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Learning from Strategic Development Funding

Catherine Dorman in the Strategy & Development Unit has been reflecting on what dioceses are learning as they implement projects supported through Strategic Development Funding. These learning points can be grouped under eight headings:

  1. Strong diocesan strategies
  2. Effective senior leadership teams
  3. Programme and project management capacity and skills
  4. Engaging parishes in delivery
  5. Realistic timetabling
  6. Buildings and missional structures
  7. Communication and consultation
  8. Challenges relating to the inherited church

In this edition of Shared Insight we look at the first 4 points in more detail.

Strong Diocesan Strategies

  • Dioceses which have taken a strong strategic approach have proved able to make good progress with implementing their initial SDF project (and also in making successful second applications).
  • These dioceses are using data to inform strategy, to track progress and to hold people to account.
  • They are also making progress on aligning the various elements of their ‘business as usual’ to support incremental, continuous change.

Effective senior leadership teams

  • Senior diocesan teams have learned the importance of making sure the strategy is well-embedded throughout the diocese, e.g. through being engaging well with parishes and being ‘imaginatively persistent’ in communications messages.
  • Demonstrating the whole team’s commitment to the SDF project, by being advocates for it throughout the diocese, helps to keep the project on track if there is some resistance against it, or if a key member of the team moves to a different role.

Programme and project management capacity and skills

  • Consultancy support can be highly valuable in moving the project from application to implementation.
  • Projects are more likely to go well if they get off to a strong start: detailed implementation planning should begin as early as possible.
  • Putting a skilled programme or project manager in charge has a significant positive impact on progress. Many dioceses are now including programme and project manager posts in their applications for Strategic Development Funding or Strategic Capacity Funding.

Engaging parishes in delivery

  • Although more intangible, it is important to build on the senior leadership team’s excitement for a project to generate enthusiasm and involvement at a parish level. This could be through:
  • Allowing local churches to see the direct benefits that embracing the diocesan strategy brings to them;
  • Encouraging and enabling parishes and deaneries to directly influence the project, whilst still managing it at a diocesan level;
  • Having an inclusive feel to the project, allowing it to draw in churches from a range of different areas/traditions;
  • Effective communication with parishes on project progress from start to finish.

Are you sure …? More lessons from the peer reviews in 2016

Alan Cruickshank from the Strategy & Development Unit looked back at the suggestions made by peer reviewers in the first 25 peer reviews and identified the most commonly-raised topics.  These 8 questions reflect the issues which peer reviewers highlighted most frequently:

1. Where is your delivery plan?

2. Have you got enough strategic capacity to deliver your plan?

3. How can you build and maintain excellent communication with your parishes?

4. What do you need to do to ensure your finances are sustainable, this year and into the medium term?

5. How are you going to re-think the way you deploy your clergy?

6. What are you going to do to encourage, facilitate and drive church planting and other fresh expressions of Church?

7. What more can you do to increase the pipeline of ordained and lay vocations?

8. How can you make mission and growth flourish through Church of England schools?

In Shared Insight 3 we looked at the first 4 questions. Here we expand on the last 4 by looking in more detail at the suggestions made by reviewers.  All 8 issues are explored in this summary note.

As Alan said in the last edition, there are few surprises on the list and it may be tempting to race through it and say ‘I knew all that’. But ask yourself: are you really sure your diocese is getting to grips with each issue?”

How are you going to re-think the way you deploy your clergy?

  • This was the most common suggestion made by peer review panels, perhaps not surprisingly at a time of falling clergy numbers, some high vacancy rates, and re-imagining about ministry
  • A detailed deployment plan could lay out how stipendiary clergy and stipendiary lay leaders will be recruited, deployed, formed and retained over the medium to long term
  • Having a deployment plan will help in your recruitment and retention because you can be more confident about your future requirements
  • There’s value in involving deaneries in deployment but they are often not best placed to make the most difficult decisions about deployment priorities

What are you going to do to encourage, facilitate and drive church planting and other fresh expressions of Church?

  • What is your vision in this area?
  • Are you ready to specify how many you expect to see over the next 10 years?
  • Are you clear about the resource church concept and where they should be?
  • Where do you need to focus your resources (e.g. deprived areas) and how can you unblock potential blockages (e.g. through Bishop’s Mission Orders)?

What more can you do to increase the pipeline of ordained and lay vocations?

  • How are you growing the number of vocations to ordained ministry?
  • Equally, how are you encouraging lay ministry roles?
  • And, for both ordained and lay vocations, how can you encourage people from BAME communities?

How can you make mission and growth flourish through Church of England schools?

  • Are you linking your churches’ children and youth work with your schools’ work?

  • How can your schools become catalysts and locations for new worshipping communities?

Portsmouth: what does it take to set up a resource church?

A resource church is far more than a large successful church rebranded to justify the attention it attracts. Where successful, resource churches are fully integrated into a diocesan strategy to revitalise city-wide mission and growth. Archdeacon of Portsdown the Ven Joanne Grenfell talks about managing the diocesan side of launching Harbour Church in Portsmouth in September 2016

At the invitation of Bishop Christopher Foster, the Revd Alex Wood relocated from St Peter’s Brighton – itself a 2009 plant from Holy Trinity Brompton – to plant Harbour Church in Portsmouth city centre. He brought with him a new curate, and a team of mainly young lay people who were committed to growing a new church. The intention from the outset was for this to be a resource and a blessing to the whole city.

