I have been privileged to spend a couple of days with a group of German leaders of various church planting agencies and initiatives within denominational groupings who meet from time to time as a “roundtable”. It has been fascinating to compare the experiences of this group with the UK, or more specifically the English situation over the last 20 years, especially in relation to DAWN as a concept.
On the ground, just as in England, and I suspect increasingly across Europe, local church planting initiatives are multiplying. There is probably much more happening at a local level than we realize or even have the facilities to track. That is encouraging. There are 2 key differences between the German experience and that of the UK.
First, the German DAWN group has not yet succeeded in building a consensus around the idea of a national goal for church planting which is so integral to the DAWN idea. This particular group has only been in existence for five years and it is not sure whether they will ever agree on such a goal.
“Fortunate for them”, I can hear some people responding from a UK context and I understand that sentiment. However, there is something to be said for the idea of coalition, mutual encouragement, the sharing of ideas and experiences, the energizing impact of what others are doing when communicated as part of a joint vision.
I was fascinated to learn what the Free Evangelical Church has been doing with regard to church planting. In 2005, they adopted the goal of planting 100 new churches in 10 years, and they are well under way. It is a very significant effort and when placed alongside other initiatives amongst Pentecostal and other new church groupings, something vital is emerging.
And yet, whereas normally the impact of such an important development in a group like the Free Evangelical Church might be expected to have a wider impact or leverage on others it does not appear to have done so. Those who are aware of this initiative regard it highly and that underlies the importance of information sharing. There is usually more happening than most people imagine and communicating the “facts on the ground” is at least as encouraging as setting ambitious goals.
Second, unlike the situation of England where the Anglican church was almost the initiator of church planting as a mission strategy, (admittedly with significant encouragement from YWAM), in Germany the state church is not just practically absent from the church planting scene but possibly hostile to the concept or at best sees it as something that does not concern or interest them.
This absence of the involvement of the State Church from church planting seems to stem from two realities. The first of these realities is that there are far fewer evangelicals in the State church in Germany as compared with the Anglican church. Whether we like it or not most (though not all) of the church planting initiatives in the Anglican church have come from the evangelical wing of the church.
The second reality is that the language of church planting does not really work in a strong parish system. There is a need for a different vocabulary that might allow the participation and imagination of the State church in Germany to be stimulated. In England that language is formed around the vocabulary of Fresh Expressions of church.
In recent times the concept of Fresh Expressions has begun to percolate the awareness and thinking of the State church and so there is the possibility of a new connection being established between the State church and the other denominations and networks that are already involved in church planting. The growth of a movement needs both ”facts on the ground” – people actually getting on with the task, and a wider awareness of what is already happening and what is possible for the future. The spreading of that knowledge is what catalyses a wider involvement and turns creative experiments into fully fledged movement.