The Rt Revd Ric Thorpe
Bishop of Islington Church of England
"I’ve continued to be passionate about church planting as I see the difference that it makes. It brings new energy, focus and mission to church communities as teams are sent out and churches are established, revitalised or reopened."
How to ensure your church plant bears fruit
18 April 2019
In his role as the Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe focuses on helping churches to establish new worshipping communities in London and further afield. Here, Bishop Ric talks to us about what inspired his passion for church planting and gives his top tips for successful church growth.
What initially drew you to church planting?
I first heard about church planting through Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB). While I was at university, I heard the story of HTB sending a group of people to reopen St Barnabas Kensington and I remember thinking: “That’s cool”. After university, I started attending HTB and began to hear these stories first-hand. I attended a conference at HTB, led by the Vineyard Churches leader, John Wimber, and as I sat listening to stories about the impact of church planting, I remember thinking, “I want to be involved in this… this is what I want to do”. Therefore, at my ordination interviews, I talked about planting a church. I’m not sure that they knew what I meant!
What does your role involve?
The Bishop of Islington is a unique role because it was set up to have a specific responsibility to oversee church planting in London, as well as being available to support it nationally. Instead of looking after a geographical area, it has a focus on mission and starting new worshipping communities. There’s nothing else like it in the Church of England.
How has the national picture of church planting changed over the last few years?
It's changed massively! It used to be opportunistic: church planting happened in one or two places when there was a realistic opportunity in a diocese. In recent years, the Church of England has become more intentional about it. Many dioceses are saying “We want to church plant”. The creation of resource churches (churches that have an outward, church-planting focus) across cities reflects this intentionality.
How can you best prepare to church plant?
Come on our Church Planting Course! When my wife Louie and I moved to plant a church in Shadwell in 2005, there wasn’t much material on church planting. We had two cups of coffee with vicars who had already planted to hear their experience - but this was the only “formal” preparation that we had!
We developed the Church Planting Course to train people who were similarly asking, “How do we do this?” On our course, we look at the key components for a successful church plant. Firstly, it’s important to be clear about our vision and purpose: planting a missional community on an estate is very different from revitalising an existing parish church. Secondly, we need to research our context. If we assume it’s similar to our previous community, we could end up doing something inappropriate or irrelevant for our new context, even if it was a successful mission in another place.
Developing a strategy for launching, growing and nurturing our churches is also crucial. It helps us to know where we are heading and prevents us falling into financial difficulties in the future. Having a great team around us to support and encourage us on the harder days is another key for success - going it alone as a church planter is not a great idea! Lastly, it’s hugely important to soak our church plants in prayer - before, during and after the plant.
What are the first steps to getting involved in church planting?
Everyone can be involved in praying for this growing movement - we would love your prayers for unity, boldness, perseverance and generosity. It’s great to visit some church plants and see what is actually happening - church planters need our support and encouragement.
If you’re a leader or want to join a church planting team, talk to your bishop or vicar to see if there are new churches starting in your area. One of my favourite stories comes from Helen Shannon, one of our Islington Associates. Helen grew up on a council estate in North London and became a Christian at a large resourcing church. Through this church’s support, Helen returned to plant church@five on her estate in Strawberry Vale. This estate church has grown and makes a huge impact on its local community, showing how established churches can send teams to plant inside their parishes to reach new groups of people. And now she helps other planters to start new churches on estates around them too. That sounds a bit like the Kingdom of God – growing and multiplying and making a difference in people’s lives today and for generations to come!