London, UK - Sep 18, 2006 A training course, believed to be the first to combine urban mission and church planting, is to equip participants to develop new and creative forms of church such as as 'cafe churches', peace churches, virtual churches, new monastic communities and churches for the socially excluded.
It comes at a time when many local churches and denominations are waking up to their long-term decline, and re-imagining themselves in some surprising new ways.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is amongst many who have recently talked of the need to allow structures to be "more permissive than prescriptive" in order to inform the delivery of 'fresh expressions' of church.
The course, which looks at the principles and practicalities of starting new churches in contemporary cultures starts next month.
Entitled 'Crucible', it was piloted last year with 45 people participating. It launches its second year in October, and will run for three weekends.
Crucible has emerged from a partnership between several organisations, including Ekklesia, in the Root and Branch network.
It describes itself as a training programme for 'Christians with courage and imagination' and assumes that Christians live in a mission context, termed by some 'post-Christendom", and need to think creatively about church in diverse and changing cultures.
'The course is based on the conviction that Christians in Britain (and across western culture) are facing profound challenges as well as fresh opportunities. The long era of Christendom is coming to an end. We now live in a plural society, with multiple religious options alongside secular assumptions, in which Christianity has largely lost its position of dominance and privilege'¬ù says Stuart Murray Williams, an experienced church planter in East London who is also one of the trainers on the course.
'¬ùAlthough Christians seem to be declining in numbers, the post-Christendom environment offers many new possibilities - if Christians have the courage and imagination to grasp them.'
Another of its basic principles is that God is working on the margins of society among the socially excluded, poor and disenfranchised, and at the margins of culture, where creative thinking explores new possibilities.
Crucible is co-sponsored by theological training programme Workshop, Urban Expression - an urban church planting initiative - and the Salvation Army's Alove project. It is accredited through the Baptist theological college, Spurgeon's.
Three weekends cover 'church planting', 'urban mission' and 'emerging church' and the course is flexible so participants can book in for one or two weekends or for the whole course.
Participants also get the opportunity to take part in a practical placement to work alongside church planters or others involved in urban mission.