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.

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.

1. Empirical and theological research. Increasing the body of deep research into church planting in England, and telling the theological story of planting: what is God doing and how does it connect with scripture, history and tradition?

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).


2. Advocating 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.

Regular free webinars exploring the theology of church planting.

An annual international conference on church planting theology, held in Durham.

Building a network of theologians who are exploring church planting and new forms of church in their work.


3. Research led training for Dioceses and Diocesan staff. Supporting the work that Dioceses are doing around planting, providing the theological framework on which Dioceses might construct a planting strategy.

An annual 24 hour residential for Bishops and Bishops’ staff held in Durham.

Centre Director: Revd Dr Will Foulger

Will Foulger is Director of Mission and Evangelism at Cranmer Hall. Before taking on this role, he served his curacy at Trinity Church, Nottingham as part of the church planting team. He teaches Mission and Evangelism at undergraduate level, MA courses in Theological Reflection, and Mission and Ecclesiology, as well as supervising MA and doctoral students in areas of mission and ecclesiology. Will’s doctoral work was titled, ‘Present in Every Place: The Church of England and the Parish Principle’ and explores the relationship between the parish and new forms of church.

Assistant Researcher: Richard Barber

Richard is a graduate ordinand. He is currently completing his MA in Theology and Ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham

Researcher: Rachel Frost

Rachel is an ordinand in her second year of training at Cranmer Hall, Durham. She is completing her BA in Theology and Ministry whilst training.

Researcher: Sarah Quinn

Sarah is an ordinand in her second year of training at Cranmer Hall, Durham. She is completing her BA in Theology and Ministry whilst training.

Church Planting Theology Conference | A Theology of Planting? | 20-22 March 2023, in person | St John’s College, Durham University

We are looking forward to welcoming you to the inaugural church planting theology conference: ‘A Theology of Planting?’. The conference is an opportunity for practitioners and theologians to come together and explore the central theological issues around church planting, and planting movements in the UK and beyond.

Booking is now open – please register by following this link. Church Planting Conference Registration Form


Keynote speakers:

Stefan Paas holds the J. H. Bavinck Chair for Missiology and Intercultural Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam. He is an experienced evangelist and church planter in the secular context of Western Europe. His works includes: Pilgrims and Priests: Christian Mission in a Post-Christian Society; Church Planting in the Secular West: Learning from the European Experience

Cathy Ross is Lecturer in Mission at Regent’s College, Oxford and MA Coordinator for Pioneer Leadership Training at CMS (Church Mission Society) in Oxford. She has written widely in areas of mission and contextual church, and her work includes: Women with a Mission; Mission in the 21st Century (with Andew Walls); Reimagining Mission with John V. Taylor (with Jonny Baker).

Will Foulger is Tutor in Mission at Cranmer Hall, and Director of the Centre for Church Planting Theology and Research. His work focuses on new churches within existing denominations. His book on the parish system and place is due to be released in April 2023.


Call for Papers

We welcome papers for the conference from all Christian denominations. If you are exploring theological issues in church planting, we welcome you to attend, and to consider contributing a paper. For enquiries and contributions, please email william.j.foulger@durham.ac.uk.


Conference Schedule:

Monday 20th

1230 | Arrivals & Lunch

1400 | Plenary Session 1

1600 | Track Sessions (papers)

1700 | Food in Durham

1930| Plenary Session 2


Tuesday 21st

0900 | Plenary Session 3

1130 | Track Sessions (Papers)

1300 | Lunch

1430 | Forum: What next for Planting Theology?

1600 | Plenary Session 4 & Panel Discussion

Evening | A chance to enjoy Durham


Weds 22nd

0900  | Plenary 5

1130 | Track Sessions (Papers)

1300 | Lunch & Farewells

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.


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.’