The General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Britain has urged creativity and variety in establishing both new local churches and 'fresh expressions' of church in communities up and down the country.
Delivering the opening address at the Mission21 conference in Bath this week, Dr Martyn Atkins, formerly principal of Cliff College and a recent Methodist president, said that the need for variety in 'church planting' arose not just from the mission of the church, but from the radically changing situation of religion in society - what some are calling post-Christendom.
Society is becoming increasingly distrustful of religious groups, he said while at the same time recognising the value they can offer in terms of building bridges and generating community resources.
Dr Atkins declared: “We find ourselves in a political context where Christian communities are both regarded as dangerous and as vitally necessary. Consequently ... we must not miss the opportunities that the next two to three years will give us through another round of social and political change.”
Atkins told church planters that the core purpose of the church was to nurture disciples who would change the world through prayerful action and commitment to the expression of the Gospel in word and deed.
“For all its obvious nature and its rooted Christian command, disciple-making is not evident or even valued in many models of church. But one of the truisms of every renewal movement I can think of in history is that they were renewal movements partly or wholly because they were able to make disciples of Jesus Christ of people, groups and populations that up to that point had largely been untouched by the Christian Gospel.
“Christian groupings that make disciples [active followers of the way of Christ] become renewal movements”, Atkins said. It is important, he added, that 'church plants' are not simply "recycling existing susceptible believers”.
Rather, the processes involved should "much more resemble the long, hard, believing, belonging behaving, transformation associated with long term catechesis and formation rather than the shallow flimsy version of a tract at the end of a meeting or six quick lessons with the vicar before you enter confirmation.”
Mission21 is a large gathering of Christians involved in new church initiatives.