It is quite difficult to grow traditional church in the centre of Portsmouth, though our existing parish churches do a great job in serving the community and being there for all who need them. There’s lots of high density medium rise social housing blocks, much of it is not at all attractive. We have many multiple occupancy houses mixed in with small pockets of affluence. The population turnover is high with many people moving on each year.

New student accommodation had just been built and we needed to develop an Anglican offering that would be appropriate for them and for other young people who weren’t served well by traditional churches.

For the church to work as a resource church it has to be embedded in the structure of the diocese. My role has been to link the Bishop at the heart of the vision with the new team coming in.

The initial preparatory stages were not straightforward. It is easy to underestimate just how much time and effort it takes to get things off the ground.

I’ve never before launched something like this. The sense of risk is high, as is the fear of failure. For me personally, it took a measure of resolve to overcome the expected misunderstandings and fear. Only by sticking with a vision that you really believe in can take you through.

I discovered I needed to develop a certain determination in me in a way I had not needed in previous roles.

We got things wrong in the first instance by looking at grafting into an existing church. There were a lot of difficult issues that circled around questions of influence and control, and we could not reconcile these. Conversations with local clergy were sometimes quite difficult.

We had to draw back from that approach, and there was a lot of hurt and disappointment when we did so.

Being detailed and clear and structured in my approach helped greatly. I’ve learned that you’ve got to keep to the vision of growth: keep the eye on the prize, and remember that the prize is not the institution.

Knowing that others were ready to support and help was a great help. Having the confidence and backing of the bishop also really matters.

In the early stages my most important contacts were with the Area Dean, leaders of local churches, the diocesan secretary and with the cathedral. Identifying the right people from the Church Commissioners to help move things forward helped hugely.

We put requests out on the Diocesan Secretaries’ and Archdeacons’ networks and were able to borrow ideas and expertise from other dioceses with matters such as creating a Bishop’s Mission Order.

Our ecumenical contacts too were very helpful, and I found that leaders in other denominations were ready to be supportive.

The team from Brighton arrived in May 2016 – four months before the launch, and we tidied up some of the administration and structures during the course of the summer.

Harbour church has had a good start, developing relationships with the diocese. We are ready to  bring in a second curate by the summer to work in partnership between Harbour and the Cathedral, and to develop new worshipping communities.  

One of the joys has been watching them bring their church planting expertise. HTB’s model of church is a strong one and I have seen that adopting a proven model means that we don’t have to invent it all from scratch.

A very positive surprise to me was how deeply and how quickly the team established a culture of prayer. I have also been struck by the power of working as a team. We often appoint a single vicar and expect them to turn things around on their own.

Our local clergy have been very generous. Before the launch they reminded me often that they were praying for the new church.

In the first month after the launch, I went to Harbour every week with my children; we still attend regularly and they love the focus on their spiritual development and belonging. I have wanted over the last nine months to be with the team in prayer and also to keep an eye out for any early problems. My overwhelming impression is that Harbour is a good and wholesome place to be, for people of any age, and of any background.

Ministering the in-between time

The Revd Harry Steele is an interim minister working to bring small two churches in a united benefice in Doncaster to a place where they have a viable future. He talks about the way he approaches his role.

My current placement might be fairly typical of an interim ministry appointment. Basically, because of the nature of Doncaster, it is hard to appoint good quality incumbents. There are not many applications and the ones who do apply might not be up to the rigorous demands of where the church is at.

My role is to plough the ground and plant some seeds that might be attractive to any incumbent – someone who wants a challenge and can see opportunities to work with.

I am working with two churches in a united benefice. I am here for a short time. My general job description says from six months to three years. I have set myself a view on 18 months.

In St Mary’s, a plan is unfolding. There would be a large church graft orchestrated from a large church in Sheffield.

That means much of my work is with the PCC to help them see what a church graft is, and to prepare the way. That’s being advertised now. Incumbent from a particular network of the Church of England.

The diocese knew that there would be around 12 months in which nothing much might happen. My presence makes the period of waiting while the process unfolds that much easier.

St Paul’s is completely different. It’s on a tough outer estate and in its 60-year lifespan as a church it has been in interregnum more than not. The congregation has dwindled so much that it would be ripe for shutting down, except that the parish next door has closed. The archdeacon has said: “We’ve got to stop closing churches in Doncaster”. Unless we turn something around, there could be a population of 25,000 people with no Anglican presence at all.

If the graft goes ahead in St Mary’s St Pauls will need to be linked with another parish.

An 18-month timescale gives me permission to rattle the cage a little. If I were thinking in terms of three years, I know that I would have a tendency to develop things more gently.

I am fairly confident in this situation in my ability to bring about a culture change. The weird thing is that I’ve never line-managed anyone before. In fact, I’ve never really been managed before.

