We have tended to avoid further church planting in MK, since it has been seen as a way of weakening already fragile congregations, but the figures would tend to suggest that planting might be a useful strategy.
Firstly, the areas of the country that have lowest church attendances actually have the largest churches - but fewer of them. We have relatively few churches per population in MK. Is there a connection?
Secondly, churches have a glass ceiling. Once they are more than 60-80% full it becomes more difficult to increase congregation size. Some of our churches are relatively small. In Watling Valley, I suspect that most congregations (with the possible exception of Servant King) have already crossed it. Do we need more congregations in order to grow more Christians?
Thirdly, planting new congregations does produce new members. According to MA Bing (who analysed 90 church plants) the original team usually make up 20% of the new community, 16% transfer in from other churches but a staggering 64% are converts, reconnections and fringe. In other words, planting a new congregation increases the overall number of members.
Fourthly, you don' actually need a huge planting team in order to generate an effective Church plant. According to Bob Jackson a team of 5-9 generally produce around 600% growth; a team of 10-19 produce around 300% growth; 20-34 around 150% growth; 35 onwards 'only' around 100%. Planting teams between 1 and 4 produce an average growth of 3,000%! In other words, the smaller the team, the more significant the growth.
I know that some people will respond to this by saying that the concept of 'church' planting represents a fairly traditional approach to mission. Shouldn't we be more creative: what about getting 'out there' or developing new forms of Christian community? My answer to this is 'yes' - that's precisely what I mean. Planting 'churches' doesn't mean creating new fourteenth century churches with inherited patterns of ministry, worship or buildings - although there's no reason why we should completely reject the past. This is about fresh expressions of church which are relevant to the communities in which they are set. It's about Christian communities serving together in collaborative ways. Just because I use the word 'church' don't assume I mean a clone of inherited church.
I would love to put forward the phrase 'a church in every grid square' as an expression of a radical church planting agenda for Milton Keynes. I see no reason why such a vision should not be possible and every reason to assume it would be fruitful!
(Figures from Hope for the Church by Bob Jackson)