Paul Bayes, bishop of Hertford, talked us through what St. Albans are up to:
Under Alan Smiths leadership, the diocese has introduced Mission Action Planning. There’s been a lot of attention paid to the process of introduction: a year by the bishop listening to people, a working party studying MAPs and leading the discussion through various diocesan bodies over the course of a year. The result is a high level of buy-in, 85% of parishes have sent in MAPs for their first year - “the time spent on getting ownership was enormously well spent.”
Have tied together vision and strategy in creative taglines: ‘a way of looking’ is the vision (transforming communities, making disciples, going deeper into God) MAPs are ‘a way of seeing’ – a review tool for parishes.
The diocese has consciously made room and created a role for stronger and larger churches: “if a church is growing it should not be taxed, if a church is doing something well they should be learned from, if a church is succeeding they should be respected.” I liked the term ‘cascading strength’ – helping the larger churches to find a way to bless the rest of the diocese, rather than feeling marginalised or treated as a cash cow.
Each benefice now has a ‘parish dashboard’ with key stats – membership, occasional offices, finance etc. It puts the facts in the public domain, and the Diocese has one as well. The challenge is to “look at the brutal facts without losing faith.”
There’s been hard work on the data, to work out what’s actually happening. Over 10 years, 1/3 of churches have grown and 2/3 have declined. In the past, diocesan resources would go into the difficult parishes, which would absorb most of the energy. The diocese is now working with failing churches mainly at the point of a vacancy, but the rest of the time is focusing on the churches that are growing, to support and help them.
Comment: there's an excellent Bill Hybels talk on vision where he talks about how people 'buy in' to an inspiring vision of the future, and he spends a lot of time talking about 'process' - i.e. how important it is to take time with people, to listen, explain, reason and work things through. Simply delivering a presentation doesn't work. It looks like St. Albans have paid attention to this. I also like the way they've carved out a role for key churches in the Diocese, and want to be honest about what's going on as the starting point for changing it.
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