Thursday, May 16, 2013

Diocesan church growth strategies 3: Archbishop Justin Welby

A few excerpts and quotes from Justin Welbys address on Weds night to the 'diocesan church growth strategies' conference I'm currently at. It was immensely encouraging to find that the new Archbishop had made space in his diary to be with a group of people looking at church growth in the CofE. Here's a few quotes to give a flavour, and a few paraphrases on some of the other key points. Hopefully you'll be encouraged.....:

“it’s incredibly exciting that in (the stated priorities of the church) is spiritual and numerical growth…that would never have happened a few years back, this is something quite new.”

The Archbishops 3 priorities:
 - prayer and renewal of the church's spiritual life
 - reconciliation, within the church and as an agent in the world
 - evangelism

Spiritual Renewal

“A growing church, an evangelistic church, starts with a church that is not focused on anything other than Jesus Christ … it is in the renewal of our spirituality, in seeing Christ and his love for us, that we overflow into the world.”

In his prayer pilgrimage before taking office, the ABC prayed in 6 cathedrals, expectations were that 3-400 might come to each event, the smallest turnout was 2,000, and in total 12,500 people joined in praying. During the week people came to faith "it was about trying to find a way to make it easy for people to encounter Jesus Christ, and focusing on him and not on us and on the church.”

“If (the people of God living in the discipline of regular prayer) doesn’t happen I don’t think a lot else is going to…if there’s going to be effective evangelism, there needs to be a renewal of spirituality.”

“In my own parish over 7 years we grew a lot, and quite a lot of that started with funerals and weddings and baptisms and just being human and just being reasonably friendly.” His message wasn't complex - if a church does the basics well (worship, welcome, pastoral care, being human and loving, being able to explain and share the faith) then it can grow.

To be an agent of reconciliation, the church has to model it. He commented on the way that Anglicans currently speak to each other, both in correspondence (Lambeth Palace gets 15k+ letters a year) and in the blogosphere. Some of the language we use about each other is 'not just a slight failing', and (my words here) we really do need to get our act together and raise the standards we work to and the standards we expect from one another. The church needs to learn to disagree passionately but lovingly, and with great care for each other. 

Is the church a safe place for the vulnerable? If we don't get safeguarding right, if we don't properly take care of the vulnerable, then that's not good enough "an ethical institution takes safety very seriously". 

Rediscovering the Psalms and their overt highs and lows of lament and praise: “(in the Psalms) there’s not a lot of ‘O God we’re glad things aren’t too bad at the moment and could be worse, all things considered.’ " We need a diet of lament and celebration in worship that isn't driven by circumstance. 

"Evangelism has to be a priority" and the CofE at present has a bit of work to do on this. Is it on the agendas of our meetings, synods, etc.? It must also be seen as normal for everyone  “this is emphatically not a clergy thing, this is a Christian thing.” 

“Dealing with the really hard issues, solidly, is absolutely fundamental.” Churches need to help people with apologetics, dealing with the tough questions, and being able to explain their faith.  

“There is no reason why not, in 15-20 years (that) the church could not be twice the size it is now, and more”  but that will involved hard work. "A church that is growing will find that everyone is working pretty hard"

Overall it was a clear and simple message, powerfully stated - spiritual renewal focusing on Christ not ourselves, reconciliation (and the church has to get its internal house in order on this) and evangelism. Not much rocket science, plenty of hope and confidence, but courage patience and wisdom required. 

On a personal level I was challenged too - can I clearly say what my top priorities are in ministry and leadership, and how I intend to go about them? (I think the answer is yes, but having to identify and clarify them is a helpful process)

see here for other reports from the Diocesan Church Growth Strategies conference. More later.

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