So apparently, two years or so after the first incarnation of Cardiff Vineyard folded, a group of people are moving down from Nottingham Trent Vineyard to plant a Vineyard church in Cardiff. Figures vary depending who you talk to – ten couples, 15 couples, or about twenty-five people. But anyway, they’re coming. There’s even a holding page for a website.
My feelings are mixed on this. I don’t care much if people want to launch a Vineyard in Cardiff, although I would suggest they make sure they know who they’re dealing with in the Vineyard’s local area leadership. Without wishing to sound bitter, the fixer fixed us good and proper when we had problems. In retrospect, perhaps that was our own fault. If the issue is one of communication, perhaps you shouldn’t follow the advice to stop communicating.
But I think generally, my antipathy for the whole church plant thing is affecting me more. For all it’s faults, Cardiff Vineyard 1 was a natural, organic group, which arose because people already in Cardiff wanted a Vineyard church. Cardiff Vineyard 2 is a group of people who don’t live in Cardiff moving here to evangelise us heathens (or at least that’s what it feels like).
Truth is we have church plants in abundance in Cardiff. They range from the five-year old New Frontiers church, through to the one round the corner from my house, the Bay Church. There are adverts on buses and in the Metro for the Healing Church – a bold name, if ever there was one, and given their advertising budget, pretty well funded. And just today we had a flyer through the door from the New Hope Centre in Grangetown, whoever they are.
The Vineyard church planters are going to have their work cut out to make their presence felt. And it’s hard to see what they will be offering that’s so different. Contemporary worship is commonplace in Cardiff’s churches, the charismata are in abundance, people are already working with the poor and dispossessed, and there are churches, which emphasise grace (I go to one).
Also, what will Cardiff Vineyard 2 offer that’s so vital that we have to have yet another church set up to do it? The redundancy in running another church is immense – all the things that have to be done to fulfil the programme of the church which are all being done in another church down the road, and across the city a hundred times over. The Church Universal has never quite grasped the concept of efficiency.
So there isn't really a case of "need" for another church plant in Cardiff. However, there are other reasons beside "need" for planting churches. Vineyard as a movement doesn’t have any churches in Wales that I know of. Perhaps there’s a felt need for Vineyard to cover the whole of the UK. Certainly I think the third wave streams of church are seeing the success of New Frontiers – which has put church planting at the forefront of it’s ministry – and maybe people are scared of being left behind.
Ten years ago, when the church I grew up in joined NFI (as it was), there were very few New Frontiers churches outside the home counties and London. The leaders from the Bedford church referred to Shrewsbury as ‘our church in the north’. Now New Frontiers are everywhere. Vineyard, which has a slightly longer history, have been well and truly left behind in terms of size, and also in influence.
And then there’s the fact that some people like to plant churches. It feels great to be ‘sent out’, to be doing the ‘Lord’s work’. And it’s so much nicer to be doing that in a nice, British city, which is a bit hip (the Dr Who effect) and has plenty of coffee houses which serve a decent latte. Yeah we can ‘do the stuff’ but still get a frappuccino on the way to the skate park. Because we’re cool and living out the gospel you know.
Okay, I’m being nasty about church planters there. But there is that question of why Cardiff? Why not some shithole in Turkmenistan? Church planting in the UK isn’t an easy option, but it’s a damn sight easier than heading off with a real missionary agency to somewhere the kids still die of diphtheria, and you’re lucky a hyena doesn’t eat your chickens at night.
So, I have reservations about this church plant because Cardiff is bursting at the seams with churches and church plants, and I would question the motives behind church planting anyway. But there's also my experience of life in a church plant. Cathy and I joined Cardiff Vineyard on the recommendation of a friend who knew there was a Vineyard in Cardiff and knew we were in Cardiff and we were church-less. But one of the things you soon learn in any newly-founded church is that the main source of growth are disaffected Christians from other churches.
Just about everyone in Cardiff Vineyard 1 who joined after I did had prior experience in church. I’m pretty sure most of the people who were there before I joined could say the same. Church plants are a magnet for Christians who don’t fit anywhere else. Now that might make us sound like a bunch of freaks, and some of us were. The reason I was there is because I didn’t fit into a previous church. I don’t think I’m a freak, but other people may disagree.
And the prior experience brings it’s own problems in terms of expectations (‘I thought this time church would be different’), theology (I vividly remember the talk given by one guy about the end times which was so bizarre it was almost comical), and baggage. Maybe one of the reasons we found it so hard to trust each other is because our trust had been abused in other places. Ironically, maybe our desire to be able to trust made betraying us so much easier…
And on a final point, how much is the church planting phenomenon really just an outworking of good old protestant arrogance? We’ve got the ‘truth’ and we won’t compromise. We’re the ‘true church’. Of course, we’d never say that, but secretly we all think it. Those other Christians down in Cardiff, worshipping God in their churches, advancing the Kingdom in their communities, they don’t really know what they’re talking about. They haven’t been to our kind of church yet! (Soto voce: They probably aren’t even proper Christians at all.)
Yeah, I’m paraphrasing. But in a bizarre way it’s a good experience for anyone thinking missionally to be on the receiving end of mission. How patronised would you feel if any church decided your version of church wasn’t good enough and they had to set up their own?
Now, some church plants are needed. And some church plants work out wonderfully – people find Christ, communities are transformed, God is glorified. I don’t have an issue with church planting where there’s a desperate need. I just don’t see that need here. It doesn’t matter that it’s Vineyard and I have history there. The only reason I’m commenting on Vineyard planting a church here is because people know that I have history and keep telling me about it.
It could be any church plant and my comment would be the same. Why are you coming? And I’m sorry, but I think you ought to have a good reason. But I suspect you don't.