As Christians we need to be honest and recognise that just like the world we live in things go through trends and phases in churches, its just that we are very good at backing them up with biblical evidence to support our point. One case in point is church planting, it seemed like every conference you went to a few years ago was about church planting, but interestingly this has stopped being the case. Those conferences were incredibly helpful for those of us who in that time planted churches, it helped us see the biblical principles in Acts, it helped us see the early church foundations and the freedom afforded in everything else. But I can't help but wonder if in focusing on planting we have missed somethings:
1. Planting isn't regenerating
Britain is different from America or Australia, in Britain there are loads of churches. Doncaster is weak in terms of church attendance but just driving into town from our house we will pass 7 church buildings. England has loads of church buildings, it is just that most of those church building don't contain church - a gathered people loving and serving their Saviour and Lord listening to his word. Even where there are faithful churches many are ageing and will die out in the next 15-20 years and close their doors for good. Others are small congregations who are faithful, love the bible and who are looking for a pastor, but don't have one because there is a shortage of pastors in the UK.
Church regeneration is hard, it doesn't seem to have the glamour and glitz of planting a new church but as Mike McKinlay puts it in his book it is a win win, it can remove a bad witness to Jesus and install a new witness to Jesus. But you won't find too much church regeneration in Acts, though interestingly Paul seems to send Timothy and Titus to regenerate churches which need to be put back firmly on the straight and narrow. Interestingly that isn't often a theme which is picked up on or features at conferences.
2. Recycling the flock
I guess one of my other questions about planted churches is how much new growth are we actually seeing. The planted churches may be growing but the vast majority of these seem to be planted in university towns and cities and seem to grow through attracting students who then stay and become young professionals rather than through reaching those from the city or town around them. These students would largely have gone to church anyway so all we have done is recycle the flock. I think there is also another side effect of this which is that those students stay at those churches as young professionals which means as a church in the UK we are becoming a church which is large and growing in those university towns and cities whilst the churches in the hinterlands are by and large ageing and weak with few young couples or people to serve in them.
3. Lack of leaders
With church planting having been trendy many of the young ministers (myself included) have looked to plant. Which means that there are fewer people looking to go into existing pastorates. As most plants are done in university towns and cities this again further weakens the church in non-university towns and cities. Leaving many churches as sheep without an under-shepherd.
We need to stand back and look at the national situation before our pursuit of planting leaves us with a church of haves and have nots with vast swathes of the country without a gospel witness.