1 London - posted earlier
"The way I deliver strategy across the Diocese is eyeball to eyeball".
The 'Archdeacon Missioner' (explanation below) of Coventry talked us through their Diocesan strategy, honestly titled 'No Quick Fix'. "we're not expecting to see growth for 5 years". Many people take years to come to faith, and churches take years to change.
The strategy is based around the findings of Natural Church Development, probably the most thorough bit of international church growth research and reflection on the planet. It's an excellent framework, based on the simple idea that healthy things grow, and identifying 8 things which make for a healthy church:
· Gift-based Ministry
· Passionate Spirituality
· Effective Structures
· Inspiring Worship Services
· Holistic Small Groups
· Need-orientated Evangelism
· Loving Relationships
These function like slats in a barrel: the barrel can only be filled up to the level of the shortest slat, no matter how long the other ones are. Churches can use their strengths to improve on their weaknesses.
One examples is the diocese itself, where the leadership (no.1) has reformed the structures (4), to release people into their gifts and passions (2 & 3). The diocese has restructured its 'middle management' - giving more responsibilities and powers to Area Deans (who oversee local groups of parishes), and having 2 Archdeacons who cover the whole Diocese, one who deals with pastoral matters (the traditional firefighting role!) and one who deals with mission and strategy. This Archdeacon Missioner is currently going round all the parishes of the diocese, talking through the strategy, explaining natural church development, and helping churches get started with it. Each church is given a mentor to help them over a period of 4-5 years to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to improve on the weakest areas. I liked the way the diocese is making its structures serve its priorities.
The NCD stuff has other good insights: for example, that a growing church needs to have all 8 key ingredients in place, and that being strong in one thing doesn't make up for being rubbish elsewhere "focusing primarily on what was a strength for too long will kill off the church." Yes, that's your 'great choral tradition' I'm talking about, or the community project that was based around the extraordinary gifts of people who died 10 years ago but that we're propping up out of a sense of duty to their memory.
"you cannot make Christian disciples on Sundays"
"put some names on a sheet of paper of people you are personally investing in on a regular basis, helping them on a journey to faith or a journey in faith. If you can't identify any names, then pray that God will put you in touch with some people who you can do this for."
"don't expect to grow numerically or spiritually while you are holding on to nests of resentment"
"we're not going to invest stipendiary priests into churches that just want to stay the same" - during every vacancy, churches get the presentation on NCD and healthy churches, and parish profiles are put together on the basis of the '8 quality characteristics'.
Actually taking time to identify strengths and weaknesses has made for a culture where it's more ok to talk about your weaknesses honestly. Clergy training now also focuses on these, which of the areas (e.g. leadership, worship, teaching, small groups, evangelism) are they strongest or weakest in. The 8 areas also provide a good framework for discipleship.
Parishes are now asked each year how many people came to faith through their church - that's a good question!
Having a clear focus also means that they opt out of many national initiatives, "we are saying no to a lot of things...I don't want to flood vicars inboxes with lots of things, they need to be focused."
"we think people are going to get stuff by reading about it (but they aren't).... people are going to get infected by an enthusiasm and a passion and we're not going to get that across by putting it on a piece of paper." Diocesan communications about the strategy are deliberately simple, visual, and with as few words as possible.
- This is the kind of thing that can only happen with clear and courageous diocesan leadership, both in the overall vision, and in reorganising things to release resources into the areas you want to prioritise.
- I liked how well this was worked out around the needs and capabilities of the local church. There's not a lot of rocket science here, and levels of buy-in are high. There's been a lot of thought given to how change happens, and the best way both to motivate and to accompany people in that journey.
- It's a helpful reminder that church growth doesn't have to be complex, and that there's a lot of good research already out there. Sometimes we can confuse ourselves with lots of paperwork (Bishops Mission Orders anyone?) and forget that whatever tools we use have make sense to the folk who make the tea, mop the floor and never had 3 years at theological college or a blog.
other posts in this series from the Diocesan Church Growth Strategies conference last week.