Minster Churches for Large Congregations

One possible concern about the minster model of church planting is the empty space in the minster building and the land sitting idle, or else the difficulty of accommodating a sudden swelling of numbers. But an overflow of occasional attenders is often not hard to handle. Visit an old church building and, facing (liturgical) east, you see the galleries (balconies) on both the north and the south sides, over the side aisles:

St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. Photograph by David Iliff (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

If church buildings are so built that the seating in the centre can comfortably hold the weekly congregation, then the side galleries and the pews under them can be used mainly to accommodate the numbers that usually worship with other congregations but gather with a sense of pilgrimage for Christmas, Easter, Ascension, Whitsunday, and Trinity. The building shown above, for example, can seat 825 altogether, but its weekly attendance must be considerably lower.

Granted, putting up such a large church building is not cheap, but it could be home to the clergy of fifteen congregations of 50 each and receive the tithes of all fifteen. To use the building effectively from week to week, at least a part of its clergy could hold Morning and Evening Prayer every day, without fail, for Christians to take part in and for pagans to observe; the rest of the clergy would be out in the streets and schools (aye, in state schools!) to lead the same services elsewhere. If the minster had a school annexed to it, its students – some of them members of other congregations on Sundays – would also form part of the weekday congregation.

During the week, in satellite locations, it would (most of the time) be up to the laymen to say Morning Prayer before work and Evening Prayer after, and the Litany on Wednesdays and Fridays; on Sundays they would gather in house churches sized according to the space available, singing Mattins every week and also having Holy Communion whenever a presbyter came around on his circuit. This local presence would keep Christians tied to the communities where they already were without requiring too many new buildings to house their worship.


I think of the many folk in our great cities who have not heard the gospel, and the many Christians who fill their churches with blasphemy. Then came the word of the LORD unto Jeremiah, saying, Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me? It is not too hard for God to convert the large city of Nineveh, nor is it too hard for him to do as he did to Jerusalem:

Therefore thus saith the LORD; Behold, I will give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans, and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall take it: and the Chaldeans, that fight against this city, shall come and set fire on this city, and burn it with the houses, upon whose roofs they have offered incense unto Baal, and poured out drink offerings unto other gods, to provoke me to anger.

If we proclaim the word of God faithfully, believing in his compassion for the multitudes, may it not be that God will grant a great increase in the number who are saved? No one may force the hand of God, either to help or to hinder the growth of faith in the hearts of the people. But it is not a charismatic prerogative to think it is not too ambitious to believe and pray that half of the San Francisco Bay Area will be saved. Several decades ago, no one thought China would be on course to becoming the most Christian nation in the world, but here we are today. Shall we not do all we can – shall we not move heaven and earth – to proclaim the mercies of Christ to the pagans here? He who has sent his Son to die for the sins of the entire world is also willing to convert souls by his Holy Spirit, that believing they may have life.

And in imagining what God desires according to the mercy he has shown in the Scriptures, even in the face of discouragement, the Church ought not to be timid. We see the CEO of Mozilla forced to resign for having given $1,000 to the Proposition 8 campaign, and we wonder who here could accept the hard teaching of the gospel and Christian holiness. We consider our coworkers and friends and know not how we could tell them the good news of Jesus Christ and not torpedo both their dispositions toward the gospel and our own careers. I know not, either, how I may do this. But the men of Nineveh were real, real enough to rise in judgement with the generation of our Lord and condemn it for its lack of faith. And what kind of city was Nineveh? And what kind of cities have we now? We act as if we either live in a Christian society already or expect to die a slow death.

So let us learn from the breadth of Church history to see how we may best dispose ourselves to be used by the Lord God for the conversion of our neighbours. It may yet happen.


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