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Sustaining Young Churches – Church Army

November 15, 2016

sycThis focuses on 12 case studies across the dioceses of Derby and Liverpool, two of which were started from scratch without input from the parish church. Leaders of these “seed” churches, and four others, were “confident” in their sustainability, since more effort had gone into their making, it says.

But the other half of the case studies were not so sure. Two Friendship groups established in the 1980s and ’90s (before the term fxC was coined) were concerned by an ageing congregation; and a leader from a Fresh Expressions of Church formed specifically for The report also showed that two of the 12 case studies had a full-time paid leader, and eight had unpaid or hourly rated leaders. Nine fxCs were responsible to the PCC of the parish church. The loss of leader­ship was a concern for future sustainability.

They included Open Table – a fxC for Liverpool’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.


‘From my point of view, I always thought it would be permanent… I’ve always felt this wasn’t short term, that it was a long term calling to a place that needed you to be there a long time… I was always thinking it was a permanent [church] plant. I didn’t anticipate starting something that was going to stop.’ (Leader interview, Oaks)

‘It [Messy Church] is part of what we do. Sometimes there is a natural life cycle of things… But I can’t foresee it [stopping] at the moment. As far as I can see, it’s part of our church. And it’s valued…’  (Leader interview, Messy Church)

‘The things we’ve done so far have brought people to God… Some of them have gone on to become members of the [sending church] congregation. Some have gone on to join other churches. Though some haven’t, I don’t think anybody’s had a bad experience… And the fact that it hasn’t continued into something [permanent] isn’t necessarily a problem.’Leader interview, Church But Not As You Know It )

Creating annual traditions that connect with fxC members and the mission context

Examples of this included:

Going on holiday together every year (CS5 – Friendship Group)

Marking World Aids Day and annual events in the LGBT calendar (CS10 – Open Table)

Celebrating the fxC’s birthday – especially landmark ones e.g. 5th, 10th or 20th

One potential criticism of the three-self principles is that they can very easily lead a fxC or church plant to over-emphasise ‘self’ – becoming overly concerned with its self-preservation and self-perpetuation.

But some of our case study visits gave us glimpses of a more generous and imaginative outlook that stands in stark contrast to this.

For many years, Holy Trinity Redgate (CS7) have prayerfully and financially supported ‘Imagine’, a charity that works in Mozambique which was set up by a couple from Formby. Over time, every fourth Sunday at Redgate has become known as ‘Imagine Sunday’. Here there is a particular focus on Imagine during the Sunday service and donations from Imagine collection boxes are received. Several members of the Redgate congregation have also been out to Mozambique to visit over the years. Reflecting on the connection with Imagine, one leader commented: ‘It wasn’t just that we were giving money to a charity… With every person in Redgate, it’s a really personal connection.’ Another then went on to suggest that this was a key factor contributing to Holy Trinity Redgate’s sustainability:

‘On reflection there was one point that didn’t come up in the interview and that was the part that prayer plays in underpinning and sustaining our Messy Church sessions. Before each session we ask the Sunday congregation to pray for the preparations and the sessions. As a team we pray before the start of each session and individual members pray regularly for families they meet during sessions. I appreciate that this probably sounds quite informal and ad hoc but it is still vital to our ministry.

A parent church can encourage a fxC’s sustainability by:

Allowing the fxC freedom, time and space to form their own identity

Recognising and publicly affirming the fxC’s identity and legitimacy as ‘church in its own right’

Communicating and ensuring open channels of communication and accountability

Releasing and enabling lay leaders wherever possible

Letting fxC make mistakes and helping them learn from the experience

Giving and receiving – being open to receive from the fxC as well as giving

Connecting – seeing opportunities for integration and cross-linking with other aspects of Church life

A parent church can inhibit a fxC’s sustainability by:

Expecting fxC members to attend the sending church

Interfering, controlling and micro-managing

Not releasing fxC leaders from other responsibilities in the sending church

Disregarding the fxC when there is an interregnum or a new incumbent arrives

Being generally awkward and obstructive

The report is available  here

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