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The story of Multiply 2023

Over three days of June, across four beautiful churches in Bristol, Leeds, Birmingham and London, over 700 people gathered with a shared heart of seeing the Church multiply, to reach new people in new and renewed ways with the love of Christ. David Cornish shares the highlights of what took place at the Multiply 2023 Church Planting Conference.

‘…as more and more join, from different places, different stories, different dances but all under the one light,’ said the voice of Nathan Obokoh, a talented interdisciplinary artist whose work Light Breath opened Multiply 2023, the sixth annual church planting conference of CCX. 

‘Different colours stored in the one pure light released through each one, and magnified through relationship… and the light grows!’


Nathan’s creative piece, a combination of spoken word and refracting light, stirred the imaginations of those gathered across the four sites of Multiply 2023 (St Nicholas Bristol, St George’s Church Leeds, St Martin in the Bull Ring Birmingham and St Paul’s Hammersmith, London), inviting reflection on the conference’s central theme: the Mixed Ecology of the Church.

A programme of stories, teaching, talks and seminars would explore a topic that the Church of England had made one of three priorities within its vision and strategy for the 2020s; to become a church where mixed ecology is the norm – where every person in England has access to an enriching and compelling community of faith.

Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell sits on a black sofa alongside interviewer Christian Selvaratnam

‘It’s just so obvious – our observation of the natural world tells us that things flourish when there is a healthy diverse ecosystem,’ explained the Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, a key leader in forming this priority for the Church of England.

Interviewed at St George’s Church Leeds by Christian Selvaratnam, St Hild‘s Dean of Church Planting and Fellow at CCX, Archbishop Stephen provided a valuable explanation as to why the Church of England had sought to make this a priority within a Christ-centred Church. 

‘We have allowed the biodiversity of the church to shrink. We’ve forgotten that every church was planted once, and that a healthy church is a church which is reproducing itself, multiplying itself, finding fresh expressions, new forms, doing new things. Some will fail, some will fade, but many will flourish. It’s about paying attention to the whole ecosystem and recognising that one size never fits all.’

An encouragement towards what form this flourishing can take was offered by Bishop Oscar Muriu, Senior Pastor of the Nairobi Chapel since 1991. In that time, Bishop Oscar has witnessed the chapel grow from 20 people to over 4,000, sending out over 290 church plants. 

St Martin in the Bull Ring church, filled with delegates watching a video recording of Bishop Oscar Muriu

In a pre-recorded message for Multiply 2023, Bishop Oscar cast a vision for a diverse, strategic vision of church planting, sharing stories of what he has seen Christ do across Kenya. 

‘Do not let the smallness of your vision limit the greatness of God’, urged Bishop Oscar Muriu. ‘So many times we tend to only reach out to that which we can grasp. We never think of going much further than we could in our own strength. The call of God is not to your own people, it’s to the world.’

Discussion then turned, via a recorded piece, towards the gift and challenge of unfolding the Mixed Ecology within the UK. Will Foulger, Director of Mission and Evangelism at Cranmer Hall, Durham, led a diverse group of church leaders – Father Matthew Cashmore, Phil Hoyle and Linda Maslen – in a frank, honest conversation of what the Mixed Ecology meant to them.

‘There are so many pluses to being in the parish that I’m sure from a pioneer perspective you look at and go, “I wish I had those things”,’ said Father Matthew, ‘but those things come with ties as well, which is when I look at Phil and go, I wish I was a pioneer so I didn’t have have those things.’

‘So 96% of people don’t know Jesus, and we’re not going to reach that 96% without the mixed ecology approach,’ added Linda. ‘If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got, which is a declining church, isn’t it?’

The interior of St Nicholas Bristol, filled with delegates watching speakers on the main stageSeminars led by experienced leaders from across the Church offered delegates the chance to dig deeper on a range of topics: Steve Addison and Josh Howard guided people through the subject of forming whole-life disciples – developing simple, replicable communities which empower people in their discipleship; Tors Ramsey, Leonard Browne and Ruth Downing examined a key aspect of the Mixed Ecology strategy, that of revitalising parishes, exploring what it takes to enable parish churches to have a renewed ministry to their communities after they have experienced decline; Forming New Worshipping Communities was a popular topic covered at all locations, hosted by John McGinley and Glyn Jones of Myriad, with a particular focus on supporting ordinary people to plant new church communities in the places God has called them.

