Growing new congregations

Our vision is that every parish will actively consider and engage in growing new congregations in the Diocese of Oxford, to promote a true mixed ecclesial ecology and nurture worshipping communities of every type, tradition, shape and size. We long to see more people from every part of our diverse diocese come to know Jesus, through fresh expressions of church, revitalisations, new church plants, language fellowships, the faithful work that currently exists and new opportunities within our parishes.

As churches begin to regather after the challenges of the pandemic, we are already witnessing an energy to try new things, to think afresh about our mission and outreach work.

  • Lay teams are joining deanery Greenhouses to find peer support and go on a journey that turns their outreach initiative into an intentional worshipping community.
  • Church plants and revitalisations are being identified, many led by our Resourcing Hubs.
  • And fresh expressions, several of which are supported by the Development Fund, are starting all across the diocese.

To be inspired, read some of our stories below, watch our film about growing new congregations, find out the latest news and updates, and access resources to help you think about what this might mean in your context. You can always get in touch with one of our team if you have questions.

What’s happening already?

Click the arrows to read stories of new worshipping communities, congregations, church plants and revitalisations emerging across the Diocese.

A light on the hill - Hope Church Chesham

Hope Church, Chesham, launched in April 2019, a new missional congregation in the Parish of Great Chesham, serving the communities of Hivings and Pond Park. The Pond Park area has some of the highest levels of social deprivation in the county, and the vision of Hope Church is to be a ‘light on the hill’ bringing God’s love to the community in word and deed. It was the culmination of two years of partnership between the two churches: Hivings Free Church and members of Emmanuel, Chesham.

God’s fingerprints have been seen in so many ways:

· the remarkable gift day at Emmanuel that raised more money than expected

· the grace of Hivings members to receive an influx of new people

· the sacrifice of Emmanuel members to leave their church family

· the generosity of the Baptist Union to sell their building at below market cost.

The first year, before the pandemic, saw new relationships being formed, new people arriving, and new Christians marking their faith in baptism. The Sunday congregation is up to 60, including 15 children. Vibrant Messy Church afternoons with a bouncy castle and BBQ in the car park also made clear to the community that there is now life in the place. Relationships with the local school have been developed and ministries to Seniors has been supported. A Christians Against Poverty life skills course has run twice.

The big dream is for Hope Church to become the very centre of the Pond Park and Hivings community, with a new purpose-built hub for serving the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of the residents. The vision is to be connected into the community with fresh expressions of church, a place of healing where those who are hurting find a place of comfort, and those who are without hope, to find that hope in Christ.

During the pandemic services have included pre-recorded Sunday services and a number of children’s and family activities, both at Hope and as part of parish-wide initiatives. Two lessons learned through this process have been the need for the church to work hard to maintain pastoral contact with all members of the congregation, and the critical need for a developed digital strategy enabling the widest effective engagement with the local community.

SLOW Church at ‘St Leonard’s Outside the Walls’

St Leonard’s, Woodcote set up a new service before the pandemic which was planned to run around five times a year. ‘St Leonard’s Outside the Walls’ (SLOW) was instead of normal Sunday service and took place in the village hall. People from across the community were invited to share croissants and coffee, before joining in for 30 minutes of ‘service time’, and there would be children’s activities and crafts. Before the pandemic, SLOW church was welcoming 60-65 people compared to a regular Sunday congregation of 40-45. St Leonard’s are looking forward to relaunching SLOW church this October.

The Story of Grace Church, Cowley

St Ebbe’s Church in Oxford had long had a heart to reach the area of Cowley, on the outskirts of Oxford, with the good news of Jesus.  Then in 2018, an old URC church building on a busy main road in Cowley came up for sale and it seemed like God’s timing.  The Littlegate Trust wonderfully managed to bid for and purchase the building and offered it to St Ebbe’s for the use of a new church plant.  The Area Dean, who’s parish this building was in, was very supportive and a new church plant was pursued with the permission and approval of the Bishop and Archdeacon of Oxford.

In 2019 a minister was appointed and, over several months, a vision for reaching people in Cowley was communicated to the St Ebbe’s church family.  Gradually, a launch team was gathered from the various congregations at St Ebbe’s Downtown and St Ebbe’s Headington.  All in all around 60 adults and 20 children signed up to begin a new church family – Grace Church Cowley.  After meeting together for several months to pray, public services began in September 2019.  We are now playing an active part in the Cowley Deanery and are in process for a Bishop’s Mission Order in due course.

