Spurgeon’s Church Planting Strategy

Charles Spurgeon lived during a time of theological upheaval. A new theology had come over from Germany which disguised itself as Christianity, and yet was “no more Christianity than chalk is cheese.” For in it, “the Atonement is scouted, the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction, and the resurrection into a myth.”[1] Spurgeon would give himself to fighting this new theology in the best way he knew how: planting vibrant, gospel-preaching churches.

From the beginning, Spurgeon’s goal for the Pastors’ College was “not only to train students, but to found churches.”[2] As much as he emphasized the importance of evangelism, Spurgeon understood that “no amount of occasional evangelistic services will ever render needless the abiding work of organized Christianity; in fact, in proportion as special efforts are of use, our churches will become the more necessary. The larger the harvest, the more need of barns.”[3] But what was Spurgeon’s church planting strategy?

  1. Preaching Stations and Local Evangelism

The first step was to send a college graduate to a location with little or no evangelical presence and establish a preaching station, usually “in a hall or other hired building.”[4] Alongside, these services, these pioneers would also hold open-air services, distribute tracts, visit hospitals, and seek to share the gospel with people in the community. Though this was difficult work, they would have strong support from the various evangelistic societies and other college graduates. Over time, many of these preaching stations would begin to gather converts.

  1. Baptism and Membership at the Metropolitan Tabernacle

Since these preaching stations were not yet churches and these converts needed to be baptized and join a local church, the next step was to bring them into membership at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. In most cases, this would mean taking converts through a typical membership process, including membership interviews, sending messengers, a full report given at a church meeting, a congregational vote, baptism, and a communion service. But in cases where converts were coming from a distance, accommodations could be made, either in sending elders out for interviews or scheduling communion services at more convenient times.

  1. Dismissal Requested to Form a Church

Once there were enough converts to form a church, they sent a letter to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, recounting the work that God has done in that area, expressing their desire to form a church, and asking for a dismissal from membership for that purpose. This letter was read to the congregation at a church meeting, and they voted to approve the dismissals and appointed elders to help that group form a church of like faith and order. At this point, the newly formed church would call their pastor and church officers, and partake of the Lord’s Supper together as the sign of their covenant. In the early years, the congregation at the Tabernacle would approve the gift of a communion service for many of the new churches.

  1. Association and Support

Once the churches were formed, they remained in connection with the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Letters were often exchanged by dismissing members to one another and reports were shared as to the progress of the work. Many of these churches joined the London Baptist Association and gave financially to support the Pastors’ College, though there was no condition laid on the churches to do so. Often Spurgeon helped fundraise on behalf of these churches (and gave generously himself) to build them a chapel.

Two Church Planting Stories

            One of the earliest preaching stations was in an old meeting house in the Old Bailey, in the heart of London, led by a student of the college, Alfred Searle.[5] By July 1861, the work had grown enough that the congregation appointed elders to inquire into the work.[6] Their positive report led to a special church meeting to hear several cases of membership. Over the next six months, converts would join the Metropolitan Tabernacle so that by April 14, 1862, the sixteen members from Old Bailey sent a letter recounting the work in their area and requesting dismissals so that they might form a new church. The Minute Books from that congregational meeting read:

The Church gave a very heart response to this letter, rejoicing that God had been so gracious to the dear brethren, and unanimously agreed to their dismissal from our fellowship and formation into a distinct church as they desired. After their dismissal they agreed that Brethren Searle and Rawlings should be their delegates to answer as to their faith & order. These answers being in every respect satisfactory, acknowledging that they held the doctrines of grace as set forth in the Baptist confession of faith, acknowledging also that the church order and discipline as established among us, were such as they purposed to adhere to, our pastor caused several of them to join together with the right hand of fellowship and pronounced them a distinct Church. They then elected Brother Searle as their pastor, Brethren Rawlings and Edwards deacons, and Pauter and Brame elders. After which the two Churches sat down to the Lord’s table and in loving communion partook of the Lord’s supper.[7]

Later that summer, the church at Old Bailey would send a gracious letter expressing their gratitude to God for the church and thanking them for the generous gift of the communion service.[8]

Another work happening during this time was in Cheam, a small village in Surrey, where two students, Frost and Jackson, had set up a preaching station in a cottage.[9] For 18 months, they labored in that area, so that by February 1862, several people had been converted. Two elders were appointed by the church to inquire into new converts and they reported back their encouragement at the work.[10] Then on May 13, 1862, the church gathered for a special church meeting to hear about the work at Cheam. Six converts came forward and testified to the work of grace in their lives, and the congregation voted to accept them into membership. That evening, these converts were baptized by the pastor, and in order “to spare them another journey London,” they received the right hand of fellowship as they took of the Lord’s supper in the vestry with the church officers and a few others.[11]

Being so far away from London, this little group of believers was unable to regularly attend the services and participate at the Lord’s Table in their home church. So at a church meeting on July 7, 1862, Spurgeon read a letter from the six members at Cheam, thanking God for their instrumentality in their blessing, and asking for “dismission in order that we may constitute a Church of like faith and order with yourselves and walk in all the commandments of the Lord blameless. At present we cannot attend on the ordinances of God’s house which we feel to be a duty we owe to our Lord, and a privilege we cannot afford to be lost to ourselves.” At this, the congregation appointed two elders “to visit them at Cheam and assist in forming them into a Church.” [12] Over the next few months, the church would continue to hear from the church at Cheam, expressing their gratitude to the Tabernacle for establishing a work in that place.[13]

Churches Defending the Gospel

Between 1853 and 1867, twenty-seven new churches were founded by students from the Pastor’s College.  By one count, in the second half of the nineteenth century, the number of Baptist churches in London doubled due to the church planting ministry of the Metropolitan Tabernacle.[14] In the face of growing ritualism, rationalism, and all other kinds of theological challenges, Spurgeon planted churches because here was the greatest apologetic for the gospel.

If sinners are converted in great numbers, and the churches are maintained in purity, unity, and zeal, evangelical principles will be supplied with their best arguments. A ministry which, year by year, builds up a living church, and arms it with a complete array of evangelistic and benevolent institutions, will do more by way of apology for the gospel than the most learned pens, or the most labored orations.[15]

 


[1] S&T, August 1887, 397-399. Charles H. Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1865-1892).

[2] S&T, June 1878, 240.

[3] S&T, June 1878, 266-7.

[4] S&T, June 1878, 266.

[5] For a brief account of this work, see S&T, June 1878, 264.

[6] Church Meeting Minutes, Metropolitan Tabernacle Archives, 1861, 7/15/1861.

[7] CMM 1861 4/14/1862.

[8] CMM 1861 8/21/1862.

[9] For a brief account of this work, see S&T, June 1878, 278.

[10] CMM 1861, 2/17/1862.

[11] CMM 1861, 5/13/1862.

[12] CMM 1861, 7/7/1862.

[13] CMM 1861, 9/22/1862, 12/2/1862.

[14] Michael Nicholls. “Spurgeon as a Church Planter,” Baptist Review of Theology 2.1 (Spring 1992); 39.

[15] S&T, January 1890, 3.

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