Nearly half of C of E churches have fewer than five under 16-year olds, a report to next month’s General Synod says. But the Church is seeking to change this through a new Youth Evangelism Task Group chaired by the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, Paul Williams; who has also become the lead bishop on youth evangelism. The Church has also appointed a national Youth Evangelism Officer, Jimmy Dale, as part of “structural change” designed to tackle “the challenge the Church of England faces in reaching and discipling young people.”
The report highlights the success of a project designed to reach black and minority ethnic (Bame) young people in secondary schools in the Stepney Area of the Diocese of London. “This research action project . . . has shown that Bame young people are open to new or deepening faith when they discover the Jesus of the Gospels in parallel with actively challenging real injustices they and their communities face,” the report says. “We have seen a remarkable percentage of the Bame young people the pilot worked with indicate that they would seriously consider working in and for a Church of England that was serious about this kind of ministry.”
The report emphasises the importance of lay ministry, saying that while 67 per cent of non-Christians know a Christian, only one per cent know a clergy person. The report says that the Evangelism Task Group recognises “the priority of empowering and equipping the whole people of God to be confident, faithful witnesses to the living hope that is ours in Christ, that each person is able to give testimony to their faith.
“This is reflected in the Thy Kingdom Come focus which encourages everyone to pray for their friends and family to know Jesus, and to spend a dedicated time each year focusing on praying for our personal witness.”
The report quotes the US Presbyterian theologian Michael Jinkins, who said of Christian baptism: “we are soaked to the skin in the death of Christ. Our union with Christ drips from us. . . We trail wet footprints of the drenching wherever we go; we never dry off. . .” It then says: “It is of paramount importance that we prioritise how we help people drip their wet footprints into the people and places of their lives, ‘spreading the aroma of the knowledge of Christ everywhere.’”
In a separate move, the Church of England’s House of Bishops have published a statement on church planting. They say that new church plants “should be preceded by sensitive and full consultation and joint work with other neighbouring church communities” but says that existing churches do not “have a veto” over plans to plant new churches.
It says that “church planting is one among a variety of ways by which the Church of England seeks to share in the apostolic mission by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and drawing people into the adventure of discipleship. It is complementary to, and not a replacement for, other vehicles for mission, understood according to the breadth of meaning set out in the Anglican Communion’s Five Marks of Mission.
“While church planting is generally characterized by a focus on the first two marks, that does not entail a neglect of the other three. All are integral to the Church’s witness.”
The Bishop of Islington, Ric Thorpe, is the Church of England’s lead bishop for church planting. He says that the dioceses of the Church of England have committed to planting a combined total of more than 2,400 new churches by 2030. “There is a real desire to see this work grow and gather momentum,” he said.
““This paper brings together learning from recent experience and the theology of church planting in order to provide guidance for everyone and everywhere in the Church of England.”
The Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, described church planting as something that the Church had “forgotten to remember”, adding: “It only feels like something new, because we forgot to remember it. Every church was planted once. Every church had a beginning.”
He continued: “This beginning arose out of a response to God and the desire to reach out to a community of people who did not yet know Christ.
“Forming a new Christian community was the best way to serve these people and share the gospel. In our own day we are beginning to remember how to plant churches. This is a great movement of the Spirit and a huge blessing to the nation we are called to serve.”
The Bishop of Aston, Anne Hollinghurst, said that Anglicans in her Diocese of Birmingham “are conscious of how important a great wave of earlier church planting was in the mission of our diocese.
“In the last century many new Christian communities were established throughout our city and region in response to a rapidly growing, changing urban population and new industrial developments. Today dioceses, deaneries and parishes find themselves seeking to respond to many new changes in society and the context in which they are set.
“We hope they will all be encouraged by this short paper which gathers together principles based on good practice which will be invaluable to those considering planting a new church as well as those working with neighbouring church plants.”