Thursday, May 23, 2013

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies; Case Study - Birmingham

We heard from Andrew Watson, Bishop of Aston, on the ‘TransformingChurch’ process in Birmingham. The model is Barnabas: ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith’ who comes alongside people and churches in Acts to encourage and build them up, and to bring the blessings of an outsiders perspective: “it was always the newcomers that I would sit down with and say ‘what’s your view of this church’?”

Transforming Church "starts from a place of vision…if you get too quickly into strategy without being clear what the vision is, it becomes quite stodgy and unexciting...any diocesan initiative that starts with strategy is staring in the wrong place". Moses paints a picture of a land of milk and honey, rather than detailing the route through the desert.

Birmingham is near the bottom of deprivation tables, but 2nd in terms of generosity. The average Birmingham church is small, poor and generous.

 “your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams but nothing will happen because the middle aged will still run the church.’

Church councils are encouraged to look at 7 key areas, identify things they can grow and develop, and write down a simple list of priorities, ‘what is God calling you to do in the year ahead?’ putting it at the top  of the church’s agenda until everything is ticked off. 

The Diocese is working to a number of key goals, and several things were highlighted:
1. Training up 80 consultants, most of them part of the local church, to work as a ‘Barnabas’ to churches in Birmingham. 
2. Central training is now organised around the stated needs of the parishes in their summary action plans. There have been central days on children, growing leaders, community initiatives etc., which draw large numbers because they meet an identified need.
3. Churches are put together with other churches of similar sizes, to learn from each other. Churches of 100+, 70-100 and under-70, groups of 5 or 6 from each church including the vicar. These consultations are helping churches identify common issues and work on them.
4. Diocesan money is being put into strategic things – e.g. support for parish websites, a ‘noticeboard project’ – fairly simple but helpful to churches on the ground.

They are 3 years in, and are reviewing strengths and weaknesses. Strengths include:
-          a focus for the life of the diocese, which guides appointments at diocesan and parish level
-          higher profile for mission thinking
-          encouraging experience to be at the conferences
-          a sense of parishes and diocese working in partnership “the idea that we are all in the same team is incredibly counter-cultural in the Church of England.”

Weaknesses include a mixed quality of data from parishes, so it’s hard to track improvements or trends; patchy take up; a need for people who will stick with the detail of the process as well as visionaries.

for other post from the Diocesan Church Growth Strategies conference, go here.  

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