After lots of door knocking of the local neighbourhood to invite people, we were amazed how many local people took an interest in the launch.  There were hundreds at our community fun day and a full house at our launch service the next day.   Christmas was also huge after more door knocking with full carol services.  The church has grown in numbers already to be consistently around 100 people on a Sunday morning, before lockdown happened.  We are finding how important it is to be a local church for the area, reaching out, building relationships and serving the needs of the neighbourhood.

Messy Church on a Mission

Long Crendon set up a monthly Messy Church before the pandemic, and it never stopped! They moved Messy Church outside onto household picnic blankets, or into giant cardboard boxes, when they looked at DiscipleSHIP, FellowSHIP, StewardSHIP and WorSHIP.

When they could not meet at all, the team delivered Messy Bags full of crafts and activities at Harvest, Christmas, Easter etc. This reached several people outside the normal Messy congregation.

The team held zoom Messy Churches where the children would run off and find items in a Scavenger Hunt, and then the team would use them to tell the story, for example, ‘hold the white plate above your head for Angel Gabriel’ and ‘stick the cushion up your jumper for Mary’.

Led by a lay team, they had around 70 people attending prior to the pandemic, and about 90% of non-helpers were families that would normally only come at Christmas.

Warfield Parish - planting into local schools

Twenty-six years ago, Warfield Church conducted standard parish services, taking place in the one ancient parish church. With new housing springing up in the parish during the 1990s they planted their first new congregation in the new church primary school in the middle of the new housing. Five years later another congregation was planted, meeting in a new state primary school in the parish. In the years that followed, several more congregations were planted, the latest of which was just 2½ years ago, meeting in yet another new school building on another new housing estate. Today, Warfield Church has seven Sunday congregations meeting in two church buildings and four schools. This planting into local schools means they have a much more local impact in a geographically large and diverse parish, seen particularly in relationships with the schools, their staff and families – not just in the schools where they have congregations, but in others too. Another recent development in connection with their youngest church plant has been mission in a local ‘senior living’ complex, with regular activities run by the church.

The full-time team now comprises three clergy, a lay associate minister, a youth pastor and a children’s and families pastor, but one of the significant hallmarks throughout the history of planting in Warfield has been lay leadership. They still have vast numbers of lay leaders across all our congregations and other activities. They have just launched a Decade of Adventure at Warfield Church, hoping to see current congregations grow and, by the grace of God, be ready to plant again into another major new housing area which is likely to be built in the parish. They also know that the local council is planning to build a major new community hub by 2025 and so hope to work in partnership with them in building community there. They work in partnership with other community groups in the parish, and also across the deanery, with the hope that what they have learned over the past decades might be shared with other churches in the deanery, so that they can support others as they also plant new congregations.

Cafe Church for a New Congregation

St Mary’s Church in the deanery of Deddington used to run a monthly family service, but numbers had been dwindling. They decided to change their approach and used some funding from the Development Fund to purchase new tables that would enable them to try a café-style church. The Bible study would be more interactive, based around the tables, and welcome and hospitality were at the heart of the service.

Prior to the pandemic, they went from almost nobody attending the family service to 15 new families attending café church and are now looking to restart the service – beginning with an outdoor version until restrictions allow it to return as originally envisaged.

A Story of Revitalising at St Mary’s, Barton

During 2015 a vacancy arose at St Mary’s Barton, a parish church (in the central tradition of the C of E) situated on the outskirts of Oxford in an area of high deprivation and social need. The church was struggling and lacking in confidence with only four lay leaders and a Sunday congregation of 20 with no children or young people. The church hall needed to be demolished and the church had no access for disabled people, poor heating, a single toilet and no kitchen facilities. The Archdeacon of Oxford helped in the search for a new incumbent. St Aldates, Oxford, a large city-centre parish with 1,000+ each Sunday, were longing to share their resources so a church partnership was agreed. They helped to appoint a new vicar and then offered ongoing support by him attending weekly staff meetings at St Aldates. This partnership has been running since April 2016 and has resulted in important networking, the building of relationships with deployment of resources to bring about significant growth.

