Love, sweat and tears - 5 church plants in east London
The Centre for Theology & Community has published research on five church plants undertaken in east London through the Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) Network.The churches were planted over a ten year period from 2005 – 2015, beginning with St Paul’s, Shadwell.
The research attempts to tell the stories honestly and as a help to others. Each parish experience has been different in context and approach. Each story is complicated. But the overall impact after 10 years is very encouraging.
There have been significant results:
1. Overall Sunday attendance has grown tenfold in 10 years
Typical Sunday attendance of adults and children across the five churches has grown from 72 before the planting process to nearly 750 currently. Surveys show that their regular members are very diverse. The vast majority live in east London and the majority live within the same postcode as their respective church.
One in five regular attenders were either returning to church after several years away or were completely new to church. Across the five churches, this currently equates to about 115 people on a typical Sunday, many of whom are from the local community.
Overall, four out of five regular current church members were previously attending another church. Many have come via the original church planting processes but they are clearly attracting significant numbers of churchgoers newly arrived in London who would otherwise probably have attended a city-centre church. Very few have transferred from other churches in east London.
2. Financial sustainability
From 2004 to 2014 the five parishes have moved from paying 34% of their Common Fund costs to paying 95% of these costs, leaving the Diocese with more resources for other parishes.
3. A high degree of volunteering and involvement across the five churches
An average of 68 per cent of regular adult attenders currently volunteer in some way. Church members also volunteer on existing projects run by neighbouring churches.
4. Church growth and social transformation seem not only compatible but may reinforce each other
All five churches are actively engaged in reaching out to their local communities and serving them in practical ways. The churches which have the highest proportion of attenders who are new/returning to church are also the churches with the most active community work. [Comment by Geoff Knott - this finding supports my research into Social Action and Church Growth]
Each church is different and each one continues to evolve in different ways. Overall, the church in east London is better off. East London is better off. Hundreds of largely middle-class Christians who were living in east London but attending large churches in central London now regularly attend churches in east London. The benefits of this shift are fourfold:
It brings people, skills and resources to the parishes involved, allowing the renewal of the church buildings and communities and restoring the sustainability of these churches
It brings benefits to the local communities in terms of missional outreach (people coming to faith) and service (practical social benefits)
It brings benefits to the Christians now engaged in new kinds of service and ministry in east London amongst hugely diverse communities
It strengthens the parish system (‘a church in every community’) both directly and indirectly, by restoring some parishes and freeing up Diocesan resources to support other parishes in need
5. Social mixing
All of these parishes are seriously deprived by the Government’s measures but also include pockets of wealth within them and nearby. Rich and poor do indeed live cheek by jowl in London, and in this sense it may not be typical for the UK. These churches bring these two groups of people together for mutual benefit, albeit imperfectly and with much still to learn.
These are also stories that contain immense generosity – of churches supporting each other through financial giving and of new church members respecting the established traditions of older members and the foundations on which they now build for the future.
Download report from The Centre for Theology & Community website
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