When Church Plants Plant Churches...

Jono Simpson, Planting Researcher at CRT, shares how HTB’s more nimble second and third-generation plants are transforming parishes at a grassroots level.  

The 2013 report by Cathy Ross and David Dadswell on church planting in the Church of England reported that most HTB church plants in the study naturally reflected their sending church: running Alpha, emphasis on charismatic evangelical forms of worship, and reaching middle-class people. These are growing churches drawing people in who would otherwise not be in church. But that is not the full picture. The report mentioned an Area Dean saying ‘second-generation HTB plants are much more local and contextual.’ I was intrigued to find out how these plants are contextualised and interviewed a range of second and third-generation church plant leaders in the network to find out more. 

Many of the church plants were in parishes that had deprivation...

Many of the church plants were in parishes that had deprivation, some significantly. The plants were often into churches that had dwindling congregations that wanted young people in church but had struggled to draw them in. Many of the churches had Anglo-Catholic forms of worship. What I found inspired me and gives me hope for the future of the Church of England.  

Different traditions can co-exist in the same building

Almost all the churches I interviewed either maintained, honoured or enriched the Anglo-Catholic forms of worship. Heather Atkinson spoke of doing a ‘cross-tradition’ plant at St Peter’s Bethnal Green, restoring an organist and choir. SAINT Church in East London introduced choral scholarships and robed choirs, while St Clement’s Boscombe (LOVECHURCH) introduced sung Eucharists. Often these services backed onto new contemporary services allowing integration between the two congregations. One leader noted, ‘Loads of our younger guys have loved doing communion every week… and reading the daily office with our older congregation.’ 

Listening to the communities 

Many of the leaders took a significant time (from 6-18 months) to listen and observe the parish contexts before bringing in changes. At St Alban’s Copnor (Harbour Church, Portsmouth) they spent 18 months ‘getting to know the community to see who were the latent group of people who might form a new congregation.’ As a result, trust was built and positive changes were brought in through consultation and a shared audacious vision. A stronger community was the result of leaders spending longer to listen.  

A stronger community was the result of leaders spending longer to listen. 

Serving appropriately

Through the process of listening and seeing which doors God opened, a variety of ministries blossomed, each shaped by their context. Some examples included volunteering at boxing clubs, parent and toddler groups, employment coaching, and of course the foodbanks which have been a lifeline for so many especially during the pandemic. St Martin’s Bilborough (Woven Church) have started a weekly community café. Generosity in one context was embodied by free nappies in the changing area in the church.

Simple worship

Some of the churches had brought in the positive values in their local culture (communal sharing, honouring the older generation) to be reflected in their new forms of worship, which are highly localised and reproducible. The services are on Sunday afternoons, seating is in the round, and everyone is involved. At SAINT Matt’s Canning Town there are worship activities, simple liturgies and 10-minute interactive sermons with an emphasis on discipleship. These services have flourished in contexts with low spiritual confidence and low literacy levels, and local leaders have been encouraged. 

Churches like these are often small, which is one of their strengths. They build strong communities that can transform their parishes at a grassroots level. As one leader put it to me, ‘We start with life, end with form.’ As these new ecclesial communities see where the wind of the Spirit is moving, they have breathed new life into their parishes – and Victorian church buildings. 


This article was first published in REVITALISE our annual magazine. You can read Edition 5 here.