A break for lunch allowed delegates to meet and connect with one another, guided by colour-coded stickers on their lanyards to seek out others who held similar interests, to ask questions and share stories of what Christ is doing in their context. 

A group of delegates chatting to each other during the lunch break of a Multiply 2023 seminar

Multiply 2023’s afternoon session saw leading voices take to the stage to explore the practical elements of what the Mixed Ecology looks like on the ground. 

Topics included the importance of ‘Leading Younger’, with young voices at the centre of the Church; ‘Reaching the Nones’, the 54% of the UK population that would declare that they have no faith; and ‘What the Spirit is Saying to the Church’, and the challenge left to us to respond. 

Speaker Rachel Gardner, who is the Relationship Lead at Youthscape, addressing delegates in Leeds.

‘Throughout scripture, God has repeatedly given his authority to young people, and yet church strategies and plans are frequently limited to asking how we might attract young people – often out of a desperation to replenish ageing congregations,’ said Rachel Gardner, Relationship Lead at Youthscape, addressing delegates in Leeds.

‘We are right to name that desperation, it’s real. In many parts of the UK there are more young people in the care system than there are in the local church.

‘Maybe like me, the thought of planting churches with eight-to-fourteen-year-olds stops you in your tracks, because you realise that we may need to shed some of the models of church leadership that we’ve inherited, and maybe even created – they’re just not what is going to connect with emerging generations.’

In Bristol, Philip Jinadu, Senior Team Leader at Woodlands Metro, gave bold encouragement that reaching those outside our churches, the 54% of the population who state that have no faith, would require us to step up and out towards them

‘We have to get active, we have to get on the front foot’, said Philip. ‘We have to create the kind of churches that plant churches, that equip the saints, that create opportunities, that are no longer in retreat – passively just waiting for God to drop them into our laps! We should be believing that the ‘nones’ statistic is not a threat, it’s an opportunity.’

The final talk of the Leeds, Birmingham and London gatherings was given by Justin Duckworth, the ‘barefoot’ Bishop of Wellington, New Zealand. He prefaced his talk on ‘What the Spirit is saying to the Church’ with the good humoured remark that he offered his own perspective from the ‘back-end of the world… if you want to disregard it, consider it New Zealand’s perspective’. 

He proceeded to offer insight and wisdom that was deeply compatible with the state of the Church in England. 

‘Covid was revelatory and catalytic,’ said Bishop Justin. ‘It revealed our reality in a way that we maybe hadn’t seen up to that     point, but revealed a context that we were finding ourselves in, and it sped it up… we are entering a new era’

‘I believe in the last 40 or 50 years we haven’t made disciples. [To plant 10,000 new churches] you probably need 10 people per plant to go, that’s 100,000 disciples we have to make. Every church has to have a discipleship engine room, otherwise it’s a waste of time.

Bishop Justin Duckworth addresses the gathering of Leeds, standing on the stage steps barefoot

‘I can’t see a renewal of the Church in its history that hasn’t had the marginalised, the struggling and the poor at the centre of it. I think over the last 40 years we have spent too much time going for “low-lying fruit” and not those who the Gospel has particular resonance with.

‘In the last 40 years, we made money the main issue. The Gospel has flourished for 2000 years, and every renewal movement I can see, money was never the issue. So if the answer to our question is “we need money”, we’re asking the wrong question. If our creativity is limited by money we’re asking the wrong question. We inhabit a Church that is filthy rich, so we think that money is going to get us there. My belief is that money isn’t the answer, it’s actually the problem, because it limits our creativity.’

The theme of Mixed Ecology allowed Multiply 2023 to touch on many aspects of strategy and leadership, disciple-making and planting. But it was Archbishop Stephen who helped reveal why this gardening-based analogy features in the Church of England’s vision. 

‘The heart of the vision is that we might be a Church that’s centred on Christ. Don’t misunderstand me, I long for the Church to grow; I long for every community to have a vibrant, worshipping, witnessing Christian presence in it.  

‘But I can’t make that happen – I can work towards it, I can pray for it, but God is the Lord of the Harvest, not me, not you. It’s God who brings the growth. 

‘So the heart of the vision for our Church is actually that our lives may be centred in Christ – a spiritual renewal for our Church in service of our land and that is the most important thing.’

If you’d like to dig deeper into any of Multiply 2023’s topics, highlights of the day’s live talks, video content and seminar resources are now available.

Delegates gather at the front of St Paul's Hammersmith as Bishop Ric Thorpe leads a session of ministry and prayer