Getting to grips with the Church of England….

General Synod of the Church of England

As some of you who read our weekly newsletter or attend Springfield will know is that we, along with St Paul’s Brixton and the Diocese of Southwark, recently won a bid from the Church Commissioners for developing estate based mission in South London.

The Church of England is just starting to strategically look at how growth in the Church can occur. I had the pleasure to meet one of the people involved in this on Thursday. David Jennings is a Senior strategy officer for the Church Commissioners and Archbishop’s Council and they have just launched a Church Growth Research website to help share what they are learning. It was really encouraging to hear some of the things being planned or under way.

There has been a gaping hole in the Church of England as to how it addresses its decline in recent decades. Due to the diffuse structure and workings of the Church of England (each diocese totally separate and each parish largely independent) it has been difficult (to say the least) to have a common approach and focus. I hope that this project will help in this area by showing what good practice looks like and by making data widely available. Good statistics should help encourage churches and dioceses to grapple with growing the church and give them fewer places to hide from making good strategic decisions.

There are two strategic projects at the moment. One is to do with growing the church on estates. To do this the Archbishops Council allocated a total of £3million to about 30 projects with a track record of growth and where there is the possibility of finding transferable concepts and ideas. We have been fortunate enough to have a joint bid (with St Paul’s, Brixton and with the Diocese of Southwark) accepted and we are looking at what difference that can make to our mission in Roundshaw (I’ll do a post in the next few days more specifically on this)

The second is a wider analysis of how churches grow and what helps them grow (and conversely what can cause churches to decline). This is likely to be a fascinating study and is very wide ranging. They are looking at everything from combining churches, team ministries, lay involvement, cathedrals, Fresh Expressions etc. It’s aim is:

The Church Growth Research Programme is an 18 month research project exploring some of the factors that might explain church growth in the Church of England. Findings from this research should help equip and resource those in parish ministry and provide decision makers at every level of the Church with valuable evidence on how resources can be allocated to support growth.

It will give churches an evidence based basis from which we can see what actually works and what the church as a whole can encourage to see happen. I am sure that it will challenge a lot of shibboleths but that can only be for the good. It is very easy to think we know what makes churches grow but to show that this is the case and to prove it can be more difficult.

The current situation is that the decline in church attendance is levelling off but we are no way outside the danger zone:

recent church attendance for the church of engalnd

The Blue line is Electoral Roll, the Green line is Average Weekly Attendance (all ages), Red is for adults only and purple for under 16’s only.

In terms of churches 18% of parishes are growing, 55% flatlining and 27 declining. So, this project should help to spread the learning from those growing to others (and also do remember that in some areas flatlining means that they have to replace large numbers of their congregation each year and that this must be seen as great). There are two ways that we can see growth coming about, as a whole, have more growing churches and have fewer declining churches. It’s not rocket science and any other area would have done something like this years ago!

We have been asked to take part in one of the studies to which I have agreed and we will be visited by one of the consultants (one of the good things about this study is the use of independent consultants) for a period of two days to be questioned and thoroughly investigated to see what we do and why. I believe that this will be a great opportunity for us to consider what we do and why and to see why it is that we have grown in the past few years – and hopefully challenge us to do even more! This consultant is looking at 20 church plants (1/2 in London) and these are dominated by HTB type plants into church buildings. It will be interesting to see if our “building-less” model is a useful addition. So, if you have someone come and ask you questions then do be helpful!!

Update
Just had this kind tweet from Church Growth team. Do follow them on Twitter if you don’t already

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