After left school I worked as a cabinet maker creating one-off pieces. My boss would observe that I like starting things, but am not so good at finishing. Once the pile planks I would start with began to looks like a welsh dresser, I would lose energy for the finishing and polishing. It’s just a part of my personality.

My curacy was initiating fresh expression of church out of a large evangelical church, building a community of adults.

Once I had done a piece of work there – led a church plant to an Anglo-Catholic church. I took a fresh expression with a post-denominational feel to a church of 30. And once I had done that, I spoke to the bishop saying that I wanted to leave.

In bringing about change in the church I fall back very heavily on two things:

  1. Preaching and teaching
  2. the worshipping life of the church

I know that I have a gift in preaching and teaching. People have told me that they like to hear me. I don’t usually speak for very long and I usually follow the lectionary gospel reading. In my preaching time, I often turn to the life of the church and speak directly about the challenges we face.

Because of my journey into the church I am very, very modern catholic. I have a deep love and respect for liturgy, but I feel able to adapt and ask how can we make each element meaningful? Nine times out of 10 I will not robe.

Focusing on the preaching and worship is a great way to bring about change in the church and once those things are right, evangelise. For us that means doing the basics of getting involved with the community, such as setting up a toddler group and an after school club.

I have met very little resistance to change. People in the church are not that bothered. They don’t need to be persuaded, but they do need to understand what I mean.

For example, as I arrived the need for change was a no-brainer: the congregation was small and everyone was over 70. That’s when good strategic services are important. I began talking about the importance of the church being accessible and being welcoming. Their response: “show us what you mean.”

Getting people accustomed to change is important. You hear it said, ‘don’t change things for change’s sake’, but I believe there is a place for making changes simply because it unsettles the belief that change cannot happen.

I just talk a lot about hope. You get to the point where you either do or do not believe in the power of the prophetic word to bring about change.


Are you really sure …? General lessons from the peer reviews in 2016

We have studied all of the reports from last year’s 22 peer review meetings to identify the common themes, the issues which several panels of peer reviewers highlighted.

Sending 22 reviewer panels to 22 dioceses yielded 22 sets of suggestions. But some suggestions came up several times and I’ve listed these below as eight questions. There are few surprises on the list and it may be tempting to race through it and say ‘I knew all that’. But ask yourself: are you really sure your diocese has got to grips with each issue?”

After looking at the suggestions made by peer reviewers in the 22 review reports from 2016, and grouping the suggestions, here are eight questions which capture the most-commonly raised topics. We expand on the first four; we’ll cover the other four soon.

  1. Where is your delivery plan?
  2. Have you got enough strategic capacity to deliver your plan?
  3. How can you build and maintain excellent communication with your parishes?
  4. What do you need to do to ensure your finances are sustainable, this year and into the medium term?
  5. How are you going to re-think the way you deploy your clergy?
  6. What are you going to do to encourage, facilitate and drive church planting and other fresh expressions of Church?
  7. What more can you do to increase the pipeline of ordained and lay vocations?
  8. How can you make mission and growth flourish through Church of England schools?

We’ll look at the latter four of these questions next month, but here we expand on the first four by looking in more detail at the suggestions made by reviewers.

Where is your delivery plan?

  • which names this year’s absolute priorities
  • which allocates resources to support the change you want
  • which aligns your functional work towards achieving the plan
  • which has been developed/tested with those who can enable (or de-rail) change, e.g. deaneries
  • which includes how you will monitor progress and who will unblock blockages

Have you got enough strategic capacity to deliver your plan?

Strategic capacity is

  • capacity to help you think strategically
  • capacity to help you plan carefully
  • capacity to keep you focused on your priorities as you implement your plans

How can you build and maintain excellent communication with parishes?

  • Describe, repeat and keep repeating your message; you probably haven’t reached more than half of your audience

What do you need to do to ensure your finances are sustainable, this year and into the medium term

This might include

  • increasing income from parishes
  • improving stewardship and individual giving
  • improving their medium/long term financial planning
  • improving their financial sustainability immediately or after national funding changes or when SDF programmes finish
  • changing their parish share system

Setting up a new worshipping community – what if the electrics trip?

John Keble church in London recently started a new afternoon worshiping community to complement the traditional morning church in order to revitalise the church as a whole. The Revd Simon Rowbory lists some of the questions that he and his team tackled in the preparation stages

We did all the vision and values stuff, meeting to pray after church, but the point came where we had to sit down and look at what all this meant in practice. Here are 50 questions that we had to consider before we started.


What research have you done about the people, area or network you are hoping to reach? Have you dug down into what statistics are available? Do you know the needs, aspirations, frustrations and dreams of the people you encounter? Have you put together a strategic plan that is specific about the goals that you hope to achieve? What financial investment do you need to meet those goals? Will you need to take on new staff in this plan and if so, when? Who will be looking after the finances? Who will be on the team to start the new worshipping community? Who are the key leaders and how does the lead church planter communicate with them?


Where and when do you plan to meet? Who will be there to do the setup? What chairs and tables need to be moved? Who will arrange for heating to be working? Do you know what to do if the electrics trip?


