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What are we learning from Strategic Development Funding?

Although it is still early days for most of the projects supported through Strategic Development Funding, we are beginning to identify some key learning points.  In this article, based on a paper for the Strategic Investment Board, David Jennings reflects on some of the emerging themes: intentional evangelism, the capacity of churches to grow, the value of establishing new worshipping communities, the challenge of culture change, and the value strategic programme managers can bring.

Intentional Evangelism

1.      The importance of getting the basics right: both within projects that are up and running, and in the process of developing applications, it is regularly reported that levels of intentional, external mission have fallen to low levels in much of the inherited church: for example, many churches have not run a discipleship or enquirers’ course in many years, even in churches with relatively large congregations that have the capacity to do so.

2.      In contrast, projects (such as Coventry’s 20-30s workers) are showing encouraging progress in part because of the high levels of activity (57 events in 12 months), coupled with intentional pathways (a “next step”) for attendees. The experience of the existing projects continues to bear out the importance of intentionality more widely – the strongest factor associated with growth in the research underpinning From Anecdote to Evidence.

3.      Such approaches - also evidenced in the clear outreach plans most resource churches have developed – is demonstrating the importance of having a clearly thought-through methodology that goes from the initial activity through to the desired end-point, even if this has to be modified in the light of experience.

Capacity of churches to grow

4.      Another issue which is surfacing more regularly in some of the discussions, around both SDF applications and the evaluations of existing projects, is of the capacity of existing churches to grow. This is often, though not exclusively, related to their capacity to undertake mission relevant to families, children and young people. The extent of this issue is underpinned by the statistics that half of Church of England churches have a weekly adult attendance of just 31 and child attendance of 3.

5.      The issue being reported is that, where congregations are small and/or increasingly elderly, although their witness may be very faithful, their ability to engage in effective mission – particularly to those not represented in their current congregation – is likely to be constrained. And even if they can engage, current service offerings, orientated to the existing congregation, may struggle to retain new people.

6.      In such situations, dioceses need to develop new strategies. The most common current approaches are to create new worshipping communities in the form of fresh expressions and resource churches (and church planting), recognising in both cases that the practical resources (money and volunteers) and missional energy will need to come from larger churches or specific networks, supported by targeted diocesan investment.

The Value of Establishing New Worshipping Communities

7.      Although it is still early days, projects which involve establishing new worshipping communities – be they fresh expressions of Church, resource churches or new congregations – are delivering numerical growth more quickly than other approaches. This reinforces a similar finding from the work to Develop Church Growth in Deprived Areas, where these approaches saw the highest level of growth (with little substantive growth from other approaches). There are likely to be many reasons for this, but the fact that they tap into mission energy (people, ideas), are by their nature mission-focused from the outset, and do not have to try to change an established church, are likely to be relevant.

8.      Of course, we need to be mindful of issues like sustainability and longevity as well.  The reality of a significant mortality rate in church plants and fresh expressions is well evidenced – the Church Army’s 2016 research showed rates in the 10% to 20% range.  However, we are hearing of mortality rates as high as 25 or 30% in some dioceses, and this is an area which will be important to track, noting that the most frequently cited reason is a change in leadership or related issues. An area we will be watching closely is how the different approaches fare in developing new worshipping communities; some are highly structured and programmatic (London); others more informal and network-based (Leicester); and some have elements of both (Leicester, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Bath & Wells and St Albans).

9.      A parallel issue is the blurring of lines between ‘established’ models of church and fresh expressions – the so called ‘mixed economy’. Leicester’s SDF project has described a ‘merged’ economy, where many of the fresh expressions and new missional communities grow from existing parish churches. However, we are increasingly hearing of a wider interpretation still – the value of simply undertaking intentional missional activities that are reaching out from existing churches, with less emphasis on whether it meets the strict definition of a fresh expression of Church. Some are in the same style as the originating church (eg resource churches), and sometimes deliberately reaching beyond existing congregations through different approaches.


10.  The issue of the need to change church culture – and need to plan for it within projects - is an increasingly frequent one.

11.  That said, in some areas – Transforming Wigan is the best example so far – a deliberate and concerted attempt to tackle such barriers through training, coaching and change management, supported by senior leadership – has begun to deliver real change, and a willingness to engage in new approaches and structures. In Chelmsford, Interim (“Turnaround”) Ministry has also delivered culture change in congregations, albeit in a different context. There is some evidence that focus is important – trying to achieve culture change is much easier with a workable number of parishes.

The value of Strategic Programme Managers

12.   We are already seeing the difference that the appointment of Strategic Programme Managers is bringing to the development, initiation and delivery of proposals in dioceses. This is not limited to funded activity, but those who are more established have helped to act as agents of wider change, modelling good practice in terms of stakeholder engagement, delivery discipline, establishing efficient governance, and maintaining lines of accountability for delivery.

