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City Centre Resource Churches

Ric Thorpe: Rector of St Paul’s Shadwell

Ric Thorpe is Rector of St Paul’s Shadwell, London, an Anglican church planted from Holy Trinity Brompton in 2005. He has gone on to plant other Anglican churches within Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest boroughs in the UK. Ric has a wider role as the Bishop of London’s Adviser for Church Planting, Tutor in Church Planting at St Mellitus College, and Coordinator of the HTB Network. Ric has a background in chemical engineering and marketing before working full-time in the church. He is married to Louie and they have 3 children. 

From Jerusalem to Babylon, God seems to have had a special heart and focus on cities. St Paul’s mission strategy focused on reaching cities first, which in turn, spread to surrounding areas. 250 years ago 5% of the world’s population lived in cities, now it is 50%. This trend is largely reflected in the UK. In England, for example, people are moving to cities faster than the church can keep up.

Younger people and the poor are attracted to and disproportionately represented in our cities. Cities create much of our culture, produce much of our innovation, and contain most of our people. Cities are full of diversity and dynamism – crossroads for ideas and people across the world. Yet cities are disproportionately under-represented in terms of ministry.

The church needs a greater focus on cities and cities need lots of different kinds of churches in order to flourish: churches in the city-centre, inner-city and suburbs; large churches that can resource wider ministries, smaller churches that can go local and deep - and everything in between. The churches of a city or region are healthy when each one knows its own unique calling, when each one is not threatened by other churches playing their part, and when each one recognizes the role it plays in the wider church of that city.

Cities are particularly in need of larger city-centre churches which fulfill a resourcing role. Typically, such a resource church will be drawing people from across all or part of the city and will have a Godly vision to see a wide impact around the city and the practical abilities to make that happen.

The capacity provided by such resource churches offers a unique opportunity that, if positioned right, can release huge blessing to mission in a city as a whole. A big vision is needed for this to happen and it should be shaped around blessing the city, rather than the church simply getting bigger for its own sake. Everyone needs to know this is the deal.

Even the biggest city churches cannot reach the city on their own, but they can release their capacity to energise a city vision that many other churches can get behind. City centre resource churches can do this in 5 ways:

1. Supporting bishops:

Diocesan bishops have the big view of the city usually in ways very similar to city centre resource churches. The bishop’s work can be enhanced by having a good working relationship with large resource churches and working through how they “fit”. The resource church should be asking “how can we help you achieve your vision for the city?” and the bishop could be giving permission and encouraging the city-wide vision and mission of that church.

2. Planting churches:

Larger churches must get good at planting other churches that will multiply good practice and mission across a city working with the bishop and other churches. Experience suggests that churches which plant churches attract leaders and members who themselves want to plant and this helps, even if it doesn’t replace, those they send. Strategic planting with other churches and denominations should also evolve as parts of the city in greater need begin to be targeted for resourcing.

3. Releasing resources:

Larger churches are more able to support staff who develop specialisms and resources. If these are focused on the needs of the city and not just the needs of that church, the city centre church can enable many other churches to get involved in receiving and using these resources, as well as joining in with the development of the impact of these resources across the city. Examples include promoting marriage and family life, debt advice, caring for ex-offenders, evangelism courses, etc.

4. Sending teams:

Resource churches can develop leaders and ministry by equipping and enabling their members to visit other churches in ministry teams to help run courses, lead worship, give testimonies and talks. For churches called, for example, to highly contextual mission this can be an enormous blessing and encourages mutuality and reciprocity.

5. Developing leaders:

Larger churches simply on account of their size have more leaders and are well placed to develop leadership training programmes to accelerate the development of character and leadership competence. These programmes need to be set in the context of raising up leaders to resource and equip the whole city. With a longer view, leaders of different disciplines can be developed for church planting into specific contexts and helping other churches across the city e.g. cross-cultural leadership in areas of different ethnicity.

Larger, city centre churches can easily develop ministries that simply serve the vision of that church alone. However, if some core values are emphasised, they will catalyse a missional flow of ministry that will genuinely resource the church across the whole city. These include:

  • generosity – give away what we have been given (church planting, resources, teams, etc);
  • partnership – work with others to reach our city (diocesan bishop, churches, other denominations, businesses, charities, etc);
  • audacity – re-evangelise our city and help transform the structures and communities (with a vision big enough to capture the imagination of the city and only achievable with God)
  • humility – serve the city and its churches (play our part, listen and serve the city)

So how could this happen?

Thinking of larger city centre churches, Diocesan bishops could begin to ask: how could this church resource the city? Could it help to catalyse mission across the city as a whole? Thinking of bishops responsible for a city the resource church could begin to ask: how can we work collaboratively to help you fulfill your vision for this city?

If there isn’t a city-centre resource church like this, could the bishop and a group of churches work together to invite and encourage one to be established? The leadership and resources required to plant a city centre resource church are immense, and require help from outside the city as well as inside, but the fruit of such an invitation, particularly if the values include generosity, partnership, audacity and humility, could transform mission to the city.

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