When Christians gather together invariably they sing. So who will be playing the music? What will they be playing on? Will you have some sort of PA or sound system? If not do you want to buy one? Will people read the words from a piece of paper or on a screen? If it’s a piece of paper, who will put this together and print it? If it’s on the screen who will operate it? Where will the projector and laptop come from?


Who will welcome people into the church? Is it easy to find and if not will anyone stand outside to show people where to go? What posters, banners, boards & A-frames will you use to let people know what’s going on? Who will follow up new people? What refreshments will you have? Who will buy them? Who will serve them? What facilities do you have to serve refeshements? How much time will it take every week?


What printed publicity are you producing? What online adverts are you planning? What events are you planning to make yourselves known to the wider community?


What provision are you making for children’s work? For how much of the time will children be with the adults in the service – if so how will this be suitable for all ages (we have Leo the lion)? Who will run and help at children’s activities? What materials will you use? Who will be DBS checked? Do you have a safeguarding policy?


What is the pathway into the church for those who aren’t yet part of it (i.e. what are the stepping stones to believing and belonging)? What nurture/evangelistic course are you going to use? How do you plan to do discipleship in your new church? How to you hope to create community? What will you do when so that you don’t do too much at once? What are going to be your main communications channels with those gathered into the church? How are you going to get feedback about how things are going? Who are the main stakeholders in the project and how will they be communicated with? What is the pattern of rest for the pastor? When is the church going to pray?

Transition manager: bridging the gap

Parish vacancies are times of vulnerability and of great strategic opportunity. Diocese of Bristol Transition Manager George Rendell has oversight of parishes during a vacancy. He assists in the assessment of a parish’s needs, links between the parish and diocesan leadership, and helps prepare for a new incumbent

I get involved when a vacancy is declared first – usually about three months before an incumbent moves on. I meet with the outgoing incumbent and get an idea of the parish, who does what. Outgoing incumbents are often very candid and will tell me directly the areas in which they feel they have not done well, where there are problems and areas for development.

My work is directed by a Transistion Managing Group, chaired by the archdeacon and including those responsible for human resources, property and the bishop’s chaplain.

Accompanying a parish through a vacancy follows a set process. There is a grid that structures the work of all the key people involved: human resources, the area dean, the bishop and designated officer. We follow the same process for parishes of very different needs, opportunities and strengths. The framework is broad enough to accommodate many kinds of needs. The major steps are:

  • Intial meeting with the PCC
  • Review the parish
  • Communicate the bishop’s decision
  • Help recruitment preparations
  • Assist induction

Initial meeting with the PCC

The archdeacon and I will first meet with the PCC of the church in vacancy to talk through the situation, explain the processes and to set expectations.

Review the parish

My first major task is a parish review – reporting an overview of the church’s situation and opportunities to the bishop. To do this I will speak individually with between 12 and 30 church members.

I often meet people in their own homes, but there is a variety of other ways I can learn from the church members. I attend Sunday services; a good opportunity may be to join a parish lunch and spend a little time talking about the future; sometimes church wardens have arranged inclusive meetings with post-it note type exercises on a board so that everyone gets a say.

I write a report which I first share with church wardens in order to weed out any obvious misunderstandings or errors on my part. I then share it with the PCC and talk it through with them. The report will highlight areas of opportunity and of weaknesses.

Once the PCC has agreed the report, I take it to the bishop. The bishop’s senior team discusses the report and uses it as a basis for making a decision about recruitment.

Communicate outcomes

If the decision is to go ahead and recruit an incumbent, I report that to the PCC and prepare for the next stage.

Sometimes it is neccesary to seize the opportunity to take significant decisions. One church was split down the middle on the issues of women in the priesthood. Some wanted to maintain their status of not accepting women priests. After long conversations and considerable discussion, they grasped an opportunity and voted to rescind that status.

Help recruitment preparations

After the report, I help the parish work on the profile. By that stage have a team of writers. They may be going off on a little bit of a hobby horse and need some outside direction. My question is: how does the parish ennunciate its areas for development?

Having outside assistance helps the parish put together a better, much more strategic profile, which is reflected in the advert. When the recruitment pack is ready I go back for a second meeting and I ask them to sign the profile where it says, ‘we commit to working with the post-holder…’

With the application pack is signed off, I stand back and let the recruitment process take over. I will have no further involvement in the selection of an incumbent.

Assist induction

But that is not the end of my role. When an appointment is made, I share the report with the successful candidate and try to attent the first PCC meeting so that I can facilitate discussion about the future of the church.

I see the role as being an accompanier. It’s about listening, asking the right questions and establishing a relationship with key people.

A vacancy should be a time for a parish to pause and think about its future, but often the extra demands of a vacancy squeeze out time for reflection. My role facilitates the reflection. Almost all of the parishes I have worked with have seen the help they get from transitional management as a really positive thing.

Responding to the challenge of the ‘Client to Christian dilemma’

Case study on St Andrews Clubmoor taken from the 2016 report on developing church growth in deprived areas.