Learning from SDF: Interim ministry and supporting parishes through change

The Diocese of Chelmsford was one of the first dioceses to receive an SDF grant. They are now three years into their project and the intended outcomes of the project are beginning to be realised.  We asked John Ball, Chelmsford’s Chief Executive to reflect on the advice they would give to other dioceses who are considering developing or expanding interim ministry.

The goal of Chelmsford’s SDF project was to support parishes in addressing barriers to mission, through exploring and developing practices in Interim Ministry. This largely focused on the work of interim ministers, complemented by assistance to parishes to improve governance, providing a parish accounts service and encouraging the use of the Parish Giving Scheme.  This article focuses on the role of the interim minister but, in passing, it is worth noting that sorting out basic issues of parish organisation and governance can have transformative effects.  Chelmsford’s parish accounts service is now providing book-keeping support to 53 PCCs, well over 10% of the diocese and far beyond expectations when the project was established. Two ‘PCC for Beginners’ training events covering multiple disciplines were so successful and the feedback so positive that they are planning two large scale training events for over 700 PCC members in 2018.

‘Interim ministry is not the answer to every situation, but it can be very useful’ says John Ball, Chelmsford Diocese’s Chief Executive.  ‘We now have evidence that the project’s concept has merit and validity. Structured and targeted help through interim ministry, alongside other support to parishes, can overcome barriers to mission and as a result can benefit the whole diocese.’

 John and his colleagues offer 5 specific learning points based on their experience:

1.        Create a clear ‘contract’ or ‘covenant’ between the parish, the interim minister and the Bishop/Archdeacon, and have this agreed by the Mission and Pastoral Committee.

2.        So far, it has proved difficult to recruit interim ministers via advert: head hunting is more likely to be successful than normal advertising channels.

3.        If you can’t get local engagement with the project, you won’t achieve much.

4.        Sometimes it is appropriate to find ‘good endings’ where it is mutually discerned that this is right for someone’s ministry in a particular location.  (In these situations it is really important to recognise and respect the nature of both the ecclesiastical office and the calling of the individual.  Don’t fall into thinking that the relationship is one of secular employment).

5.        Plan carefully for transition at the conclusion of a period of interim ministry, including considering whether the interim should work alongside the new incumbent for a period.

The Chelmsford team, strongly encourage others to participate in the national network which they have developed, so that experience, learning and support can continue to be shared.  Chelmsford Diocese has now been awarded Strategic Capacity Funding to facilitate on-going networking and training for Interim Ministers nationally, building on a successful conference last year.  You can find out more about this network on the diocese’s website

John’s final comment is: ‘The SDF grant has been crucial to the success of the project – it is unlikely we would have been able to take forward our ideas to anything like the same extent without this funding.  We are now working out how to translate this into our “business as usual” work as a diocese’.

Mission with young adults: ‘Not as difficult as you think’

We asked Church Army’s Research Unit to find out about successful, unsuccessful, and unproven mission with young adults (aged 18 to 30) which has taken place within the Church of England, other denominations, or through para-church groups. 

While the researchers accept that mission with young adults is not easy, a key theme that emerged from many of the churches they visited was: reaching and engaging with 18-30-year-olds may not be as difficult as you think.

The Church Army’s website sets out the research outputs including a summary video and report, case studies of 11 examples, and a further case study exploring examples of mission which were ‘tried & died’.  If you don’t have the time to review the results in depth, why not watch the summary video and read the Practical implications section of the ‘tried & died’ case study?

More information about Strategic Development Funding

The new Church of England website is understandably focused on explaining our faith to people outside the Church.  However, it also provides you with access to more information about SDF and the latest full list of SDF projects

Peer review: looking ahead to the next round

We are very grateful to everyone who has been involved in the diocesan peer review programme: both those in dioceses and the peer reviewers.  The 42nd and last peer review has now taken place and we are turning our attention to a second round of reviews.

We set ourselves three objectives: to facilitate shared learning, to ensure mutual accountability and to be of value to dioceses. We are pleased with the progress we have made, although there is more we can do share learning and we believe we can provide greater value to dioceses.

The second round of reviews will retain many features which have worked well.  However, having learned from our experiences and in response to feedback, we are adapting other aspects to have greater impact. For example, we are enhancing the self-assessment process which has proved highly valuable and we plan to explore fewer topics in greater depth at the second peer review meetings.

We have approached dioceses who had their first review in 2016 to arrange a date for their second review; these begin in June and preparations for the early reviews are well underway.

We are developing new guidance material to support the revised process.  Please contact Alan Cruickshank if you have any questions about how things are changing or the plans for the second round.

