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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!

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