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April 2015 Update - Mark Hart, Rector of Plemstall & Guilden Sutton, Diocese of Chester, has written a blog post introducing his "From Delusion to Reality" paper. In the paper he raises several points about the interpretation of the data and the causalities claimed from it. A more recent blog post summarises his concerns on a 16/1/14 CofE press release making untrue statements about the professional research conclusions on factors strongly associated with church growth.
Yesterday (16/1/14) I attended a 1 day CofE Church Growth Faith in Research Conference in London. At the same time the Church Growth Research Programme have issued an accompanying report - From Anecdote To Evidence - Findings from the Church Growth Research Programme 2011-2013
After data analysis and church profiling work there are 4 (as at 4/7/14 website)
"Strands 1 & 2" led by Professor David Voas of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex for the Church Growth Research Programme on "Numerical Change in Church Attendance"
"Strand 3a" research conducted by The Revd Canon John Holmes as part of the consortium led by Cranmer Hall, St John's College, Durham for the Church Growth Research Programme on "Cathedrals & Greater Churches"
"Strand 3b" Research conducted by The Revd Canon Dr George Lings (Director of the Church Army’s Research Unit) as part of the consortium led by Cranmer Hall, St John's College, Durham for the Church Growth Research Programme.on "Fresh Expressions" which I've read and included headlines from below
"Strand 3c" -
"Strand 4" An analysis by OxCEPT, Ripon College, Cuddesdon as part of the Church Growth Research Programme on "Church Planting"
In addition the slides from the presentations are here and I've read thru them all and included any significant points I'd missed on the day into the text below.
Below I've set out what I thought were 10 of the interesting insights from the reports (black coloured font) and from the conference presentations and conversations (blue coloured font)
First - in terms of what things are linked to growing churches/more likely to grow churches
1) Leaders who are good at one or more of: motivating people; inspiring and generating enthusiasm to action; innovating; engaging with outsiders and newcomers. Leaders who are: younger - or have length of tenure - whose personality is extrovert and intuitive.
2) A clear mission & purpose - includes leadership behaviours that are good at developing a vision and goals
3) Intentional prioritising of numerical growth - this will always include being active in engaging children and teenagers (e.g retreats, conferences, camps, creating community with them; using baptisms and other rites of passage as ways of establishing a bond and reinforcing the church's cultural presence); employing a youth/children worker. It will often include; nurture courses; actively engaging with those who don't go to church/are outside the existing community; looking outward; engaging with the local community; good welcoming and follow up for visitors (after they've attended). "Those who belong to the church in their 20's will probably stay for the rest of their lives". Its also important to find ways of retaining the young at the points they typically leave the church - adolescence (off to big school now-a-days?) & young adulthood (off to college time?) and to try and replicate the Christmas festival effect (at which 3 times as many attend as on an average Sunday - for Easter its 2 times) across to festivals like Harvest or Pentecost. The Fresh Expressions research states that "for every one person sent to start a Fresh Expressions at least another two and a half are now present. This is a 250% increase
over time. There is nothing else in the Church of England that can do anything like this"
4) Being intentional in the chosen styles and traditions of worship - so not allowing these to go by default or stagnate. But note that style of worship and theological tradition (churchmanship) has no significant linkage to growth.
5) Being intentional in nurturing disciples: so leadership abilities in training people for ministry and mission; nurturing new and existing christians; "preparing members to be a christian witness in their daily lives", nurturing vocations & putting forward candidates for ordination. Also note many christian parents (around 2/3rds) don't encourage their children to learn their faith - so their may be some help needed there.
6) Involvement of lay members so: assigning roles to them (as well as to ordained clergy); changing/refreshing/rotating of those roles.
7) Willingness to reflect, to change and adopt according to context - so: learn continually; "vitality comes with reflection and choice"; have the ability to change (including the congregation!); "lets give it a go" attitude. Also congregations need to understand that the parish church is not a public utility run for the benefit of existing members. For greater churches one identified growth factors not mentioned elsewhere in this summary is increasing the civic profile.
