After depressing everyone with the latest CofE membership stats the other day, it was encouraging to read some very good news in this General Synod report.
Yes you heard that right. The Strategic Development Fund is a 10 year project by the CofE to invest in mission. It focuses on areas where the church is struggling to make an impact - mostly deprived urban areas, children and youth.
Here are some snapshots from the report, of the impact the funding is having:
- In a seriously deprived parish in Bristol Diocese, a weekly meal after Sunday worship started in 2019 and feeds dozens from the neighbourhood, for many it's their only hot meal of the week. A midweek service (with food) aimed at addicts and life recovery now has a congregation of 30-40, with several coming to faith.
- Rochester diocese’s project to invest in church growth in four priority parishes will include growing two new ministries established at Christ Church Anerley: Kings Car Wash helps ex-offenders to get back into work habits and Kings Boxing works with young gang members as an alternative to knife crime.
- A project awarded SDF in Leeds diocese has plans to support those battling addictions and mental health problems in the deprived town of Keighley, including launching a social enterprise with a coffee shop and prayer space.
- Birmingham Diocese have been placing Children and Families workers in several parishes, and seen 800 new disciples in churches which are hosting them.
- Canterbury diocese’s ‘Ignite’ project, which was awarded SDF in June 2018 to develop new worshipping congregations in the most deprived areas of the diocese and the Channel Islands, has launched eight new communities with attendance already of nearly 350 and testimonies emerging of lives being deeply touched and changed.
- At ‘Top Church’, a new church-planting-church in the deprived town of Dudley in Worcester diocese the worshipping community grew to 110 at the end of the first year (far exceeding the anticipated target of 30 in the first year) with four people exploring ordained ministry.
So far it's estimated that over 10,000 people have become new disciples through these projects, many
of which are in a very early stage.
And the report finds that intentionality in mission is fundamental. Churches grow where they have an active, outward-facing focus to create opportunities to develop new relationships; and then find ways to intentionally share the gospel with those new contacts, whether through explorer courses, social engagement, small groups, appropriate forms of worship, or through one-to-one discipleship.
All of which applies just as much to individual churches as it does to a national fund. I just pray that all of these have found a way to continue and to grow through Covid.