I am deeply committed to church planting. I believe it is the best way to reach people with Jesus’ love. I want to see church planting become normative in this diocese and in the ACNA. But, I wasn’t always an advocate.
My first conversation about church planting happened in the winter of 1976, during my freshman year in college. The Christian Education department at Wheaton College
was always looking for innovative and effective ministries in the Chicago areawhere students could see in practice what we were learning in class. For years students had visited Son Life, the remarkable youth ministry of South Park Church. In October 1975 (while I was still learning the college ropes) the leaders of that ministry decided to start a new congregation using the same ministry philosophy and methods to reach adults as well as youth. They ended up meeting in a theatre. Christian Education majors, like me, debated the wisdom of
planting this kind of church. I was skeptical about a church that met in a theatre, that focused on evangelism, that used drama and multi-media, and whose worship was led by a band. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek Church went on to do quite well despite my skepticism. They changed the conversation about church and church planting.
Fast forward through 33 years (college graduation, marriage, seminary, children,
ordination, working hard to revitalize churches, leaving the Episcopal Church) to an eventful 10 weeks in 2009. In April I attended my first Exponential Conference, a national gathering of several thousand church planters and other leaders. It was stunning. Though Fr. Tom Herrick, and a few others, had kept conversation about church planting alive in the Episcopal Church and in the new Anglican Realignment, it never took center stage. But, when thousands of people gather to worship, learn, and network around church planting, it’s a remarkable experience. The vision, passion, and dedication I experienced at that conference deeply affected me and shifted my ministry focus. I came away committed to catalyzing church planting in the diocese and the newly-forming province.
Then, on June 25th at Christ Church, Plano, while preaching at his consecration, Archbishop-elect Robert Duncan called for the planting of 1,000 churches during his tenure as Archbishop. Stunned silence! No one in the room had experienced the kind of movement of God that it would take to more than double the number of congregations in our newly-formed province. Archbishop Duncan, with that clarion call, grabbed us by the ears and focused our attention on the lost, those outside. He changed the conversation. Instead of fussing and whining about how we got to where we were, we needed to learn a new way of being church with church planting at the heart. That conversation is still happening. Seeds have been planted. Networks are forming. Structures are being designed. We have some early success stories. But, we have yet to see the movement that Archbishop Bob envisioned.
I hope that the following stories from church planters in our Diocese will capture your imagination and will change the conversation in your congregation. I believe a movement of God is stirring. Let’s join it.