From early in the recent UK church planting story, in the 80’s and 90’s multiplying discreet congregations within the existing church building was common. Many examples of this proliferated but need to be distinguished from a related strategy for growth which would be called ‘duplicate services’, as this name implies a single congregation just grows by offering identical services at different times on a Sunday.
In contrast, the multiple congregation pattern is a genuine planting of a new church and will be aimed to reach a different demographic, have its own leadership team and ministries even though the two entities may gather in the same building.
We could pick from any number of examples of this early trend but here to illustrate these principles here is the story of St Denys in Southampton.
Case Study – St Denys in Southampton
Planting new congregations in existing buildings is becoming a more and more important strategy. In 1994, after two curacies in large, evangelical churches, Simon Foulkes and his family moved to the declining inner-city parish of St Denys in Southampton. Simon recently reflected on the costs and blessings of crossing boundaries of church-manship and class in the Episcopal Evangelical Journal. This short except shows how Simon and the neighbouring vicar’s willingness to bridge such boundaries enabled a new evening congregation to be planted.
“Our neighbouring parish in Southampton (Highfield) was even larger and more charismatic than the parishes we came from. The vicar was a delightful enthusiast. As we had no evening service, in those days I used sometimes to go to their evening service for refreshment and fellowship. One night, one of their wardens said that if they could do anything to help the ministry at St Denys, they would. “Just send me your twelve best people”, I replied. He looked surprised, then smiled. It wasn’t long before, at the vicar’s invitation, I addressed their PCC. I used Paul’s vision, in Acts 16, of the man from Macedonia saying “come over and help us”. Open meetings followed, with as many as eighty or ninety people indicating interest in forming a team to plant a new evening congregation at St Denys.
I got too excited about what might be possible and allowed myself to dream dreams that were too grand. When in the end only eight people volunteered, I was dismayed, and I know the vicar at Highfield was distraught. Perhaps we had tried to be too secure in human numbers. On the first Sunday in September 1995, when the team arrived in the cold emptiness of St Denys for an evening of prayer and worship, they were not alone. Another half-dozen young committed people “just arrived” and some of the established St Denys folk also joined in with the new venture. It was extraordinary. By Christmas, two of Highfield’s eight had left, but we ‘went public’ with the seven o’clock service in the New Year. It was to double in size before the following January.
The newcomers set different standards of personal commitment, sacrifice and financial giving, which became obvious as the church held its annual meeting and reviewed its activities and accounts. A new confidence about God’s grip on our situation began to appear. People were willing to consider taking other risks of faith.”