A vibrant and diverse evangelical Christian community.

‘By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established’  Proverbs 24:3

Cranmer Hall, St John’s College,

3 South Bailey, Durham DH1 3RJ

The Centre for Church Planting Theology and Research

The Centre for Church Planting Theology and Research exists to tell the theological story of the Church Planting movement across the Church of England through quality theological reflection on original empirical research.

Join us for our next conference in March 2024 with presentations from Prof Alan Torrance, Dr Helen Miller, and Prof Pete Ward.

The past 10 years has seen a dramatic increase in the planting of new Church of England churches. Since 2014 some 1,600 new worshipping communities have been planted or grafted across 31 Dioceses and since 2017 over £140 million of Strategic Development Funding has been invested in new missional projects, many of which involve the establishing of new churches. The Church of England’s vision and strategy for the 2020’s includes the vision to see a mixed ecology Church where new communities of faith are the norm, and in 2021 announced plans to establish over 10,000 new worshipping communities over the next decade. Furthermore, while the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the Church cannot be known, it seems certain that an ambitious church planting strategy – emerging out of and alongside parish forms of ministry – is going to be more necessary and not less.

It is right to name what is happening as a new church planting movement in the Church of England. When we ask what God is doing in the life of our nation at this time, we believe that church planting is an integral part of the answer.

However, if church planting is to take hold across the whole of the Church, it will require a rich theological account of the purpose and potential of new Church of England churches. We must be continually imagining and re-imagining. In particular, we believe that if planting is to become normalised across the diversity of traditions and geography within the Church then it demands both rich theological underpinnings, and guidance on faithful practice.

We also recognise the imperative for research given the rapidly changing context we find ourselves within. The coronavirus pandemic has made more urgent many of the ecclesiological questions we have been facing for some time. The issue is whether we have the theological resources to address them.

In response to this, the research centre exists to provide research that is:

  • Driven by mission: committed to serving the purposes of God, asking what mission looks like in each and every place in England.
  • Driven by an empirical-theological methodology: asking the twin questions of: ‘what is happening?’, and ‘where do we see God at work?’
  • Driven by a theological vision: pursuing the quality of research that can sustain the planting vision across the diversity of the Church, as well as tell that story in the public sphere.
  • Driven by partnerships: working with those already doing and thinking church planting and focused on supporting them in their work.

We believe that such research must go beyond quantitative assessment, and provide an account of how strategic investment is bearing fruit. To this end it must provide deep learning for the long-term flourishing of church planting within the Church of England, and serve to resource the whole Church: practitioners and policy makers, parishes, Dioceses, and National Church.

We advocate for theological research into Church Planting. Encouraging and enabling researchers and theologians from every tradition to offer their best thinking to the church planting movement, for the benefit of planters, and gatekeepers. We are building a network of theologians who are exploring church planting and new forms of church in their work. We also hold regular events aiming to bring church planting practitioners and theologians into dialogue.

Regular free webinars exploring the theology of church planting.

We hold an annual international conference on church planting theology, held in Durham. Our next conference is March 18-20th 2024, with the theme “participation”. View the full conference programme here.

We aim to increase the body of deep research into church planting in England, and to tell the theological story of planting: what is God doing and how does it connect with scripture, history and tradition? This includes, producing the following resources:

Annual theological reports on a number of church plants, consisting of empirical data and theological reflection.

Resources on the theology of planting available to the wider church, lay and ordained. Published form (books, articles) but also online material (articles, lectures, case studies, teaching resources).

 

Resources to download

Shaping Place Report

Shaping Place is the result of time spent with four new churches in Durham Diocese.

This report answers the questions: Where did these churches come from? What are they like? Who is attending? and what might God be teaching us through
these new ventures of faith?

Download Shaping Place PDF (39mb)

 

 

We support the work that Dioceses and churches are doing around planting, providing theological framework to construct a planting strategy.

Contact Joshua Cockayne for more information.

Centre Director: Revd Dr Joshua Cockayne

Josh is the Director of Mission and Evangelism and the Director of the Centre for Church Planting and Theology Research.

Josh is an experienced church planter. Before he was ordained, he spent many years on the leadership team of G2 York, a large fresh expression, from which he led a small church plant in 2016-17. After being ordained in the Scottish Episcopal Church in 2020, and serving a part time curacy in St Andrews, he spent 2 years leading Holy Trinity Boar Lane, a church plant in the city centre of Leeds which was started to engage with the working population of the city through midweek mission and worship.

We see the strength of Cranmer Hall as our flourishing postgraduate research through close connection with Durham University, and thus our ability to offer high quality theological and empirical research. This we have identified as our unique contribution to this planting movement. Our aim is therefore to ensure that out of these strengths the research centre makes a valuable contribution towards the whole movement in each of its necessary parts. We therefore recognise the importance of partnerships with those on the front line of planting and those in positions of decision-making and policy.

Endorsements

The Rt Revd Ric Thorpe, Bishop of Islington

‘I am very excited about the Research Centre at Cranmer Hall because it meets a real need in the development of church planting in this country. High quality research and robust theological input will provide the kind of resourcing which will greatly enable healthy church planting across the country in every tradition and every part of the church.  Hard questions need answering, as well as up-to-date, accurate data on the actual state of church planting. The Research Centre will give confidence to church planters, senior diocesan teams and theological educators alike. I whole-heartedly support this.’

The Rt Revd Libby Lane, Bishop of Derby

‘At a time when the Church of England is investing in new churches, and seeking to see these churches reach into every part of the country, it is vital that we give space to reflecting theologically on the impact of this movement. This centre will make the most of Cranmer Hall’s unique strength of holding together academic rigour with a passion for mission so as to offer rich theological and empirical insights for the benefit for the whole church. I believe that the centre has the potential to help accelerate church planting across the Dioceses.  It is an important project and I am pleased to give it my full support’

The Revd John Valentine, Church Planter Trainer and Theologian at Large, the Gregory Centre

‘The Research Centre would combine robust theological expertise and grounded, practical insight into church planting.  By occupying the middle ground between high quality academic input and up to date qualitative and quantitative data on what is actually happening on the ground, the Centre would enable informed conversation and strategic decisions to happen about future church planting.  The encouragement of DThM degrees would reinforce this, and the potential resources to be produced by the Centre would have valuable contributions to make to those who are actually church planting and those who have real questions alike.  I am excited by this proposal.’

Chris Goldsmith, National Ministry Team

‘The National Ministry Team warmly welcome this initiative – a sign of Cranmer Hall gifting its commitment to mission, research and practical theology to the whole church. The partnership working that it is based on is a sign of hope for the future in times where the sharing of resources and wisdom for the growth of God’s kingdom could not be more important or timely.’

Revd Dr Christian Selvaratnam, Director of Church Planting and Revitalisation at St Hild College

The Research Centre has the potential to provide significant help to the emerging church planting movements within the Church of England, especially in the North of England. A research centre based at Durham University will be ideally placed to build on the existing connections and experience of Cranmer Hall in this area, not least because of their reputation for high-value theological reflection and research. The work of this proposed centre will not only offer strategic advice to the key decision-makers, it will also inevitably filter down to all the practitioners—new and established—helping them to be more effective at starting and revitalising new churches. I am excited by this proposal and look forward to benefiting from the research and working with the team.’

Revd Lizzy Woolf, Rector of St George’s Leeds

‘As a Resource Church leader in the North of England, I am delighted to support the Research Centre at Cranmer Hall. I have been impressed by the existing team, and believe the Research Centre will make a vital contribution to the church planting movement, enabling stronger, more robust theological foundations and thus longer-term sustainability.’

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