God calls the church to be a sign and foretaste of his coming kingdom and an instrument by which more of the reality of the kingdom would be realised here on the earth.
Lesslie Newbigin

St Andrew’s, Clubmoor is in a very deprived area of Liverpool. On indices of multiple deprivation, 6.5% of the ward in the 1% most deprived nationally and a further 65% in the 5% of most deprived nationally.

St Andrew’s Church is supported by and works closely with the well-established charity St Andrew’s Community Network, set up in 2003 to tackle poverty in the local area.

Development funding from the Church Commissioners was granted in 2012 to bring the mission and this practical work closer together by developing principles, practices and programmes to help move people along their faith journey.

Community pastors

The funding paid for two community pastors providing intensive resource towards missional communities, the equipping and training of staff and volunteers, to research and share learning, and to work towards equipping of other churches locally. Over the two years the charity expanded and developed its social action work significantly and, while some Missional Communities closed, new ones were started.

A range of outreach activities include Celebrate Recovery, family fun days, Christmas programme, ‘Client to Christian’ evangelism and mission training, women’s and men’s breakfasts and community film nights.

All of these social settings provided a bridge for community members and people who had accessed support services through the Network to hear the gospel in an accessible way.

They sit alongside the community support activities – e.g. a well-used Foodbank (20,000 people supported in three years), a debt advice service (900 cases per year), and complex mental health work including depression support groups.

What is church for you?

Many clients see the Missional Communities as ‘church’ and while the Missional Communities are small, they provide an alternative form of church – where Church is defined as gatherings of people exploring faith.

However, there was very little growth in the congregation at St Andrew’s congregation there, continues to fluctuate – largely reflecting the challenges faced by those supported by the network.

The charity continues to grow and deliver activities that meet people at a point of need. This continues to attract financial support in the form of grants and clearly develops a wider mission field.

What is apparent from the project is that few people made a transition from being a ‘client’. i.e. someone who receives support through the charity, into making a faith commitment.

The only area where this happened is through volunteering – where clients go on to work with the organisation and this relationship is then framed differently.

Church growth has happened, but this has largely been through Missional Communities or the greater focus that the church has put on mission.

This is clearly a complex issue. One the one hand, social action models kingdom work; it builds the reputation and standing of St Andrew’s in the community, and provides avenues for people to get involved, exercise leadership and make a community contribution.

One the other, tensions exist between the social objectives of the charity (and its workers) and the community pastors about how to introduce faith safely and ethically, or how to build relationships with ‘clients’ beyond the service that is being provided.

St Andrew’s experience also indicates that those who are prepared to engage with faith as well as practical support may have made more progress along their practical recovery.
The implication is that engaging with faith may be part of the long term success in support for debt, addiction, food insecurity, or mental health recovery.

Lessons from St Andrew’s Clubmoor

  • Missional Communities are Church for many
  • Significant social action provides opportunities to model Christ-centred compassion for the most vulnerable, and provides avenues for greater involvement.
  • The direct evangelism strategy that seeks to move people from ‘client’ to ‘Christian’ is not universally effective and warrants greater investigation.
  • The financially self-sustaining charity with ability to attract inward investment helps to support the Church in its ministry
  • Church and Charity staff work closely together – this creates pathways to Church for those who want to take it

Interim Ministry - Key learning points

At end of February 2017 Chelmsford diocese hosted a conference on interim ministry, building on some of the experiences and insights of their SDF funded work since 2014

Representatives from 19 dioceses with a wide range of experience and understanding of interim ministry attended.

What can interim ministry achieve?

An interim priest can help a parish equip itself more effectively for mission and determine what kind of priest is required in the longer term by enabling it to:

  • come to terms with the past, lose old fears and find new hopes, and perhaps discover a fresh identity
  • consider future witness, mission and ministry
  • reassess its resources, needs and priorities
  • see where and how it needs to change, and work through the inevitable transition
  • make plans for the future and prepare for the next chapter of its life

When is interim ministry used?

Making a post interim should be a response to the particular circumstances of the parish

  • When the future is unclear
  • When pastoral reorganisation is contemplated
  • When the past has been difficult

When the future is unclear

An interim can help a parish equip itself for mission and determine what kind of priest is required in the longer term. For example:

  • where a parish has difficulty appointing a minister an interim post can provide the leadership that is missing to help it to adjust to a radically different future
  • where it is not clear that the parish is viable and there is a need to see if it can turn around before pastoral reorganisation is contemplated

When pastoral reorganisation is contemplated

An interim ministry enables parishes to see if they might have a future together and if pastoral reorganisation might be viable. For example:

  • an interim ministry might be helpful when there are plans for pastoral reorganisation in the longer term, but it is not possible to implement them immediately. When waiting for an incumbent in a neighbouring parish or benefice to retire or if representations have been received against a pastoral scheme that nevertheless is supported by the majority of parishioners.

