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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Planting churches, growing disciples

Although discipling people for the whole of their lives should be an integral part of any church’s culture, growing a ‘whole-life culture’ is easier said than done. There’s always a danger that whole-life disciplemaking remains an add-on to all the other things our churches are doing. It might be a theme for a season here, or an emphasis for a time there, but long-established practices and ways of thinking are hard to undo. For many of us, making whole-life discipleship truly central to our churches could mean rethinking our whole approach to discipleship. 

But that’s not the same for a lot of church planting projects. Church planters often have an entrepreneurial spirit, willing to pioneer new ideas and approaches. Risk-taking is part of the make-up of church planting, especially if you’re stepping out with little in the way of resources. We need some of that attitude in the wider church if we’re to reach every corner of our nation – and the world – with the gospel.  

One of the advantages of church planting is that you’re often starting from scratch – meeting where people are, responding to opportunities as they arise. Planting a church provides a great opportunity for whole-life discipleship to take root, because it can be made a core part of the culture right from the start, rather than being brought in or having to reshape an already existing culture.  

Church leader Lindsay Caplen’s experience is a good case study for this. Alongside her role as a regional Baptist minister, she’s also a church planter. Working with a small team, she planted a church in the North Somerset town of Portishead, with whole-life discipleship at the core of its identity right from the start. 

Being intentional and deliberate in your approach is key to growing this kind of culture. 

‘Even the name we’ve given the church, Salt House, deliberately has a whole-life edge to it,’ Lindsay says. ‘A salt house originally was a place where salt was gathered to be refined so that it could be made more salty, so that when it was scattered it would have more of an impact. 

One of the advantages of this approach, she says, is that new people – especially those who haven’t had any previous connection to a church – don’t know any different. They don’t have any inherited norms to change. According to Lindsay, people are really being able to make the connection between their (new or growing) faith and their everyday lives. And it’s having a transformational effect for some of them.  

‘One of the things we have done is ask at the end of a session, “What have you heard and what are you taking away from this? What are you going to do differently because of this? What are you going to try and think differently about this week?” And then the next week we can ask what they did about it. There’s a bit of inbuilt accountability here in terms of discipleship.’ 

Salt House’s weekly churches meet in people’s homes, coffee shops, and wherever life can be done together, with a monthly gathering that brings them all together. Those weekly meetings are structured enough to ensure discipleship is at their core – the intention here is to build communities of disciplemaking disciples. It’s still early days and the church is small – but growing. And if it’s to keep on growing, then developing leaders is key.  

‘The intention is that we can grow disciples better in the weekly meetings. And if you focus on discipleship, you grow leaders. Because you’re looking to see how you can help people flourish into everything God’s created them to be; and in doing that, naturally some of those people will be leaders. Everyone has some capacity for leadership, because if leadership is influence, everyone has a sphere of influence. And if you help somebody become more like Jesus, you help them have a more godly influence in their sphere.’ 

If we’re to reach the UK with the good news of Jesus, it’s going to mean thinking differently at times about how we ‘do church’ in this season. Church planting provides one significant example of what that can look like – as well as ensuring we’re growing as well as making disciples.  

If you’re praying about starting a church plant, or you’ve begun one, we’d love to hear from you about your own experiences in putting discipleship at the core of your church. Get in touch with LICC’s Church Team – we’d love to hear your story.

Jules Gadsby
Church Engagement Specialist

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