Signals of Change
The SENT church planting conference in Oslo was something less than 48 hours in duration but I think signals something crucial that is taking place in the land of Norway. The size of the event was significant. They had hoped for 1000 people and actually attracted around 800 participants. That is amazing for a nation of some 5 million people. But it is not just the numbers that signals a moment of change. I would highlight four additional elements.
First, it was an indigenous event. By that I mean that it was not dependent on mission agencies and missionaries from elsewhere. Certainly there were some people present who live permanently in Norway and originate from elsewhere but the foreign workers are helping not leading. The initiative is thoroughly Norwegian. It is also a highly able, gifted and for the most part, younger leadership.
Second, the main players from the denominations were present. The actual leaders of the various churches, networks and denominations were present and committed – not just a few enthusiasts from the margins. Some denominations were better represented than others and still it’s hard for some parts of the Lutheran State church to know how to respond to this kind of agenda but at least they are not opposing even when they were not present.
Third, the conference – and by extension the leaders, were dealing with the hard, rough, tough actual issues that church planting raises. This was not just another conference that raises a banner, declares a goal, whips up enthusiasm and leaves people wondering “where to now?” The difficult and practical questions about training, about recruitment, about mapping and research, about coaching – these and other thorny issues were all on the table.
Fourth, the conference had societal change firmly at the centre of the agenda. Church planting is too often associated with the idea that we need to grow the church as if the church were the central agenda of mission. I am all in favour of a larger, more effective and creative church but if that is all we think about we will fail the larger task of mission. It is possible for the church to be somewhat larger than it is now and even successful in terms of growth, youth participation, internal life and finance and still be on the margins of society, unable to impact the trajectory of our culture. That would be disastrous. The key issue of how we impact our world, not just how we save souls, stood at the centre of this event.
These are all reasons to be hopeful for Norway and for Europe.