When the past has been difficult

A parish often needs some leadership and a period of self-assessment or healing. In cases where the appointment of the previous incumbent or priest in charge came to an end in difficult or traumatic circumstances, it can be particularly valuable to provide a period for healing and reflection. For example

  • after the death or extended absence of a minister
  • after a very short ministry
  • after a period of conflict within the congregation

Five key interim ministry tasks

An interim minister will help a church

  1. come to terms with its own history Connect with the church’sdeep stories. Churches need to be heard by someone that they can trust.
  2. Discover a new identity – How congregations understand themselves is critical. Churches often see themselves in terms of an incumbent.
  3. Make the transitional [leadership] changes. Change blockers, easing people out of leadership.
  4. Relate to the wider church in a new way
  5. Prepare for the next chapter of church life

Interim or turnaround?

There is a difference in the way priorities are balanced, depending on the severity and urgency of the task.

  • Interim: where there is an issue or a number of issues that need to be addressed before the church might be able to appoint a new minister.
  • Turnaround: Dysfunction in the church has become the norm, and major remedial work needs to be done.

Qualities of an interim minister

  • Can do all the hard messages. Don’t need to be everybody’s friend.
  • An initiator, not a sustainer
  • Able to build trust
  • Conflict management skills
  • Able to listen at a deep level
  • Comfortable in their own skin
  • Able to focus is always -what are we handing on?
    The essential qualities of an interim minister are common to all ministers, but deployed with a particular intensity.

Interim ministers say…

  • Early intervention is always helpful.
  • Take note of the power of ‘while I am here‘. Sense of urgency
  • The presenting issue is not always the issue that needs to be addressed.
  • Get over ‘being nice’. You sometimes need to be blunt and you sometimes need to be hard.
  • You need to be secure in the support from the diocese –has the bishop got my back?
  • There can be a lot of collusion between a parish and a diocese in turning a blind eye to problems.
  • The reality is that IM will be a failure if the changes don’t continue and that’s down to the congregation

Rooted in the Church

What helps young people stay rooted in the faith? What factors cause those roots to fray and break?

Research published by the Church of England’s Education Department in November 2016 – Rooted in the Church – set out to answer these questions.

The following were identified as key findings. Most of them emphasise the importance of inclusion

  • For young people, the most important atttribute of a church should be that it is friendly and non-judgemental
  • Young people value age-specific leadership and activities; they do not want to always be artificially separated from the rest of the church
  • Young people seek to be treated as equal members of the church with meaningful roles
  • Many respondents emphasised the importance of intergenerational ministry

The lack of significant relationships between the generations must be addressed if churches intend to thrive from one generation to the next.

A review of literature highlighted research that showed young people’s engagement with faith is not a binary question of attendance – being “in” church or “out”. An American study named three types and stages of disengagement:

  • those who grow up with a Christian background, but lose their faith (prodigals);
  • those who feel lost between church culture and society (exiles);
  • and those who leave the institutional church but who still call themselves Christians (nomads).

London: What does it take to set up a new congregation?

The Revd Simon Rowbory looks back on the four months in which John Keble church in suburban North-West London set up its family-friendly congregation

At John Keble Church I was appointed in September 2016 as the new priest-in-charge with the church keen to start a new worshipping community to appeal to people who would never dream of coming along to a more traditional time of worship. In January 2017 we launched Discover, our family-friendly and accessible worshipping community.

Our new worshipping community is open to all and has a special focus on being understandable and accessible to the many families who live in the area that have no church background.


We started in the September by at first spending time together in prayer and dreaming what could be, moving from what was a completely blank slate to a clear vision and values.

Part of this was making sure that we understood our area, digging into statistics to make sure we weren’t making any assumptions, connecting with the natural places where community gathered and the community leaders.

We wanted to have a handle on the needs, aspirations, frustrations and dreams of the people we encountered. At the same time as this we were making sure that the new initiative had the full support of the PCC and other stakeholders and that a core team was starting to form – based on those who came to pray and who were excited by the idea.


The first big decision we had to make was when we hoped to launch. It was a hard call to make because at that point we didn’t have all the information we needed and couldn’t predict how things would progress.

We decided to start Discover in January, which gave us a four month preparation period in total. This is fairly short. The advantage to this was that we kept a sense of momentum. At the same time having more time to connect with our area might have enabled us to make a stronger start.

One thing I would not recommend is starting on a bank holiday weekend in winter, even if other events are a good springboard! In the end the decision about when to start was based on the sense of urgency (or impatience) about the contex. We decided to go publicly quickly.


Because we were starting a new worshipping community within the structures of an existing one we didn’t need to spend so much time thinking about the venue. What we did have to decide was whether to start off in a smaller space and then fill it as we grew, or to start in the larger space as a statement of intent.

On the first meeting we started in a smaller space and looking around it was easy to be encouraged by the number of people there. On the second week we tried out the larger space for comparison, and it was a lot more daunting.


We knew that we would have to arrange for music at Discover. At first we hoped that musicians within the existing church with the right skills would come forward and join the planting team.

As the weeks went by this did not materialise, and we started to say that we would just worship as we were with what God has given us, even if that meant singing a capella without instruments.

Then we asked a passing contact if they would be interested in helping and they were, after that some musicians from a neighbouring church offered help. In the end we ended up with a lot more musicians than we imagined.


We decided that we would like the children to be part of the service and then after some time to leave for their own activities.