8) One leader for one community - so having a focal minister (lay or ordained) for each church who encourage congregation members to discover and exercise their God-given gifts. Also note that: a) multi church amalgamations (2 or more churches under an incumbent) and team ministries are less likely to grow; b) Fresh Expression "churches" - which have contributed growth = to a moderate size diocese - are often led by untrained lay people with no official "church badge". The Amalgamations & Teams report points out that the London diocese has pursued an approach on amalgamations different from all others in that it has a "one parish one priest" approach - whether paid or not - with the intention of that person being full time in the role.
9) Smaller churches - so those with less than 30 people AND those with over 300 people.
Note 1: Fresh Expression's average size of 44 is usually smaller than average parish church congregations. The classic team size sent to begin them is 3-12 people. In the leaders opinion of those who attend roughly 25% are Christians, 35% are de-churched and 40% non-churched. 41% of the attendees are under 16.
Note 2: When considering whether to start a Fresh Expressions approach:
Don't: a) buy 1 off the shelf or choose the type by popularity; b) assume only big churches/teams and/or evangelicals can start one; c) use an act of worship as the starting point; d) assume full time trained leadership is needed - leadership can be be exercised by either gender, lay or ordained, full time to spare time; e) start something for and with young children without any thought about what will be needed when they become 11 and change schools; f) If you are ordained and very busy - dismiss putting down some responsibilities and being renewed in ministry by being part of starting something new; g) think thru how you avoid the rest of the Church dismissing you because you'll be young, small and still maturing; h) think thru how you avoid getting cut off from the wider church by letting them know your progress and struggles; i) go it alone - plan to have a critical friend.
Do: a) Be clear on what groups of outsiders it is for; b) Ensure the leader[s] & team are focussed on those not attending church and proactive in connecting with them; c) Be prepared for a longer process of loving and serving people, making relationships that naturally include spiritual conversations and only then evolving public worship; d) Discern how often you plan to meet, fortnightly is the most risky and either weekly or monthly can work. e) Think about whether the calling is to reach a neighbourhood or a network; f) Think culturally not just territorially - what social or cultural groups are missing from your existing church and which of those groups do you have relational links with? f) Choose the venue & meeting day by what suits the context and its people, not by habit or the preference of existing Christians; g) As soon as it is appropriate encourage the young church to take responsibility for its finances and local leadership - so look for gifts and ministries in the newcomers; h) Start with discipleship, not just attendance, in mind. Being apprentices of Jesus can happen in many ways, but it should be intentional and relational. i) Discern when and how, to introduce the two sacraments, but explore how they are practiced in culturally suitable ways; j) keep the life of the fresh expressions simple, share out the tasks and make it a working boat not a passenger; k) Find ways to develop discipleship - this can take time and may involve trying a number of approaches. The test is fruit not ease of method; l) by aware that those kinds of fresh expressions most likely to continue to grow are multiple congregations, clusters, seeker church, church for under fives, and school based church BUT their internal dynamics flourish better at certain unit sizes and when that size is reached it is best transcended by starting another one.
Note 3 - examples of types of fresh expressions are: Alternative worship; Café church; Community development plant; Cell plant; Child focused church; Cluster; Messy Church; Multiple congregation; Midweek church;New monastic community; Network church; Older people’s church; School based church; Seeker church; Special interest group; Traditional church plant; Church for under 5s & carers; Youth congregation.
And finally - what things are not linked to church growth or the likelihood of growth (apart from the opposite of the points above)
10) Leadership behaviours like: empathising; persisting and managing - these are not bad qualities to have - its just they may not be congruent with flexibility and a willingness to push people in new directions.
But - God alone gives growth
or as the reports and conference materials often said
I planted the seed,
Apollos watered it,
but God made it grow.
– 1 Corinthians 3:6
and another bit of an infographic on cathedrals - the full infographic is here (ht church growth research programme)
and a clip on fresh expressions