044: When Church Plants Fail

Tom O'Toole is part of the team that leads Christ Church Manchester and manages the Broadcast Network. In 2011, Tom and his wife Emma moved from London to Greater Manchester in order to be involved in church planting. Tom tells the story of their attempt to plant a church in Salford, why the church plant didn't work, and looks at what it means to 'fail well' when it comes to church planting.


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Pioneering Involves Risk
  • When we try to plant churches, it may not work.
  • If it doesn't work, should it go down as a failure, or can we celebrate the venture anyway?
  • A couple of years ago, Tom tweeted, 'It's better to attempt to plant 100 churches and end up with 50 than to attempt 5 and get 5.'
  • This tweet got pushback - attempting church plants that don't work will leave behind broken church planting teams.
  • Of course we don't want this to happen.
  • But is this the only way? Is it possible to plant churches where this doesn't happen, even if the church plant doesn't work?
  • Christ Church Manchester tries to plant lots of new churches in Manchester - some of them work and some don't.
The Story of CCM:Salford
  • Eight years ago Tom worked as a Youth Minister in London - God spoke to him about 'church planting' and 'Manchester'.
  • He handed in his notice and joined a church plant in London to prepare. He was there for two years, and during this time he gained a teaching qualification and married Emma.
  • He also dreamed and planned and prayed for the whole of Greater Manchester - of a network of churches that were in some ways separate churches, but in other ways one church across the city (at the time he didn't know that Colin Baron was already doing this).
  • Tom and Emma were offered a house and Tom was offered a job in an area called Broughton, where they already knew a few people - they decided to base the church plant there.
  • They hired a room at Salford University and began midweek public meetings with a core group of six.
  • Over the next year this group grew to about twelve - but only one other member of the group lived in the area, and there weren't many in the group ready and able to carry a church planting 'load' - so things started to feel a little bit stuck.
  • At the same time, there was another CCM group gathering in South Manchester that was much stronger - they were ready to launch Sunday meetings, but it would place strain on the other CCM sites in terms of people and leaders to make it viable. 
  • It was at this point that CCM:Salford was wrapped up. The people who had been part of it plugged in to the other sites (many were already connected there) and added strength to the church across the board.
Lesson Learned
  • The biggest lesson learned was trying to do too much at once - new jobs, a new marriage, a new house and a new city was enough anyway. The new church should not have been started at the same time but rather after having been settled in Manchester for a year or two first.
Why it failed well
  • Didn't overplay the 'God said' card - When you go around saying that God told you to do something, you end up backed into a corner when it is time to lay it down. God had said 'church planting' and 'Manchester' but it was possible to end this plant and still be doing that.
  • Didn't make the church plant the be all and end all - The vision and strategy were always for the whole city, so being able to help a new church get started in a different area of the city was a big win that made the decision to end the Salford church plant much easier.
  • Laid it down gently and stayed connect with people - Nobody got hurt in the process.
  • Connected to something bigger than itself - This helped see when it was time to stop, and made it a soft landing when that time arrived.