St Mary’s has grown to a normal 60-70 on a Sunday morning with a wider range of ethnicity and age, a young people’s group of 12 and two children’s groups of around 18 in total. The dilapidated church hall has been replaced with a portacabin to accommodate children’s and young people’s work and there are weeks when the space is too small due to continued growth. In June 2019, Bishop Steven came and baptised and confirmed 12 candidates of a variety of ages. Annual direct giving has doubled, and this year there was an additional contribution to parish share of £1,000 in order to help a neighbouring church that found parish share difficult. There are plans for a redevelopment of the church costing £2.75 million – a clear indication of St Mary’s’ growing confidence. New projects in the local community, include an annual Holiday Club for primary school children, facilitating BeSpace (prayer space) three times in a local state school, three community fun days with BBQ, and a weekly afterschool club. They now have a curate in training, who lives on the new Barton Park Estate. A PCC meeting recently asked; ‘When should St Mary’s church plant a new congregation?’

Shared Space - reaching the community at St Clement’s, Oxford

St Clement’s, Oxford, held three pilot Shared Space events in October, November and December 2019. As these were a success, and with the additional resources to invest from the Development Fund, Shared Space became a regular monthly event on the first Saturday morning of each month, prior to the pandemic.

In October, besides serving brunch, an art table and bulb planting, the advertised activity was apple-pressing – “bring your apples to make apple juice”. In November, a crocheting workshop was offered alongside a skittle alley and an autumn-themed painting area. The December Shared Space was adapted to become a community Christmas tree-lighting and carol-singing event, with a short talk on why Christians understand Jesus as the light of the world. In January, Shared Space returned to its brunch timing and centred on board-game playing, including a ‘live action’ Junior Cluedo, which was enjoyed by children and grown-ups alike. Over both February and March meetings, they had a ‘living sustainably’ theme, with opportunities to develop the community garden – created raised vegetable beds – and make sustainable household items.

Each of these first six months, Shared Space consistently attracted around 50 people each time, typically 20-25 people from outside the church. The hall felt full, and people were enthusiastic about being there.

Asking existing members of St Clement’s how they view Shared Space has elicited enthusiasm:

“It’s an improvement on Café Church because it gets more people in; it’s ‘fresh and enlivening’, and has ‘a buzz about it’.”

Learning from Shared Space has specifically helped shape a related project, now being submitted for a further Development Fund grant, called Flourishing Life. This aims to bridge the gap between St Clement’s social outreach and ways we explicitly seek to grow and nurture Christian faith – which Shared Space has helped us see. We’ve discerned a need to engage others at a deeper level, moving beyond the social without imposing a Christian agenda. A core lay member of the Shared Space team has designed Flourishing Life to build on the initial relationships with 18-30s forged in settings including Shared Space, to provide structured opportunities to reflect together on meaning, purpose and human flourishing, and so open new pathways for people to explore faith and for the church to share life-giving faith in more relevant ways.

News and Updates

NEW: Everything you need to know about Greenhouse

Your guide to Greenhouses: This new document outlines everything you need to know about Greenhouses – what they are, how they are formed, what happens in a Greenhouse, and how they can support every type of mission initiative, midweek activity, or missional community to become a new congregation.

Welcoming our new interim Project Manager

We wish Hannah Mann, the New Congregations project manager, every blessing as she goes on maternity leave at the end of the month. In her place for six months maternity cover we welcome Steve Vickars, an experienced project manager who has most recently been working for the Oxford University Press as Technical Project Manager, managing a wide variety of over 15 projects from concept to completion. His long-term membership of local parish churches, including many years serving on Kirtlington PCC, has helped him to understand the Church of England’s ethos, challenges and opportunities.

Sharing Jesus with people in our communities

Sharing Jesus with people outside church can feel daunting, and it can be hard to know where to start. There are some wonderful outreach initiatives happening all across our diocese, but how do we have those conversations about God, and what would it look like to introduce a faith element into our midweek groups and outreach activities?

FX Godsend provides a step-by-step journey for us to follow, taking our idea or our activity to a place where it becomes an intentional new worshipping community. Following a cycle of listening, loving, building community, sharing Jesus and starting church, it helps us approach each stage with resources and support. But even so, knowing how to take a community to a place of sharing Jesus can feel a big step.

The new Sharing Jesus resource offers some ideas and guidance as to how you might take this step that can be helpful in every tradition and context. From how to start to discovering the Bible together, and all the way through to deepening and enriching people’s experience of faith and the Bible, the resource suggests activities and conversations to try with the community you seek to love and bring to know Jesus.

