This was reflected in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s presidential address at the July General Synod meeting, where he said: “We want to see growth, spiritually and numerically;” and also in the overwhelming vote in favour of the Revd Mark Ireland’s private member’s motion about MAP on the same day.
Dr Brian writes that churches that are growing tend to be in the Charismatic Evangelical or Pentecostal tradition, and questions the evidence for real growth. This ignores the research conducted by the Ven. Bob Jackson and published in his two books (The Road to Growth, CHP, 2005, and Hope for the Church, 2002) which clearly shows that growth is happening across all traditions and that many unchurched people are joining these churches — not least through Fresh Expressions.
In my experience, in Blackburn diocese, as a growth facilitator, real growth in faith, discipleship, prayerfulness, and outreach efforts has happened across all traditions; and, yes, this has often led to an increase in church attendance.
But the objective of MAP is not simply numbers, but growing the Kingdom of God, and being obedient to the teaching of Jesus about growth of the Kingdom in his parables.
This is teaching about a strategic way of doing our work — not just doing the best we can, not just being better organised, but really thinking, praying, working, and focusing resources really to go for a superb increase and fruitfulness — a many-fold increase. (I am grateful to the Bishop of Derby for first drawing my attention to this teaching.)
The MAP process helps churches to respond to this challenge. If churches and clergy are working in this way, there should be no “guilt or stress” — as Dr Brian says — even if results seem disappointing.
MAP is a process — a route map to help churches on their mission journey. To describe it as a mixture of what some churchpeople think happens in the secular world — “developing action plans, setting targets, and being evaluated” — misses the point.
MAP guides church leaders through the time-honoured method for getting something done: (1) reviewing and understanding the current situation and opportunities; (2) prayerfully listening to God to sense what God is calling the Church to become — the church vocation; (3) agreeing a few manageable priorities that derive from this vision; (4) sharing out the actions associated with each priority.
Yes, we have to get on with being faithful disciples, but we also have to strive to do the best we can in making disciples and transforming our communities — as Jesus commissioned us to do.
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From Canon Keith Pound
Sir, — Dr Brian found the article by Bishop Butler and Mr Ireland depressing. I found it helpful and hopeful. What really increases the “guilt and stress” experienced by many clergy, and about which Dr Brian is concerned, is muddle, the feeling that nothing works, and the lack of ability to plan and measure results. Those urging us to compile mission action plans are making a positive contribution to looking at things in new ways.
Dr Brian castigates a concern for the Church’s survival. When the average for active church membership is in some places less than one in 50, then I think it quite proper to be concerned about the basic functions of church life in ten or 20 years’ time. “God has no hands but our hands,” etc.
Resurrection is always a more Christian concept than survival, however, and those working for church growth should be seeking not necessarily for old practices to survive, but for God to raise up new life out of deadness.
Your correspondent admits (a little grudgingly) that it is important to get on with “administration, our posters and magazines and study groups” and welcoming people, but seems to suggest that it is only when those things are left behind that the Church is freed to be the Body of Christ.
All these things represent the Church being the Body, ordering its life and making it known, living out its calling to study and be open to newcomers. Even the tiniest administrative decision either impedes the coming of the Kingdom or hastens it. In the Kingdom, every paperclip counts.
Those arguing recently for the Church nationally and locally to plan its mission purposefully and methodically deserve our grateful support.
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