For the all-age part of the service we got a lion mascot costume for £50 – Leo the lion helps us to explore the theme of the day in a fun way. He also puts in appearances at local schools to let people know about Discover.

We had to get people ready to run children’s activities for their own part of the service.


The greatest single absorber of energy – and subsequently blockage – is myself, the plant leader. It is difficult to keep the determination going that something will arise from nothing, especially when experiencing setbacks, discouragements and the obvious limitation of our skills.

Looking at the weakness and fragility of the situation can be demoralising. Even worse than the threat of failure is the danger of success, placing identity in the mini-victories and using these for my own reputation and affirmation. Yet we know that God is pleased to use weak and sinful people for the praise of his glory. The weaker the servant, the more glory is given to God as he shines through all the more.

After all, the ultimate display of weakness, Jesus on the cross, was the occasion for God to be most made known and glorfied. So to avoid the sapping of energy I have to fix my eyes firmly on Jesus and his glory and not my own weakness or self-glorification.

Who's there? Fresh Expressions of Church report

The Church Army Research Unit’s major research into fresh expressions of Church The Day of Small Things has a sister report Who’s there?, which describes the findings from surveys of attenders of fresh expressions and ‘inherited Sunday congregations’.

Definitions such as ‘de-churched’ are too simplistic: the researchers introduced new categories to better take account of people’s personal journeys.

Fresh Expressions of Churches are making progress in connecting with people who have never been part of a church previously or who used to go but have had a break of two or more years from church before returning.

This figure is lower than previously cited in relation to the impact of fresh expressions, but this is the first robust survey of attenders and it more explicitly takes into account the size of the team which initiated the new worshipping congregation.

When findings were analysed by the type of fresh expression of Church, the above figure of 38% rose to 51% for those which were focused on ministry among children and youth.

By way of comparison, 17% of attenders were part of the team which set up the fresh expression, 14% had transferred from another church and 23% were ‘blending’, i.e. attending more than one church at the same time.

The similar survey in inherited Sunday congregations gave different results. The proportion of attenders surveyed who were not existing churchgoers when they began attending the congregation was 32%, but this reduced to 18% if you exclude those who began attending the congregation more than 10 years previously.

Read Church Army Fresh Expressions of Church reports

Lichfield schools:

Pray.Bake.Read is a simple and effective way of churches engaging with their local schools. Started by Libby Leech, Schools Enabler for Lichfield Diocese, Pray.Bake.Read. connects churches with schools in three easy-to-do ways:

  • Pray for your school intentionally and regularly in pairs or small groups
  • Bake a cake once a term and put it in the school staff room with an encouraging note
  • Read one to one with a pupil. Schools are often crying out for people to read with kids.

Libby says: “It’s not that pupils don’t want to attend church, but many aren’t able to come on a Sunday because of football or parents working. This is about taking church to school Monday to Friday and being a blessing in a practical way.”

An opportunity to make links

A Staffordshire primary school headteacher says: “The kids love having someone in school read to them – they are like friends walking through the door. The cakes help raise staff morale at the end of term. Volunteers provide a positive role model for the children.”

Sheila Grice, from Telford’s River Community Church, said: “It’s been received with great positivity by school staff. It’s also great for church members to show Jesus’ love in an informal way.”

Teresa Nixon, Schools Outreach Worker for St John’s Church in Hartford, said: “We see it as a real opportunity to make links, grow relationships and be visible as Christians in our local schools.”

Curates leading churches from decline to growth

Coventry Diocese has been placing curates on extended placements to lead declining churches, and seeing positive results so far. The Archdeacon Missioner, the Ven Morris Rodham, explains how it works.

One of the common complaints of curates is that the jump between curate and incumbent is a big culture shock.

We help prepare curates for incumbency (or indeed Candidate’s Panel) by giving them either a very significant leadership project in their title parish, or moving them from there into an extended placement elsewhere to help lead a declining church into growth when they come into interregnum.

These placements typically start in the second year of their curacy.

We have also increased the robustness of our clergy recruitment processes in order to identify high calibre priests who can demonstrate to us in an evidence-based approach that they have the leadership skills in the specific quality areas necessary to create a healthy environment for church growth based on Natural Church Development (NCD) research.

This shows that healthy churches need strength in eight essential qualities in order to sustain growth. Our selection process is therefore designed to recruit priests who can deliver these.

Explaining the process

The Area Dean and I visit declining congregations entering a vacancy to explain our appointment process. If there are questions about the future growth and sustainability of that church/benefice, we have a ‘reality check’ about the attitudes or things that are currently preventing them being a healthy, growing church.

These are often picked up from the NCD surveys (completed by congregations) where we can see at a glance where a church’s biggest problems lie, and the qualities and specific areas which they need to improve most.

These tend to be historic issues, sometimes linked to previous leadership. However, we have found that in all of these declining churches there have been people of faith who love God, love their local church and want their churches to grow … they just don’t know how to do it.

We explain that it would be a huge risk to invest in a stipendiary post in parishes which were in decline without any evidence of their progress in health, so we would need some time to assess whether the congregation were actually willing to make the necessary changes and steps towards becoming a healthier church.

