Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Road to Growth

Bob Jackson has carried out a great deal of research about church growth and the factors that affect it. In The Road to Growth he looks at a number of reasons why churches have been in decline and makes a few suggestions about strategies for future development.
It could be said that he is obsessed by attendance as the principle measure of a church's success. There may be some truth in this assessment, but attendance could equally be regarded as a "proxy indicator" for a range of other less easily measurable qualities like vibrancy or health.

Team Ministries
Jackson regards team ministries, and LEPs, as one of the "own goals" that the Anglican Church has scored against itself. He notes that there was great enthusiasm for the setting up of teams during the 1970s and 1980s in diocese that had a "teams enthusiast" in their senior staff (p.17).
Unfortunately "it does not seem that there was any systematic attempt to monitor or assess their progress." In fact "stories of dysfunctional teams began to circulate." Jackson quotes data that seems to indicate that attendance in team parishes has declined by nearly twice the level of that in non-team parishes.
He suggests a number of reasons for this, including the tendency of teams to turn inwards and focus on internal conflicts, or the "ambiguity of relationships embodied in the team setup." (p.19) "Who is in charge of the team vicar's parish - the team vicar or the team rector who has legal charge and may feel entitled to tell the team vicar what to do?" (p.19)
This alone says something about the nature of decision-making in team ministries and the challenge of working in collaboration. Although other writers point out that teams were originally set up to include lay people (check reference re Andrew Bowden) the reality is that the challenge of collaborative decision-making in team ministries really concerns the relationship between the rector and the team vicars.
On a more serious level, Jackson suggests that multi-skilled clergy teams may actually disempower lay people. "A vulnerable vicar with obvious gaps in his or her ability or gifting may leave more room for the growing of lay ministry than an omnicompetent team able to turn its collective hand to anything." (p19) This has interesting resonance with Rolland Allen's concept of "retirement".
In team ministries the emphasis on collaborative ministry and decision-making is undoubtedly focussed on the clergy team rather than on the whole body.

Lay Leadership
Although Jackson is negative about team ministries, he is very positive about lay ministry. "Around the world, churches without professional leadership have better growth trends than churches with it. Those who take an active part in church leadership and ministry tend to grow in commitment, confidence and stature as a result... it is no surprise that churches that have been changing in the direction of increasing the involvement of lay people in their running and leadership have also tended to grow numerically." (p70)
Jackson quotes statistics that demonstrate growth in churches that have positivley involved lay pepole. He mentions a process in Lichfield in which churches grew when at least half the PCC were involved in day conferences "- the lay leaders were seeing the issues and making decisions together with their clergy." (p71)

Local Ministry Teams
Although Jackson is positive about lay leadership in general he has some challenging things to say about the kind of local ministry schemes that have been set up in some dioceses. These have involved teams of lay people who have been trained over a two to three year period, often with a locally ordained minister as part of the package. He notes that in one diocese they were succesful in setting up twelve pilots, but attendance dropped by 25% during the period of implementation. (p142) Another diocese invested heavily in 'mandated ministry teams'. "Attendance in 98 churches with such teams fell over 18 per cent over a five year period while attendance at 353 churches without such teams fell only 16 per cent." (p142)
Jackson has a number of suggestions to explain this: "First, the group of lay people set aside for training usually contains some of the most effective and committed leaders in the church." This creates "gaps and weaknesses" which were not there before. Secondly, Jackson suggests that these people may actually have been more gifted for their previous areas of work.. Thirdly, Jackson suggests that "clericallizing a few of the laity" may be unhelpful. "Lay ministry schemes may be more a way of avoiding real change than of brining it about. The structures of church life can continue as before because the gaps have been filled - a group of square pegs have had some carpentry attention to make them fit into the round holes vacated by the clergy." Finally he suggests that teams often focus on the internal workings of the church rather than on mission, although he does quote on church in which a three year decline was followed by a period of growth. The vicar in question said, "Those were the years we were training our ministry team and our focus was all inward looking. Now the team is trained we are trying to look outwards again and hoping to grow." (p146)
From the point of view of this study, it is significant that collaborative ministry and decision-making often move from the exclusive domain of the clergy to the slightly more collaborative domain of the team - but this does not imply "leadership as a body" as Gibbs and Bolger put it in Emerging Churches. (check quote)

Perhaps the most significant thing that Jackson has to say about collaboration is this: "The realities of how to grow churches are not invented by experts, they are discovered by the churches themselves." (p147) Jackson notes that churches who's leaders are part of networks in which stories are told and ideas are shared are more likely to be growing. "The answers to the growth of the Church are laready out there - in order to turn the whole national Church around it may be enough simply to expose the churches to each other in networks of mutual learning and sharing." (p147) This is worth comparing to material on mass collaboration in Wikinomics and The Wisdom of Crowds, etc...

Bob Jackson has some invaluable data that can help us asses diferent approaches to collaboration in terms of its affect on church attendance. It seems to me that when these approaches focus on clergy or clericalisation, the effect is usually negative, but when collaboration arises through decision-making processes or organic development in response to missional needs there are usually positive results. Networking is good, as is the creation of space in which lay ministry and leadership can develop. The trick is to create the structures in which this can happen.

Jackson, B, The Road to Growth: towards a thriving Church, Church House Publishing, 2005

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