Don't stop reading or feel particularly guilty if you don't. Nobody else seems to either... and that's just the start of the problem. We just don't know how bad things may already have become.
The scale of the problem simply increases if you look at those churches with dwindling and often elderly congregations that seem likely to close within the next decade. One Association has gathered figures that suggest steep decline towards the point of non-viability is already underway in the bulk of their congregations.... humanly speaking, of course.
Yes, the cause of God has always suffered church collapses due to demographic changes, scandals and the like. These closures don't really add up to a trend. We are now dealing with a definite trend. So what's happening now, what's changed and what might the Lord be doing in closing the doors of all these places of worship?
It's a very big question, but here's my stab at it. We seem to have passed through the era of massive closures within the Liberal churches into a time characterised by the closure of theologically orthodox churches, whose people have not let go of the Word, but let go of the people around them. The point being missed is this: the Gospel has NOT been given to us for us to KEEP it! Neither has it been given to us so that we can complicate it, nor make it appear culturally alien, putting the life-giving bread beyond the ordinary people's reach. Many of the churches that are closing, but no, not all, seem to be doing one of those two things. We can't expect the Lord to be pleased.
The Achor Project has been established by a small group of pioneering pastors who are actually engaged in a replanting ministry on a day to day basis. This has been done NOT to duplicate the work being done by Associations through Home Missions committees, nor that done by the various Trust Corporations, but to tackle the things no-one else is doing in an attempt to promote and facilitate the re-starting of collapsed churches in viable locations.
- Resource & equip
- Day to day 'Back up'
- Christian public
- Training institutions
(- Conferences ?)
- Provide internship experience
- Seeking to replicate themselves
- Liaise with training institutions and churches
- Run short term teams
- Run 'Internships' for prospective workers
- Essentials of growth/decline
- Nationwide Monitoring
- Surveys (particular locations)
- Project planning
The first area of need, networking to create fellowship, is being met through the Achor Project with two publications already launched. One is for pioneers involved in re-planting collapsed churches and the other is made available to the Christian public to highlight what is being done in various locations. All church secretaries listed in Grace Directory have been sent a copy of the latter. If there isn't one on your church notice board, ask to see it! .... and if you would like to join either of these operational or support networks, please make contact.
The second area of need, research, is something we need your help with. The situation needs to be adequately monitored if it is to be adequately addressed. Can you tell us about a church that is being or that needs to be re-planted, or that looks like needing it soon? There is no existing national network to facilitate such information gathering, so any information you can supply us with for our database would be very welcome.
Above and beyond that we need to do some study on (for example) what constitutes a viable church ripe for re-planting, what the leading characteristics of successful re-plants are, and so on (this is what you might call pure research). Nobody seems to be addressing these crucial questions! Of course, in the last analysis, the Lord alone knows, and much prayer is needed to discern His will for a given situation, but surely there must be general principles we can learn ... and if so, what are they?
We are also seeking to develop the capability to go into areas where churches have closed to survey the locality, perhaps using teams of young Christians, to try to work out whether something should be done there, and what shape any replanting project in that place should take. This is the sort of applied research that can be of great help in making the most of a re-planting opportunity from the very start.
The third area we need to develop (in fellowship with others who might get involved in this) is the training of pioneers. We've spoken to many in our churches who ask "But where are the men to do this work?" It might be relevant to ask "Who is training them?" Too often, prospective pioneers are viewed as a threat and squashed. Pioneers are by definition singular people! It's one thing to train a Pastor.... but pioneers are more like missionaries and require different gifts and personalities, and a very different sort of training. In an age when our thinking about ministry is "Pastor dominated", everyone seems to be training Pastors and no-one seems to be doing much about training pioneers.
In twenty years, on current trends, we won't need many pastors because there won't be THAT many churches around to pastor.... but we will be needing the pioneers to spear-head the re-evangelisation of the UK.
Obviously, training should take place at different levels. We are starting with summer evangelism teams for young people doing evangelism in pioneer situations. (The first one is this summer - please write for details!) Year teams can be useful too and of significant help to team members themselves both in forming Christian character and in discerning God's plans for their future. Who could you encourage onto one of these? At yet another level, those who have undertaken some systematic form of theological training might benefit from an internship working alongside experienced pioneers. At the moment such opportunities are terribly limited. We would love to be able to provide that resource to the right sort of candidate....might you be such a person?
The fourth area concerns the running of projects to replant churches, already being done in some areas by certain Associations and larger churches, forming teams and providing support, help and encouragement in what can be extremely isolated pioneering situations. This, like most of the things we've been looking at, would involve the commitment of resources we do not yet possess, but that we would need to look to the Lord to provide. However, if we make it a rule simply to gaze at our problems and fail to act, we shall certainly have some serious explaining to do when we stand before the Great White Throne on That Day!
This Achor Project has been born. It has been born out of the passionate conviction that the God of Scripture has an inestimably gracious heart, and will not give up on His erring children. In fact, throughout salvation history He has led them into the desert simply because He longs to turn their Valleys of Achor into doors of hope. Check it out in Joshua 7 and Hosea 2.... and please consider whether this is not something that you ought to be involved with.
We are looking for two potential full time church planting/replanting pioneers to be available to start training in the autumn. Could one of them be you? If so, please send an enquiry and your CV to the address below.
You can make contact, get details of teams, publications or training, or even arrange a
visit to your church by one of our steering group by e-mailing on email@example.com, or by writing to or