7 Principles for Anglican Church Planting

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This article is adapted from Dan Alger’s book: “Word and Sacrament: Ancient Traditions for Modern Church Planting.”

1. Anglican Church Planting Begins With Submission

Our church planting work does not begin with our plans and our vision; our planting work starts in submission. If you want a megachurch and a book deal, don’t plant an Anglican church. We begin at the cross, in submission to Christ. We submit to the Scripture as God’s Word written. We submit to the doctrine, discipline, and worship as this church has received it. We submit to the great cloud of witnesses. We begin in submission to our bishop through both confirmation and, for some, ordination. We submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

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Planters are often bold self-starters, gatherers, and leaders. These can be wonderful traits, but they also lead to pride, ambition, greed, and lack of accountability. So many celebrated pastors and church planters have suffered severe public failing and falling when their strong leadership surpassed their humble submission.

The best jazz improvisers must first learn their scales. It is out of knowing what is universal, unchanging, and standard that approbate deviation brings beauty. It is by remaining lovingly in check that we stay on the path of righteousness and holiness and run the race with perseverance. Submission is beautiful. In the midst of your dreaming of your church plant and stressing over how it will flourish, reflect first on church planting as an act of submission. Both you and your church will be healthier for it.

2. Anglicanism Affects Methodology and Timing

Most church-planting resources teach the concept of launching large. While Anglicans also teach the need for a critical mass before moving to public worship, our scale is quite different. One of the most popular books on this topic teaches a process that encourages beginning with preview services that are hopefully attended by 300 people or so – then you will have a good core group to start your megachurch. But for North American Anglicans, 300 people is a megachurch! If we read this methodology and then pursue Anglican church planting, we might think, My plant is not growing fast enough, what am I doing wrong?

I am not speaking against other ways of being church, but I want to convince you that Anglican planting is approached differently and therefore has different values, methods, and timelines. If your plant experiences tremendous growth in a short period of time, praise Jesus! This is not always true, however, at least in the West. My experience is that planting an Anglican church is often a long obedience in the same direction. We are not gathering a crowd and then hoping to disciple them. Ours is often a slower pace that seeks depth, formation, and long-term sustainability. We plant oaks, not bamboo.

The potential of slower growth should be considered as we form our planting strategies – in levels of funding, timing of a public worship launch, structure of curacies, expectations for relationships with a mother church, etc. We should not base our methodologies on our Anglican ecclesiology and missiology only to then gauge our effectiveness based on the results seen in other traditions.

Our methods may not be as quick, but there is extreme value in what we are doing. There is substance, there is beauty, and there is longevity. Faster is not always better. Church fads are going to come and go. The newest megachurches are going to wax and wane. But the liturgy, ethos, polity, and way of life within the Anglican tradition is thousands of years old with no ending in sight.

3. Anglican Church Planting Is Worship-Centric

Our worship is evangelistic not because we primarily shape our services around the seeker or the unbeliever, but rather because we do the opposite by seeing God as our primary audience. A group of people who are worshipping something other than themselves, in deep community with one another, invites a visitor to explore the worth and value of the object of their worship. When our response to visitors is intentionally not to convince them that we are gathered primarily to appease them, but to worship God, we invite them to turn their gaze outward toward the one who truly can fulfill their needs.

This is not an excuse to be standoffish or cold – by no means! Rather, our welcome should reflect the warmth and welcome of the God who welcomes us. Our hospitality in welcoming visitors is immensely important, but secondary to the giving of glory to God, or else we are engaging in a bait and switch.

If our outward message is primarily that our worship is all about the visitor – their experience, their needs, their family, their marriage, their children – then it will be quite shocking when we bid them come and die. In your church planting work, do not begin to worship the number of attendees or else you will use the message of God simply as a means to increase your attendance. In worship you are bringing people to an experience of the holiness of God, to learn how to reject the idols they have been pursuing, and to turn their praise toward the one true God. Do not appeal to their idols to sneak in the glory of God. Our Anglican framework is meant to keep our focus in its proper place, insisting upon the immanence of the transcendent God. We move from glory to invitation, not the reverse.

4. Anglican Church Planting Is Not Meant To Be Pursued Alone

Church planting is too much for you to pursue alone. The good news is that you do not have to. Church order and governance is a gift from God. You have a bishop, you belong to a diocese, you are part of something bigger than yourself. In leading up to planting, your diocese can help prepare you through assessment, training, and coaching. And when you are in the work of planting, the diocese provides ongoing care and guidance. The decisions are not all on your shoulders. Your burdens are not yours alone to carry. The isolation of church planting is tempered by your relationships with other churches, clergy, laity, and leaders. You have a pastor in your bishop.

