Holy Trinity Brompton is arguably the best known contemporary British church. Part of the Anglican family, it shot to prominence through the Alpha course (an introduction to Christianity now conducted in something like 45 countries around the world. Within the UK, HTB has been very active in planting new churches – initially in London, but increasingly in other parts of the country as well (when they’re invited).
Today I visited one of HTB’s church plants (a London suburban church that’s been running for seven years), and then their office HQ to explore just how it’s been happening, what approaches they’re using, and what’s been learned along the way.
Both visits were insightful, and I really appreciated the welcome and the conversations (and the eye-opening tour of the Alpha/HTB offices).
HTB use a range of approaches as the particular context demands, and I heard a consistent expression of commitment to working with the wider denomination. They’ve worked hard on leadership development, on understanding their unique DNA (or charism) and what it is that they offer.
Many of the initial plants were into empty church buildings, where HTB would sent a leader and team and establish a new community from scratch (mostly in well established areas of London). In recent times they’ve started what we might describe as “re-planting” or re-vitalising where a leader and team will go into a very small church (which might to all intents and purposes be on its last legs).
Of particular interest is that there are now second and third generation church plants – where previously planted churches are themselves planting. Sometimes they’re using one of the approaches describe above, or in some cases a multi-site (multiple church communities, multiple sites but a shared identity and leadership) or “minster” (a mother church with semi-dependent child churches) approaches.
The story is exciting, but they’re very quick to point out that while it sounds easy and exciting when it’s described in broad-brush terms, the reality is planting churches in contemporary Britain is a difficult task, and one that takes intense commitment, careful planning, and an extraordinary leader and team. There’s also a willingness to be hard-nosed when required – to make sure the right team go, that the context is ready, that the planning is done, that everything is in place to give the project the best chance of success. That all seems to start with a pretty heavy commitment to prayer (and I think we’d all agree…that’s as it should be).
We also talked briefly about the Alpha course. It’s been a few years since I checked in to have a look at Alpha, and it sounds like it’s come a long way. The day I visited HTB has just hosted the second night of their current Alpha course with something like 600 guests attending. The materials have been thoroughly modernised since I last checked in, and are re-filmed every few years to ensure production values, presentation and content are contemporary. It’s no surprise that one of HTB’s church planting practices is to start an Alpha course immediately every new church plant launches. It has been and continues to be a key part of their approach. I came away thinking it’s past time I checked in to have a look at what Alpha 2017 looks like.
Clearly HTB is a particular kind of church, with a particular style of worship, and a particular set of values. And many of their plants, while growing up in a contextual nature, share that DNA. Equally clearly, they’re doing some very good things within the Church of England in the British context, and via Alpha in the wider world.
It was a visit I’m glad I had the opportunity to make.
When this postcard publishes, I’ll be on my way home. It’s been a genuine privilege to undertake this trip, to visit Leicester, the FX gathering, St Mellitus, London Anglicans, CMS, the Methodist Church and HTB over the last couple of weeks. I’m so very thankful to all those that have welcomed me and shared in inspiring conversations, and told their stories. I don’t underestimate how fortunate I’ve been to be able to make the trip. I’ll publish a more general summary in a few days.
Thanks for reading.