Baptists' ambitious church planting network

‘1000 healthy churches by 2050’

One of Australia’s most ambitious church-planting goals is the “Gen1K” target of 1000 new churches, adopted by the Baptist Association of NSW/ACT.

“1000 healthy churches by 2050” means tripling the size of the Baptist footprint. Essentially, this means linking every church into a church-planting project – no one gets to coast if the goal is to be reached.

“So far we’ve seen 38 new congregations and the number of new plants grow each year but we still need more!” Jamie Freeman, Team Leader of the Gen1K mission team, tells Eternity.

“Over the next five years we are praying for 100 new churches of mixed expression, such as simple churches, neighbourhood churches, regional and resource churches.”

That will mean a Baptist Church for every 10,000 people in the NSW of 2050 which expected to have a population of ten million.

Gen1K  is frank about their big task. “It is obvious that the achievement of such a bold vision requires an exponential number of church plants over the next 30 years. The vision is for every NSW and ACT Baptist church to be linked to a church-planting project in some way, either directly or indirectly.”

There’s some distinctive features about what these Baptists are planning.

The Baptists’ Gen1K approach is different from those church planters who focus on establishing new stand-alone churches. The Gen1k team is also concerned to help make existing churches “healthy,” as a major means to planting new ones.

One already learned lesson is that existing churches can partner to plant. Narara Valley Baptist in the NSW Central Coast hinterland planted Greenhouse Church at Long Jetty, some 20 kilometres away on the coast. Now, they are working together in their “Garden Network” with a vision of 13 churches.

The networks reach beyond Baptist circles. Greater West for Christ is based at Minchinbury (western Sydney) and has a goal of 100 churches spread from Parramatta to the Blue Mountains.

“Diversity is key. Diversity is our strategy.” – Jamie Freeman

Then there’s diversity. “The speed of change in pluralistic post-Covid 21st Century Australia means that any single church-planting strategy is likely to be outdated before it is fully implemented and what works in one context will struggle in another,” Freeman points out in a Gen1K paper.

“Diversity is key. Diversity is our strategy. A blended-economy of church plants in which a variety of models and approaches work side by side is a strategic imperative in a diverse and changing Australian context.”

The Gen1K movement wants to plant several different models of church. Within the Baptist Church, there has been strong advocates arguing for different types of church ranging from “missional” churches – that aim at innovative methods in a “post-Christendom” society (often with a social justice edge) – to  traditional churches, sometimes labelled as an “attractional” model.

Writer Michael Frost, from his Sydney base at the Baptists’ Morling College, has been a leading international advocate of the missional model.

Gen1K claims to have moved beyond this tension within the Baptists by adopting a hybrid model. In a published paper, the movement sets out four models of church (while recognising that no church will actually quite fit these outlines).

  • Simple churches have no paid staff or property. They usually consist of a relatively small number of members, though often have a significantly larger number of non-members connected to their community. They are highly relational and flexible in their structures and approach. They can exist everywhere and anywhere and can be based around a variety of coalescing factors such as a particular area, a workplace, a community group, a project or interest, or a theme.
  • Neighbourhood Churches are local churches with a strong sense of place. They often have a single pastor (maybe part-time) with a broad range of pastoral, administrative, and leadership responsibilities. They often are built around a parish model of church, incarnationally ministering to the felt needs of their neighbourhood. They tend to be more relational, localised, and organic in their structures.
  • Regional Churches are often bigger churches which draw congregants from a large geographical area. As a result they tend to be more program driven in their ministry and mission and have a more heavily structured, organised, and hierarchical model. Usually led by teams with specialist ministry focuses and a pastor who serves primarily in a team leadership, visionary, figurehead type role. If not built around programs, these churches do often centre the majority of their ministry around a particular physical hub.
  • Resource Churches can be either a Regional church or a Neighbourhood church (sometimes with a connected network of simple churches). What defines them in regards to these other models is: they are planted in strategic LGA’s with large or growing populations, they are built around and committed to multiplication, they are committed to leadership development, they are in active partnership with their region and open to networks and partnerships. They also dedicate a proportion of their time and budget towards leadership development and multiplication, and they [devote] significant proportions of their time, money, people, physical and intellectual resources towards other and future churches.

As I write this story, I think of many churches that might fit these models – maybe Petersham AoG in Sydney, New Life Church on the Gold Coast and Adelaide’s Trinity Network are great examples of a resource church. St Thomas’ North Sydney and many of the large Baptist churches in Melbourne could be examples of Regional Churches.

There’s more models such as the Student Churches linked with the Australian Fellowship if Evangelical Students, and there’s the international networks such as Hillsong and C3.

A common observation of church-planting movements – especially in the US – is that they promote one particular sort of leader. Gen1K rejects this in their draft paper.

“As we expand our vision of what a church plant can look like, we also need to expand our vision of who can be a successful church planter.” – Gen1K

“Diverse churches require diverse leaders,” says the paper, in reference to Gen1K’s hybrid model.

“If we are to meet the Gen1K goal of 1000 healthy churches in a generation we will need to raise up, train, and empower a plurality of gifted leaders and leadership teams.”

“If we are to succeed in a blended-economy approach to church planting, we will need diverse and perhaps unexpected leaders. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work. As we expand our vision of what a church plant can look like, we also need to expand our vision of who can be a successful church planter.”

The ideas driving this new(-ish) Baptist church planting movement are explored in a podcast – that interviews many of the key figures within it. The Forming Church podcast is here.

Episode one features Jamie Freeman on the Gen1K project and episode 4 is Michael Frost on Church beyond COVID.

The podcast is led by two young church planters – Benj Gould and Will Small – who set out to capture the ideas that fuel this church planting movement.

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