“This is about shaping ‘communities of grace’ which exhibit the character of Jesus. Such attractive communities are genuinely hospitable, deeply engaged with their communities, and passionate about God.”Building Healthy Churches
It has often been suggested that we should look at growing churches if we want to learn how to grow churches. A great deal of work has been done in this area and there is a some valuable research that we can draw on.
The first key lesson is that values, principles and processes are more significant than projects and programmes. In other words, it is more important to understand the inner workings of a growing church than it is to attempt to copy their activities.
The second point worth noting is that healthy churches often become growing churches. Developing the vibrant life of a Christian community is more likely to produce numerical growth than an evangelistic campaign.
Research carried out in a number of British churches suggests that the following seven characteristics are the most common marks of a healthy church:
- Energised by faith
- Seeks to find what God wants
- Faces the cost of change and growth
- Operates as a community
- Makes room for all
- Does a few things and does them well
Mentoring for Local Shared Ministry
As part of the previous deanery plan we helped set up an ecumenical project group to look at the Local Shared Ministry model which was being developed in New Zealand. This group has been very busy and has learnt a great deal about local and shared ministry both in the UK and elsewhere. This group has also begun to develop their own model which is less top-down and more organic. (See Appendix C for their “Dream”) The Diocese of Oxford has authorised this project through STEM, the board for Stewardship, Training, Evangelism and Mission.
The congregation of St Frideswide in Water Eaton has become a pilot project for Local Shared Ministry. So far this project seems to be going well and valuable lessons are being learnt.
The project group believe that the next stage of this project would be to identify churches and parishes who are “working towards” local, shared and supported ministry and develop a mentoring relationship with them. They believe that mentoring will be key to the future development of vibrant Christian communities.
Mentoring is a tool we could use to :
- Support local churches in their development
- Challenge assumptions about what can or cannot be done
- Create a mutual learning network in which we will all benefit
- Investigate the possibility of using a “Healthy Churches” process
- Support the Local Shared Ministry project group and encourage the establishment of a mentoring network.
- Consciously use the annual visitations as an opportunity to explore the vitality of our churches and share good practice
- Continue to look for ways to develop our Christian communities. This should be a priority for the work of the synod. There will therefore need to be regular space to share and discuss ideas and good practice.