What have we learned from 2017’s peer reviews?

The first round of 42 peer reviews is now complete and we are planning the second round of reviews. This blog sets out the key learning points from the peer reviews which took place in 2017.

The peer review process has given dioceses the ability to speak frankly about the challenges they face, within a framework of mutual accountability. The content of discussions within peer review meetings is confidential to enable open discussion and feedback, and we don’t comment here on the situation in individual dioceses.

However, we have mined the information gathered through the peer review process to identify insights which might be of interest to all dioceses.  For this note I examined the reports from the peer reviews which took place in 2017, focusing on where panels made suggestions for the diocesan senior team to consider. I looked for issues which had arisen in more than half of the reviews to identify learning points which could provide an insight into the position of dioceses across the Church more generally. As ever, we remain very grateful to dioceses and to the peer reviewers for embracing the process and their contributions to it.

First, it is important to remember that the peer reviewers found much by way of encouragement in their discussions with dioceses.

Second, a health warning. Nineteen different three-person panels went to nineteen different dioceses and they identified nineteen sets of strengths to affirm and nineteen different sets of suggestions for dioceses to consider.  In reading this report, it is important to keep in mind that the variations between dioceses are often as marked as the commonalities.  Furthermore, although this report covers around half of the Church’s dioceses, it is not necessarily the case that the issues identified will be true of the remaining dioceses. This is in part because the 2017 programme focused on those dioceses which are not receiving the new Lowest Income Communities Funding.

Six learning points for senior diocesan teams

Many dioceses have simple statements of their vision or mission and most expand this into a briefing document for dissemination across their deaneries and parishes.  The first learning point from 2017’s peer reviews is that dioceses need to increase their focus on these visions - building momentum and a sense of urgency - and, in doing so, they need to complement an engaging set of words with clarity on the scale of ambition, change and/or outcomes they are prayerfully hoping for.  This is likely to require quantified objectives while avoiding the perils of a target-driven culture.

Last year’s report on peer review learning points highlighted the need for dioceses to strengthen their communications.  The same point has arisen in many of 2017’s peer reviews and it is clearly a common factor for dioceses across the Church.  For example, the following quotes have been taken from suggestions made in 2017 peer review reports:

  • “Make additional efforts to communicate the importance of certain priority areas”
  • “Be imaginatively persistent with communications about the vision while exploring new channels and opportunities”
  • “The diocese’s vision and strategy needs to be communicated in a concise, clear and consistent manner regularly”
  • “Enhance diocesan communications more generally including digital media”

The scope of dioceses’ work is large and there is a very strong temptation to try to press ahead on all fronts. As the ‘whirlwind’ of daily life in a diocese takes up so much time and energy, there is relatively little opportunity available to focus on areas where significant effort is required. That is why many peer review panels urged dioceses to focus on just a few strategic priority areas in the year ahead.  Panels sometimes encouraged dioceses to consider areas where they might cease work, others were encouraged to ‘hold their nerve’ and avoid new initiatives which would not make a sizeable contribution to the current priorities.

Building on the above two points, dioceses were also asked to develop evaluation and measurement frameworks to help senior teams and governance groups identify the level of impact which interventions are bringing about and if they are achieving the desired outcomes.  One panel put it succinctly, ‘the agreed priorities should be coupled with credible outcomes, measures and KPIs’.  In some cases, panels suggested that ‘lead measures’ were required, i.e. indicators of whether progress was being made towards the ‘lag measures’ of hoped-for outcomes and impact.

In 2017 dioceses’ challenging financial positions proved the most common issue highlighted by reviewers for diocesan action, being raised in 16 of the 19 peer reviews. We had found the same thing when we reviewed 2016’s reports.  As in 2016, it was not that the peer reviewers were bringing the financial problems to the attention of a diocese for the first time. Rather, the key question from reviewers was often: ‘what more do you need to do to ensure your finances were sustainable into the medium term?’  At a time when the Church is rightly focused on growth and the common good, it is important to remember the financial challenges faced by many dioceses and the need for wise stewardship.

The sixth and final issue highlighted by a majority of peer review panels was that of effective governance.  The specific issues raised included improvements to risk management and reviewing governance arrangement more generally.  While improving governance is rarely towards the top of a diocese’s priorities, effective governance arrangements are essential to improved mutual accountability.

And finally …

Finally, there were two other issues which were raised in a substantial number of 2017’s peer reviews and are worth mentioning. Strongly linked to the point above about financial sustainability, but found to be a significant issue in its own right, peer review panels encouraged dioceses to raise the profile of strong stewardship.  The second issue also came up repeatedly in 2016’s peer reviews and is increasingly being discussed elsewhere: the need to identify and share ways that mission, growth and discipleship can flourish in partnership with Church of England schools

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

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