Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Bishops and Church Growth

I've recently  posted the following discussion starter on the CofE's Church Growth Research Programme discussion forum:

I've recently joined the Vacancy in See committee for our diocese, and we're choosing a new bishop this year. As a leader in mission, the bishop has a crucial role both in setting the tone for growth in the Diocese, as well as strategic and spiritual leadership. What is people's experience of the difference that a bishop and his (amend in 2014 to his/her) leadership can make to local church growth? 

I notice than in some Dioceses there are episcopally lead growth strategies in place (e.g Sheffield) - how effective are these? What difference to they make? Can we realistically expect a new bishop to make any difference to the year-on-year decline that we currently have?

please respond here, or over there, whichever takes your fancy.

Update: there is a post and thread here on John Richardsons blog on this topic, though the comments rapidly run off topic.


  1. I'd be really interested to see what research indicates, David. I suspect some of the answer about how bishops can promote growth depends on the size of the diocese, the local culture and recent past, the statistical base and how accurately it has been kept, and other local factors. That said, I also suspect there are leadership attitudes (as much as skills) that transfer from any context and are not especially bishoppy — the Jim Collins Level 5 Leadership thing (iron will / great humility) seems relevant. I'd love to see some figures...

  2. Hello, please forgive the anonymity.

    We in the diocese of Winchester have recently been blessed with a new bishop, as you may or may not know.

    Tim has been with us less than a year so all reports are preliminary.

    However from his enthronement service onwards there had been a sense of purpose and energy somewhat lacking previously. It has also brought some optimism to a diocese throughly "de-optimisticed" by the huge cut backs that were his predecessor's final act.

    So far it is mostly in the clergy and those laity involved in more senior leadership, as it has come via diocesan and deanery events mostly.

    However if this is affecting, positively, the leadership, this must eventually head to the pews, even if they don't see it directly (yet?) through better motivated and more productive clergy etc.

    I believe that part of this is developing diocesan growth strategies.

    So watch this space?

    Does this help?

  3. Anonymous - that's very helpful, thankyou. It sounds a bit like what people were saying about Justin Welby in Durham.

    At parish level, I'm aware of how important it is to motivate people, and have a sense of common purpose as a church - and we see the good results of that. I see places where there isn't a sense of common purpose between parishes and the Diocese, and you can see the energy and motivation leaking out through the cracks.

  4. Hi David
    I would say that it really helps if you have:
    a) a short, easily understood statement of what you're about: eg "In this Diocese we are aiming for an inclusive church" (That was the Bishop's Chaplain, but I'm sure the attitude came from the Bishop.)
    b) A Bishop who can preach sermons that are interesting, to the point, and not over our heads.
    c) He needs to be seen and heard in the parishes.

  5. Hi David,
    Interesting question. In Chelmsford we now have a diocesan who is an evangelist and passionate about mission and church growth. This has affected the culture of the diocese and it's decision making in strategic ways which I believe will have an impact. 3 examples.
    1. Our diocesan strategy 'Transforming Presence' has as one of its four priorities 'Evangelising effectively' and mission also underpins the other three priorities.
    2. Next year is our diocese's centenary and it has been designated a year of mission (not a year of looking back). This year training and other resources are being rolled out to encourage deaneries and parishes to prepare for this.
    3. We are in the process of developing our senior leadership in the diocese with 3 new archdeacons to be appointed alongside the 4 already in place. I have been involved in the process of drawing up the profile / role descriptions and the key change is that we want mission focused people. By that we mean not that they will be missioners themselves (though that would be great imho) but that they will give priority to strategic decisions which enable mission and growth rather than maintaining the status quo.
    This change in culture has been dependent on the vision and commitment of Bishop Stephen and it is an agenda that has been embraced by the diocese because it cuts across the usual tribal divisions in the way it is being expressed and implemented.

  6. mmm interesting. I belong to a fresh expression type church that was set up (or at least instigated) by our then Bishop, 9 years ago, who despite being of the Anglo Catholic tradition was also very up for the contemporary and encouraging people into the church who might not otherwise come. One of the main aims was to reach the 'unchurched'. His input and encouragement alone meant that the project was able to go forward and grow. he brought together a group of people to get it going and provided support and encouragement wherever he could(As well as the offical stuff!.) At our height we get 400+ people each week, although slightly lower at mo. I also heard via someone in the know that by the fact that we were 'doing well', it encouraged the local parish churches to then 'up their game' particularly in the area of kids work and therefore subsequently increase their numbers.
    So yes, absolutely one Bishop, with the right attitude and encouragement etc can make a big difference and really that' what they should be doing isn't it? Like to say the same about our current Bishop but can't, so will stop there...
    hope that's useful...