We therefore suggest that they have the opportunity of some temporary leadership through a good curate, to provide us with some evidence. The responses from congregations has been, perhaps surprisingly, positive, despite initial feelings of hatred towards me!

I’ve even been hugged by big blokes who once hated me, saying afterwards that it was the best thing that has happened to their church!

Placements usually last between one and three years, with ongoing supervision from a Training Minister, and have in some cases extended into permanent appointments as the placement has gone so well!

Every single time we have done this the church has grown, morale has improved, and new appointments have been made which have progressed growth! Feedback from both curates and churches is that – with very few exceptions – they have loved the opportunity.

A lot of thought goes into them, and we do not set either the curate or the congregation up to fail.

So far, they haven’t!

How Blackburn recruited and inspired vision champions

Blackburn diocese has its work cut out for next 10 years. Its Vision 2026: Healthy Churches Transforming Communities plan aims to turn around its long-term trend of gradually declining attendance. They have developed plans to meet ambitious goals such as two thirds of all parishes to have grown, to measure church health, and to establish 50 new or reinvigorated congregations.

Such a sweeping programme of change needs people who can communicate the vision with credibility. Already 80% of parishes have appointed voluntary vision champions, most of them lay leaders.

Dave Champness, Blackburn Diocese’s vision coordinator, talks about the steps taken to get such a high proportion of people to commit to the vision. He began work with the diocese at the beginning of 2016. “The idea for vision champions in each parish came about before I joined the diocesan team,” he says. “Seeing it was one of the things that encouraged me to apply for the role.”

Some keys to success:

  • We were clear about our motivations and expectations
  • We modelled what we wanted to achieve
  • The senior team championed, but did not lead
  • We built on an experience of success
  • We gave people a framework and freedom

We were clear about our motivations and expectations

Late in 2015 the leadership team created a role description for vision champions and sent a request out for parish nominations. There are many things that a vision champion could do, but the key priority is to keep Vision 2026 on the agenda of their PCC for the next three years. That’s an achievable goal for most people.

All but a handful of vision champions are not stipendiary ministers.

We made sure that incumbents were included in all our communication with vision champions so that they could be confident that this initiative is not about the diocese seeking an agent of change behind their backs.

Before Easter I wrote to all clergy who hadn’t recruited a vision champions in which. I made it clear that this would be the only time I would chase them for names – we want this to be seen and felt as an opportunity to take up rather than another task imposed top down from the diocese.

We decided not to give vision champions a badge or a certificate, as we wanted to encourage them to think of this not as an honorary role but as a task for a humble and committed group of people.

We modelled what we wanted to achieve

In Spring 2016 a small team visited open synod meetings in all 14 deaneries to talk about vision champions, as well as introducing the Crossroads Mission weekend. At these evenings, We made sure that we modelled a good welcome with a cafe-style room set and nice touches such as sweets on the table.

I am sending personalised Christmas cards to each of the vision champions for the same reason. We want to show them that they are individually valued and appreciated.

Earlier this year suffragan bishops invited the newly-recruited vision champions to one of six evening receptions in their homes. Around 18 people at a time were served with cheese and wine, given an opportunity to get to know each other, study the bible and pray together and to ask questions of myself and the bishop about their role.

Central to the success of the vision is the development of healthy, welcoming churches. Those receptions helped to establish some of the culture change that we want to see.

The senior team championed, but did not lead

Suffragan bishops received vision champions in their homes, but we made a decision not to hold receptions at the diocesan bishop’s palace as we wanted to deliberately make a statement that the Vision is not the Bishop’s vision, but a vision for us all.

We wanted the energy and movement for vision champions to come from the local rather than the leadership of the diocese. There is a risk that an initiative too closely associated with one person will never be owned by the whole group.

Nevertheless our bishops are consistent in their support. For example they make the effort to seek out vision champions when they visit parishes. A few words of encouragement makes a big difference.

We built on an experience of success

In September the Diocese of Blackburn ran a series of high profile and highly successful mission events – Crossroads – across Lancashire. Resources were mobilised centrally but most of planning was coordinated locally. Over 80% of parishes now have a recent positive experience that they can put on a good “do” in which someone can talk confidently about their faith, not just having a great social event.

As parishes have demonstrated that they can organise events, we are now suggesting that parishes follow the Mission Action Planning process to create/update a vision action plan, where parishes identify what they are going to do to make disciples, be witnesses, grow leaders and prioritise work with children, young people and schools.

We gave people a framework and freedom

The 235 parishes in Lancashire are a mix of rural, suburban and urban contexts (a third of parishes are in the bottom 20% for multiple indicators of deprivation). With the fundamentals in place we are giving local vision champions the freedom to take initiative in championing the vision in ways appropriate to their communities and parish leadership.

Some Champions said that they would like a means of keeping in touch with each other so we set up a closed facebook group for sharing ideas and for mutual support. It is very good to see that vision champions are taking ideas and inspiration from each other, operating across parish and deanery structures to work well in their own community.

Find out more about vision champions in Blackburn Diocese

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