One of the greatest losses of the Protestant Reformation was the splintering of Christ’s church. Starting with the Great Schism and rapidly increasing with the Protestant Reformation, churches have divided, and new denominations have been created. For the last several centuries, churches have been multiplied, but largely around a strategy of dividing and starting new congregations, networks, or denominations. While the multiplication of new churches is fantastic, some strategies don’t always bring unity. Momentum has grown around the concept of dividing the church rather than unifying it.
In the last several decades, churches have been working to reverse that momentum—trying to bring churches together and multiply through unity rather than dividing through differences. This movement has taken a variety of manifestations: mergers, re-launches, and re-births. In these relationships, churches realize they can do more together than they can do apart. Sometimes these churches are very similar in culture—sometimes they are rather different.
There are three churches whose stories are truly unique: Holy Trinity Church Brompton in London, Liquid Church in New Jersey, and New Life Community Church in Chicago. These three churches have merged aging congregations to bring new vitality in the community. Their stories are inspiring and highlight how God can use aging congregations to do more for the kingdom of God. In these stories, the church is unified to multiply more disciples, rather than dividing it. These churches are starting movements of unity.
Holy Trinity Brompton | London
The Anglican congregation, Holy Trinity Church Brompton (commonly known as HTB Church), had developed an incredible model of church planting of launching both first-generation and second-generation churches.1 This church employs a model where a team is sent from the primary campus to launch a new church of a multisite campus—the church utilizes both strategies. One of the most significant tools that HTB Church uses is the Alpha Course, a program their vicar, Nicky Gumbel pioneered. While their multiplication strategy has involved launching new campuses and churches (first-generation), they have also become very successful at re-launching churches that were declining (second-generation).
Since 1985, HTB Church has planted or re-launched 27 churches that are still in existence today, with four additional multisite campuses.2 The HTB Church Planting Network has worked to respond to the rapidly declining spiritual culture of the United Kingdom, at a rate of nearly 20,000 people per year leaving the Church of England.3 While HTB Church is largely attracting younger generations, they are repurposing church facilities that have been part of the Church of England for many years. Their multiplication strategy finds value in the “old,” while still reaching new generations. While many churches in the HTB related church network offer multiple worship styles, HTB Church’s multisite campuses also offer a variety of worship styles—with traditional to very modern.4 They are able to reach a variety of generations because they have made a goal to celebrate the old and the new—bringing them both together.
Liquid Church | New Jersey
Liquid Church is an incredible story of a multisite church that was approached by an aging church about the possibility of a merger. Although initially uncertain about what this relationship would look like, Liquid Church began exploring this concept with Mountainside Chapel, a 191-year-old church. At this point, Liquid Church had already successfully launched multiple campuses throughout New Jersey. Launching a new campus and merging an existing church are very different processes. Senior Pastor Tim Lucas indicates that it wasn’t about erasing the history of the church, but resurrecting the vision of the original founders.5
The mission of Liquid Church with the new partnership of Mountainside Chapel was to bring the generations together to reach people with the gospel. While it had become difficult for Mountainside Chapel to reach new people, Liquid Church was able to bring new people to the church. Members of the Mountainside Church were brought to tears on the launch Sunday of the new Liquid Mountainside campus, as they saw people continuously pouring into the church. A church that had a vision to reach people, but was unable, had finally found a way to live out the vision of its founders again, through the unity in a merger.
New Life Community Church | Chicago
New Life Community Church in Chicago has restarted nine churches, with a total of 23 campuses throughout the greater Chicago area.6 The church defines a restart as: “A healthy, growing church or church planter takes leadership responsibility for a distressed or declining historic church in order to restore the people and Gospel mission of that local church.”7 New Life’s strategy for church multiplication is focused on seeing the city as a mission field, using aging churches to reach neighborhoods throughout the city.
Senior Pastor Mark Jobe revitalized a small church in Chicago, and his story inspired another congregation that came to Mark looking for help. New Life began a partnership with this first church to launch a new campus without losing the history and original passion of the church. They realized that they had an opportunity to re-launch congregations rather than just planting new congregations. This strategy allowed them to honor faithfully the heritage of century-old churches and building upon that rich mission. Their name is part of their mission—they want to bring new life to an aging church to help transform the city with the gospel.
In the next several decades, I believe that churches will continue following in the steps of these three trailblazing congregations. While I believe that church multiplication is about multiplying churches, I believe that our first focus should be on multiplying disciples. With a strategy that focuses on giving new life and purpose to aging congregations through unity, these churches are multiplying disciples and churches in new and meaningful ways. This method proves that churches can do more together, than they can apart. Multiplication through merging and unifying seems like an odd concept, but it might just be one of the most effective ways for the Church as a whole to move forward.
- Appleton, Joanne. “European Snapshots: Models of Multi-Site Church in Europe.” Leadership Network. 2010. Accessed May 15, 2015. http://media.leadnet.org/blog-content/leadnet/downloads/European Models of Multi-site Church.pdf.
- “HTB Network.” Accessed May 15, 2015. http://htbnetwork.org.
- “Related Churches.” HTB Church. Accessed May 15, 2015. https://htb.org/about/related-churches.
- “Services.” HTB Church. Accessed May 15, 2015. https://htb.org/whats-on/services.
- “Ready to Imagine a NEW FUTURE for Your Church?” Rebirth Your Church. Accessed May 15, 2015. http://rebirthyourchurch.com.
- “New Life Locations.” New Life Community Church. Accessed May 15, 2015. http://newlifecommunity.church/locations.
- “We Are Churches.” New Life Cities. February 15, 2015. Accessed May 15, 2015. http://newlifecities.org/restart.