Speaking of Orchards: On Church Planting

Tony SigA friend of the blog and blogger himself, Rev. Josh Rowley, is in the process of starting a new ‘missional community’ for the Presbyterians, and he recently posted a quote by H. Stanley Wood in his Extraordinary Leaders in Extraordinary Times (p. 152-153)

“A way forward for new-church development in denominations that value the connecting tissue of their congregations and judicatory structures might be to aid existing churches to start new churches, including the sending of ‘home-grown’ leadership to be NCD pastors”

As it happens I was just about to post something on this very topic.  My diocese of Minnesota was started by one of our great missionary bishops, the Rt. Rev. Henry Benjamin Whipple.  In large part because of his efforts, Minnesota has a very strong Episcopal presence relative to most other states in between the coasts.  Besides saving hundreds of Sioux who were due to be unjustly executed by appeal to Pres. Abraham Lincoln, it is said that he once floated an entire church building down a river in order to plant it downstream.  If you are ever in Minnesota, do go venerate his tomb underneath the Cathedral of our Merciful Savior in Fairbault.  Which, as it happens, was the parish I was confirmed in.

We are all aware of the myriad of opinions there are as to why the Mainline is shrinking so rapidly, and we shall save such speculation for another day.  At the very least it must be admitted that we lack the same zeal for planting new churches that Pentecostal and evangelical churches do.  While the new multi-site campus style of growth is an anti-charismatic personality cult, and is therefore to be scorned in every way, what some evangelical churches often do is have thriving congregations put resources into starting new parishes, often sending clergy and lay people to aid.

To the extent that we even do plant new churches, the Mainline tends to do so in ways that are extraordinarily expensive, centralized, slow, and conservative.  And if we’re honest, we don’t naturally put effort into evangelizing immigrant populations. (Though we’ve had some great opportunities with Hmong and Karen immigrants here.  We’re slowly translating a prayer book into the language of the Hmong after a several hundred Hmong Roman Catholics sought to become Episcopalians, and the first parish I attended, Messiah in St. Paul, has successfully integrated a substantial Karen refugee group.)

Now I don’t want to suggest we go around our diocese’ at all, but there is no reason that a diocese could not encourage this kind of planting and even give aid to those congregations who would do so.  Does anyone know of any diocese’ or parishes in particular that are doing this sort of thing?  There are many avenues that could be explored for fundraising but this seems like one of the more successful and generally healthy kinds.



  1. “To the extent that we even do plant new churches, the Mainline tends to do so in ways that are extraordinarily expensive, centralized, slow, and conservative.” I think this statement is an accurate criticism. I’m attempting to imagine a way of being and doing church that won’t be any of these things.


    1. That’s a great little article, Richard. I couldn’t agree more. Being the Church-in-mission is being the Church. Indeed, a healthier Church just might end up “sending” healthier Christians “into the world,” ie-workplaces and such.


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