

Where should we concentrate our ministry and mission as British Unitarians? Ever since I started this blog I have been calling for church-planting. Five years ago I wrote this post doing some analysis of the largest population areas without a Unitarian presence, therefore where you could plant new churches.

It's probably time to do some updating. The following is a mixture of analysis of populations and gut instinct.

There are large areas of the UK where people could not get to a nearby Unitarian church even if they wanted to.

There are very isolated towns such as Carlisle and Peterborough where we could plant new churches.

The other place I would aim is the large urban area of south Yorkshire, planting in either Barnsley or Rotherham or looking to grow the cause in Wakefield.

The Blackcountry is another large urban area with tiny churches. You could either look into resurrecting the Unitarian communities in Dudley or Wolverhampton or plant something new in Walsall (my hometown).

I would also look into big towns in the south of England: Swindon, Milton Keynes, High Wycombe, Basildon or Aylesbury.

Given the population density in London itself there is a huge potential for church-planting and church renewal. Any church in London has a huge population to reach out to, and any neighbourhood in London could potential sustain a Unitarian church. There is a huge amount of potential for growth in London.

Then there are cities, very large urban centres, with very small Unitarian communities. These are places where there is a real need for renewal. The Unitarian churches in Newcastle, Glasgow, Coventry, Cardiff and Liverpool should be much bigger. They should have full time Ministers. None of them do.

What to start with? I would begin by looking urgently into the small congregations in large urban areas. What do they need? How are their finances? Do they want a Minister? I would put a lot of resources into those big cities: Newcastle, Glasgow, Coventry, Cardiff and Liverpool. They need Ministers. This may be the kind of place that American Ministers may be the most use.

I would see how we could plant new churches (or go into churches with almost no members) in the Blackcountry and Yorkshire. I would ask wealthy districts and local churches to support this.

I would look into planting or reviving in London. Given the dense population you could look into all kinds of different church planting in London: youth congregations, house churches, particularly distinct theological congregations, particularly distinct musical congregations. London is the best place to experiment with evangelism and church planting.

Do we have the political will for this? Hmm. I might leave that question to my next post.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the suburbs of Manchester also lack an active, lively Unitarian presence - as do many big city suburbs. I don't think a city centre congregation suffices as many people have family and work committments and don't necessarily want to be making a 30 - 40min journey back through traffic into the city centre on a weekend or weekday evening.

The liberal Christian movements (Unitarian, Free Christian, Quaker) would find fertile ground, I feel, in many suburban areas where there are students and professionals. I know that might sound slightly snobbish, but the kind of open-minded, thoughtful Christian theology they offer is likely to have most appeal here.

But having said that, then there is the social action side - the very practical aspect of liberal faith - which would likely find appeal in more inner city areas. This is perhaps neglected - the evangelicals are certainly better are getting out there with this sort of work.

11:10 pm  
Blogger Stephen Lingwood said...


Greater Manchester has the highest number of Unitarian churches per population of anywhere in the country. If there were as many churches per person in Greater London as in Greater Manchester there would be something like 10 times as many churches in London.

Having said that I believe Chorlton are trying to do something new, but they have never in their 100 year history become anything but a tiny congregation.

8:47 am  
Blogger Andrew said...

"strengthen what remains and is on point of death" is perhaps the essence of my work in bringing some renewal to what was a very much on the point of closure congregation and church. Since getting involved with the Unitarian movement and throwing a lot of effort into saving Westgate Chapel from death 4 years ago there has been some renewal. But Church renewal often requires a lot of determination to sort out all manner of things that have gone wrong in the past. A weak congregation needs underpinning so that it has the right foundations to build upon again. What is often not available are enough people. The clarity of purpose in following the "great commission" that evangelicals hold dear makes church renewal and planting a less complex task because they have a single minded agreement people need to be saved. Mission teams come from other congregations and in many cases move to give a nucleus congregation to start things. This is the thing I find sadly missing in Unitarian congregations, it might be termed a willingness to go the extra mile for the sake of the gospel. Such selfless sacrifice seems to fuel evangelical renewal and Church Planting.
If larger and stronger Unitarian congregations encouraged their members to go as missions to plant and renew congregations with that willingness to go the extra mile, congregations could be saved. Also new congregations could be established in suitable locations.
What my own congregation needs is encouragement from other Unitarians, so perhaps you could lead a mission team to Lewes and help us with our objective of running an ethical film festival, to try and attract local people. We are working to put this on from the 8th to the 19th of August.
A group of people could help enormously by canvassing this town door to door and in the streets. Telling people that we are here. We do our best, but we need some missionary zeal from the converted Unitarians to aid our continued renewal.

7:33 am  
Anonymous Angela @ said...

For what might be possible in urban areas, I would look to learn from Cal Courtney and Andy Pakula's success in London. In provincial cities, you also want to look at other than Sunday (lunchtime/evening) worship, running courses or workshops. Non-traditional church.

New congregations in the South East might be inspired by the Fellowship movement in the States, or some of the small fellowships elsewhere. And I think appealing to families would be good.

Most difficult of the 3 you suggest is probably trying to develop Unitarian communities in the post-industrial North and Midlands. I have no suggestions.

7:17 pm  

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