Commissioners’ funds boost Evangelical plants

20 January 2017

DIOCESE OF LONDON

Leading a church-planting course: the Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe. He has launched a website: www.centreforchurchplanting.org

Leading a church-planting course: the Bishop of Islington, the Rt Revd Ric Thorpe. He has launched a website: www.centreforchurchplanting.org

A FURTHER £9 million has been distributed to dioceses by the Church Commissioners as part of the drive to achieve statistical growth.

Church-planting by Evangelical churches, and efforts to address the absence of children from the pews, are among the trends that will benefit from a financial boost.

The largest grant — £2.5 million — will go the diocese of Birmingham, for its work with younger people. The diocese, which has the lowest church attendance to population in the country, and the lowest level of stipendiary clergy per capita, has already received £1 million towards its “Growing Younger 2015-19” work. By 2022, it seeks to plant 15 new churches, “make over 1000 new disciples”, and train up to 1000 “missional leaders”.

Across the country, nearly half of churches have fewer than five worshippers under the age of 16. The report From Anecdote to Evidence found that churches with young people were twice as likely to be growing, and that there was a positive association between growth and employing a children’s or youth worker.

The diocese of Worcester has received £750,000 to recruit up to ten children’s and young people’s “mission enablers” to support parishes. Each enabler will focus on one “host parish” for a year, targeting those whose existing work with children and young people, generally without paid workers, has the potential to develop and grow.

Ruth Walker, director of the Calling Young Disciples project, believes that, in some places, there is a need to reassure churches that parents “do want us to talk about faith”. Part of the enablers’ role will be sharing expertise on how to sustain relationships with older children and young people. Losing contact with young people can begin with children as young as ten, she reports.

The diocese of Liverpool, which received £900,000 for its project “Transforming Wigan”, has received £1 million to develop “a low-cost model to multiply congregations to complement conventional church planting”. This work is based at the Joshua Centre, at Liverpool Cathedral, which will now offer “start-up grants” for new congregations. The aim is to have one congregation for every 4000 people, across the diocese.

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“There is really good research showing that, with a few exceptions, it makes a huge difference in affecting an area if the Church is close to them, local,” the Director of the Joshua Centre, Canon Richard White, said. “We want the Church to be near everybody, either geographically or culturally.” New congregations would be “lay-led, and embedded in existing structures”. He gave the example of a service for Iranian worshippers, at the cathedral.

In 2014, the diocese of Chelmsford received £850,000 to fund interventions to “turn around” parishes that were struggling with governance or finance problems but “offering the greatest potential”. This year, it has received £2 million to support its work in four new housing areas, which include some of the largest in Europe. This will look different from the traditional estate model of a church constructed on site.

“We are determined there will be presence, but it won’t necessarily be a building,” the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said. At the 3600-home Beaulieu Park, a church plant will meet in a community centre. A bid to establish a church school is also being considered. 

The four housing areas are so large that they “don’t necessarily fit into existing parish structures”, he said. The diocesan team now talks about “mission and ministry units” and is encouraging parishes across traditions to think collaboratively about how to serve them. While “larger charismatic churches” were “vital” for this project, those of other traditions were involved, Bishop Cottrell said. “We are committed to that diversity of tradition.”

The diocese of Chichester has received £825,000 for “church renewal projects” in four areas. All will be led by Evangelical churches. St Peter’s, Brighton, a plant from Holy Trinity, Brompton, which has already planted three churches in the past three years, will now be sending groups from its congregation to join St Matthias’s, Brighton, and St John the Baptist, Crawley.

A group from All Saints’, Crowborough, a conservative Evangelical church, will be in partnership with Holy Trinity, in the village of High Hurstwood, in a church “graft”. This would give “a bit of reinforcement” to an existing congregation that was already “quite healthy”, the Archdeacon of Brighton and Lewes, the Ven. Martin Lloyd Williams, said.

An Evangelical church is likely to lead another church-plant, at St Leonard’s, Hove.

“There has been a sense, in the past, that church-planting is something practised by the successful upon the unsuccessful,” Archdeacon Williams said. “This is very much not that, but to do with partnerships between churches, not about takeover. . . None are about cloning one church in a new place, but all to do with partnership, and all to do with learning.”

The overall aim is to have four such projects every year for five years, contributing to the “transformation of the apostolic life of the diocese of Chichester”, including a growth in church membership of 7000 to 35,000 by 2024, and 20 clergy leading church-plants.

One of the stated aims of the strategy was “more Anglo-Catholic churches in a position to take responsibility for the apostolic life of the diocese”.  Archdeacon Williams said that the aim was to achieve more “balance” so that at least two of the four projects identified for next year would be in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, “as long as we can find the leaders to do it”.

“We are struggling to find resources within the Catholic tradition and recognising that is a need that we have got to address,” he said. “We are trying to encourage them to be involved in this movement; at the same time we will go with what works. . . I have encountered considerable passion and enthusiasm for mission in the more Catholic churches of this diocese. And we are now working on ways for that passion and commitment to be channelled and shared.” There was a need for “rediscovering ways for the eucharist to be missional,” he said.

The other two grants are going to the diocese of Bristol, which will receive £950,000 to develop three existing parish churches — Malmesbury Abbey, St Mary Magdalene's, Stoke Bishop, and a church in the parish of Yate — into “resource churches”; and the diocese of Leicester, which has received £1 million to “conduct research to gain a greater understanding of how to support and grow Christian disciples from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic Christians, and to develop leaders and vocations in those communities”.

In total, the Commissioners have agreed to distribute £24 million of strategic development funding every year. To date, 20 dioceses have successfully bid for a share.

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