Thinking Outside the Box in the U.K.

BY DAVID COX, Personal Ministries and Church Growth director of the Trans-European Division*

Church planting is not just a term used in church history books but an evangelistic way of life for Seventh-day Adventists in Britain. During the seven years from 1998 to 2005, about 90 new Adventist church planting projects were initiated in the United Kingdom and Ireland. This is more than in any comparable period since William Ings, the church’s first Adventist missionary to England, began his work in Southampton in the late 1800s.

A Church-Planting Movement
Pioneers such as Ings—who was not an ordained pastor but a former employee of the Review and Herald publishing house in Battle Creek, Michigan—clearly saw their work as church planters, moving from one unentered territory to another, establishing worshipping communities wherever they found people receptive to the Advent message. Once congregations were installed, no paid pastors were available to minister to them. Such congregations cared for themselves; their tithes supported those who were beginning work elsewhere. Many things have changed since those early days, but the practice of planting churches has continued to the present time. Nearly 25,000 members now worship each Sabbath in 295 Adventist churches in the British Union, which comprises the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Since the mid-1990s, however, because of the influence of church leaders, pastors, and lay members, as well as organized church planting programs, many say that the Adventist Church in Britain is becoming an even stronger church planting movement—more challenging and diverse than ever before.


UNITED FOR MISSION: British Union church planters at the Trans-European Division Church Planters’ Exchange program held recently in Friedensau, Germany
Because some evangelistic methods are often much less effective than they once were, church planting in Britain has become more challenging. Many people in the region still believe in God, but few believe in the “church.” Studies indicate that fewer than 7 percent of the population attend church regularly, and only four out of every 100 children go to Sunday school. Yet while the majority are not interested in organized religion, they are interested in spirituality. Changes that post-modern thinking has brought to society challenge the church to reach out to the community in ways that are often different from traditional approaches, while remaining faithful to Adventist beliefs and values.

One innovative approach is a teen café run by a church plant in Yeovil, England. The group purchased a double-decker bus, which they turned into a mobile café where they serve smoothies, ice cream, and pastries to the local teenagers.

Another is Kidz Church, a program organized by an Adventist group in Llandrindod Wells, Wales, and geared exclusively for unchurched children in the community. “We do everything big church does and more,” says planter Rosemary Lethbridge.

Most towns and cities in the United Kingdom and Ireland today are cosmopolitan, home to various ethnic, language, religious, and social groups. Adventist baptismal statistics for the region show that for at least 20 years the church has drawn its converts from a relatively small segment of the population, with many people groups remaining unresponsive to its message, especially the indigenous majority. Church planting organizers recognize the need for diverse “shapes” of church for different groups of people.

Anne, a young adult and former atheist who came to the Adventist faith through a new church “designed” for post-moderns like her, explained, “I would never have become an Adventist Christian if it had not been for this particular church, which was able to relate to me where I was at the time.”

Many church planters in the British Union would contend that the challenges and opportunities that come with church planting—for personal growth as well as the growth of the church—have made it the most exciting work they have ever done. Church planting calls for creativity, such as the innovative ministries of the new 100-plus member Kennington Community Church in the south of London, where young adults use skills such as hairdressing to connect with other young adults.

Reliance on God

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX: Unique churches are being planted in the United Kingdom and Ireland, such as the Cottage Beck Café Church in Scunthorpe, northern England.
Church planting calls for total dependence on God—especially for those who have “never done anything like this before.” In the town of Grantham in northern England, a group of ten young lay people launched the “Re:vive” church plant after more than two years of prayer, planning, and developing friendships with their professional “un-churched” friends and work colleagues. Some of those have already joined the Adventist Church.

Another group in the Beckenham, England, area reach out to the community through projects such as Body Sculpt, a physical fitness program; Singology, a 12-week vocal training course; and Soul Symphony Choir, a community choir for 14- to 19-year-olds. “We continue to move toward the vision of a church that is successful in reaching unchurched people,” says planter Bobby Bovell.

Church planting also calls for a willingness to see possibility and potential in limited resources. A few years ago there were fewer than 100 Ghanaian Adventists in the South England Conference. Now there are five Ghanaian congregations with a combined membership of more than 1,200—thanks to the bold vision of their leaders.

Future Strategy
Until recently most church planting has been the result of spontaneous local initiative. Last year, however, both the North and South England conferences voted church planting strategies that will encourage the proliferation of new and diverse worshipping congregations in years to come. Already the South England Conference is promoting programs called “Lights Across London” and “Lights Across the Provinces,” which provide for the launch of 20 new initiatives in the country’s capital and at least seven more elsewhere in the region within the next two years. Elected church planting coordinators will continue to provide ongoing training and coaching for church planters and their teams. And Church Planters’ Exchanges—annual weekend or week-long gatherings of all those involved or interested in church planting—will continue to provide for inspiration and networking, with the ultimate goal of every Adventist congregation becoming involved in God’s final church planting movement.

*Since writing this article, David Cox and his wife, Velda, accepted a call to serve in the Middle East Union (MEU). David is now MEU’s Ministerial Association secretary as well as a local church pastor and a church planter in Cyprus. Velda has joined the staff of the General Conference’s Global Centre for Adventist-Muslim Relations, also headquartered in Cyprus.

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