To hear how this might work in practice, the Revd Will Donaldson has shared his experiences of growing a new worshipping community out of a midweek activity in the short video below (see Helpful Resources).

We pray for each one of you on this journey, and encourage you to share your experiences with us and you seek to share Jesus with others.

New Resourcing Hub receives Church Commissioners’ funding to grow intercultural mission and ministry

Intercultural mission and ministry has been growing at St Paul’s Slough for more than 30 years, as the church has become the leading intercultural worshipping community in the Diocese of Oxford. We are therefore delighted that their application to become a Resourcing Hub has been awarded following a successful submission to the Church Commissioners.

Their funding will be used to appoint an associate minister and an operations manager, enabling them to give themselves away to other churches in Burnham and Slough Deanery and across the diocese. Their vision is to see a cultural change regarding ethnic and cultural integration in the Diocese of Oxford and to support churches nurture new intercultural worshipping communities through mentoring and a dedicated intercultural Greenhouse. This work has never been more critical, and we look forward to supporting them on their journey.

Resourcing Rural and Urban Mission to Grow New Congregations

Growing new congregations is for every type of parish tradition, size and location within the Diocese of Oxford. As a diocese with a rich diversity of rural parishes and expanding urban centres, we recognise the importance of supporting churches in both these settings to meet the different challenges they face and bring God’s kingdom to all people.

We are therefore delighted that the Common Vision Development Fund has supported two new Resourcing Hubs in the diocese that reflect the need to work in both rural and urban areas. St Mary’s, Cogges, and the North Aylesbury team are committed to giving themselves away to bless others, to share the good news of the gospel with those outside our normal Sunday services, and to grow new congregations of new Christians in new places. Read about their vision, plans and hopes to grow God’s Kingdom.

Learning from Pioneers: Building on the New Communities Pilot in the Diocese of Oxford

From 2012-2019 the Diocese of Oxford ran several New Communities Pioneer Pilot Projects, to grow congregations in areas of new housing. In February 2021, the Church Army Research Unit released a summary report of their evaluation for this project, with some fascinating learning for our current aim to grow 750 new congregations by 2030. Head of New Congregations, Revd Will Donaldson, offers his reflections and how we can all take this learning into the future. 

New Digital Congregations

Research from the first lockdown suggested that as many as one in five people watching online church services were people who would not normally attend church. The pandemic has brought some difficult questions, and many people are turning to church as they seek comfort, community and answers during these challenging times. How can our churches continue to support and invite these new online viewers to explore faith? Is there an opportunity to continue these new, online congregations once lockdown is over?

Two churches in the diocese have been considering these questions as they have seen a growth in their online church community. Read about the experiences of St Mary’s, Hitcham, and Winslow Benefice and their efforts to connect with new online visitors.

Helpful Resources

Here are some resources you might find helpful as you consider nurturing and growing a new congregation, worshipping community, church plant, or revitalisation. This section will be regularly updated, and we also value input on what resources you would find useful so do get in touch with us to contribute.


New Congregations: Greenhouses: everything you need to know about Greenhouses, how they are formed, what they do, and how they support your missional aspirations

The Role of Greenhouse conveners: are you convening or interested in convening a Greenhouse as part of a team? This document provides all the information about what’s involved and the roles and responsibilities of a convening team.

Growing New Congregations

Might our Parish have a New Congregation? : a new congregation can be anything from a midweek activity with a worship focus, to a bigger church plant. This document helps you discern if you might or could have a new congregation.

Supporting Parishes Grow New Congregations: our team is available to support your idea flourish into fruition. These are some of the ways we can support and resource you on your journey.

Building on Opportunities from Lockdown: a webinar with clergy and lay people from across the diocese about how to build on the opportunities from lockdown, and some of the inspiring initiatives they were running before the pandemic.

Developing Church Online: a webinar held as part of the Wallingford Deanery Synod, and led by Matt Hogg, vicar of St Alban’s Fulham.

Mission and Young People: a podcast by our Pioneer Youth Worker, Olly Shaw, on reaching young people and the new youth Greenhouse.

Sharing Jesus – Starting: Will Donaldson, director of New Congregations, explains how putting a spiritual dimension alongside a midweek community outreach led to people exploring the Christian faith and a new congregation emerging.