Part of the Church Growth Strategies conference is an invitation to participating dioceses to talk about what is and isn't going on in their county. Here's a bit about Exeter, which was really encouraging:
Very rural diocese, had first round of Diocesan strategy in 2003, trying to draw 500 parishes & 613 buildings (!) into 150 'mission communities' - clusters of local churches with a mission priority and plan.
2008 set a target of 25% growth in weekly attendance by 2013. There was quite a bit of harrumphing around the Diocese at the time. In the end growth 2008-12 has been 11%, which is short of the target (but, Exeter are the 2nd fastest growing diocese in recent years. Setting a target may have poked the diocesan culture with a sharp stick, but it seems to have been a catalyst for growth)
A Million for Mission: the diocese chose to give away £1m of its historic reserves to churches to use in mission. Grants from £1,000 - £100,000 were offered, in two waves over the course of 9 months in 2011-12. Nearly 200 bids came in, and 87 grants to mission projects were made. "there's nothing like throwing some money at Anglicans to arouse interest"
The projects are currently being reviewed, 12 months in. The first 26 have been looked at: these are engaging with 2,146 brand new people, as a direct result of the projects the money has enabled, that the church had no contact with before. Half of these are children (the majority of the projects were aiming at children or all ages) with roughly 500 youth and 500 adults. Already 60 have made a clear profession of faith (e.g. confirmation, a decision to follow Christ following a course) - considering the time that the process of coming to faith takes, that's a very encouraging start.
Giving money away from the Diocese was a "hugely impacting p.r. exercise". Parishes are so used to the diocese taking money away from them, the idea that they were being offered money and asked to come up with ideas was a real novelty, and communicated powerfully that the Diocese was on their side. It also got churches thinking about mission that had previously been asleep.
"being cautious with money is not something the Bible exhorts us to do" (Chair of Finance at Exeter. That's the spirit!)
The biggest impact is with families. The Diocese now has 63 Messy Churches.
What next? A new set of priorities from 2013:
- "create and develop pathways into deeper discipleship and sacramental membership of the church for all those reached through new missional initiatives" i.e. the whole diocese is now addressing the question of discipleship in fresh expressions of church. There's work being done to find the right resources for people on the fringe of faith, Alpha is too far away from the starting point for many.
- leadership training, including asking CPAS to run the leadership training programme (great call)
- developing ministry teams in the mission communities, this can't all be done and run by clergy.
The Million for Mission video is an excellent bit of diocesan communication, and an encouraging 6 minutes viewing!
use the diocesan church growth strategies tag below for other posts from the conference, including the ABofC on evangelism and renewal.