I know you have your doubts. I know that sometimes you wonder if a diocese just gets in the way, if they are too bureaucratic and institutionalized. You are correct; there will be some struggles as a planter within a group of established churches. This is where you can help your diocese as well. We need to be involved in our dioceses because as church planters we are vital part of the diocese. Our mission is not just to our local church, but to the church catholic for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The influence of planters changes culture. You will keep the diocese on task. Because of your presence and your missional work, the diocese with her existing churches and many future church plants will be healthier in the long term, and so will you.

We are planting churches that will raise up a disproportionate number of leaders with a heart for church planting and mission. These men and women will be the next generation of priest, deacons, bishops, and faithful laity. Planting as a part of diocese means support for you now and healthy future for your diocese.

5. Anglican Church Planting Is Pursued In Word and Sacrament

We must give the people the Word proclaimed in the sermon and invite them to participate in the Word visible in the sacraments. Our understanding of the sacraments – their incarnation nature, their mystery, the eminent presence of God within them, and their function as a means of grace – is of vital importance and extreme influence on everything that we do as church planters.

Our bold preaching of the Word is all the more effective because it is rooted in the liturgy. Our missional message as church planters is “Repent and Believe.” And the sacraments let those who hear it respond, expressing their repentance and belief in an outward and visible way. They enter into the church in Holy Baptism, and they participate in table fellowship in the Holy Eucharist. In this way, we call people to the worship of our holy God.

The invitation of Jesus lingers, the place for washing is ready, the table is set, won’t you come? Our role comes from the Master of the feast: “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23).

6. Anglican Church Planting Must Be Dependent On The Work Of The Holy Spirit

Anglicanism is not a liturgical to-do list that if followed will guarantee the beautiful, deep, and holy church you desire to plant. Our mission, like all true Christian mission, is dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit. The disciples themselves were instructed by Jesus not to try and be witnesses of the gospel until they were given power from on high.

Perfectly executed Anglicanism (as if there is such a thing) will not bring life to a church any more than the swaying of the trees creates the wind. God must breathe into the nostrils of our liturgy, our preaching, our sacramental practice, our reaching out to the world. As a Christian, this concept should be of no surprise to you, but trust me, you will forget this foundational truth in the business of church planting. This is precisely why we have prayers like this in our Prayer Book:

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful: Sanctify this congregation by your abiding presence. Bless those who minister in holy things. Enlighten the minds of your people more and more with the light of your everlasting gospel. Bring erring souls to the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ; and those who are walking in the way of life, keep steadfast to the end. Give patience to the sick and afflicted and renew them in body and soul. Guard those who are strong and prosperous from forgetting you. Increase in us your many gifts of grace, and make us all fruitful in good works. This we ask, O blessed Spirit, whom with the Father and the Son we worship and glorify, one God, world without end. Amen.

7. Anglican Church Planting Must Begin With The Pursuit Of Personal And Corporate Holiness

I have attended many church planting classes and conferences and read most of the books. Holiness does not come up very often. Strategy does. Methodology does. The mechanics – the nuts and the bolts – they come up a lot. How are we going to attract people, fund the mission, find a place to meet, etc.

Although these details are important, they are not our starting point. Beginning with our ecclesiology means that we are primarily concerned with the gospel and the pursuit of Christ. So, when we talk about church planting, we must first discuss personal and corporate holiness. We must ask, “Would I rather have a large church or a holy church?” If your answer is ‘large,’ stop planting churches. We do not need large, unholy churches; we need churches that are hungry and thirsty for righteousness. We need disciples who are longing for the holiness that comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not that such churches can’t also be large, but numerical growth must never come at the expense of the pursuit of holiness – starting with our individual lives as planters.

Christ is not calling you to plant at the expense of your soul, nor is he calling you to gather a group of people so you can balance a budget. You are planting a people – and not just any people, a people who share a way of life in which Christ’s righteous will, his holy ways, and his profound glory are pursued in all things.

In light of this truth, I encourage you to see the development of your own devotional habits as part of your preparation for church planting. Regularly pray the Daily Office. Build into your weekly schedule sabbath and rest. Adapt your experience of time through following the seasons of the church calendar. Practice hospitality and being a person of peace. Foster faithful tithing and generosity. Pursue the spiritual disciplines of solitude and simplicity. It is from these deep wells you will draw the cool water that will nurture and sustain you through the difficult work of church planting.

Get more of Dan’s wisdom for Anglican church planting by purchasing his book, “Word and Sacrament: Ancient Traditions for Modern Church Planting.”

Photo by Sushobhan Badhai on Unsplash.

Published on

May 10, 2023

Author

Dan Alger

The Very Rev. Canon Dan Alger is the Dean of the Cathedral at Redeemer Anglican Church in Greensboro, NC. He also serves as the Canon for Church Planting for the Anglican Church in North America, through which he leads the Always Forward Church Planting Initiative.

View more from Dan Alger

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