Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Saving the Church of England on two sides of A4

The Church of England is, however much it has tried not to be, very building-centric. A Decade of Evangelism 1990-2000 charged members to look to move from maintenance to mission. This was laudable but as long as congregations are also charged with the cost of upkeep of many old buildings, often in poor locations compared to the community they were once designed to serve, maintenance will force itself onto centre stage.

Over the same twenty to thirty year period there has been a renewed interest in, and vision for, church planting. I am the minister of a church, planted in 1989, to serve a new community, built in an area that was once farmland.

This church, twenty-five years old this year, seeks independence, control over its own destiny and finances, and the opportunity to be treated as mature. It did once have a dream of owning its own building but the area in which we serve has no suitable buildings for sale and no building land still available. There is a field, not ideally situated geographically, which may one day become available, but increasingly Trendlewood church is happy with meeting in rented premises (currently a local Primary School) and willing to be nomadic should the building ever become unavailable. In fact we moved from one school to another four years ago as a deliberate strategy to bring a Christian influence to bear on a school with no such background. This has been successful. We have grown by almost 50% in the last two years. Many of our new members live in the next door parish of Backwell (not finding appropriate expression for their Christian faith in the existing churches in their town). We would like to plant a new congregation there. Many of our newer members express a dissatisfaction that their giving is routed back to Holy Trinity PCC and used for the maintenance of buildings we rarely use and don't need.

How can we be independent of our parent church, Holy Trinity, Nailsea, without a building and thus no parish boundary?

It seems that the intentions of the mission to maintenance movement (joke, I don't believe it exists) would wish to impose maintenance upon us before we can be treated as mature. I don't accept this.

How would it be if those churches in the diocese which currently have no buildings were grouped together as a separate Deanery? In other words if, alongside Bath and Wells Parish Churches, we ran another Deanery of Bath and Wells Network churches. These churches would probably have more in common with each other than with the parish which planted them.

Each church which wished to belong to such a Network Deanery would need to make its own negotiation with the parish within which it was planted. This might involve a tithe or tax, or an agreed portion of ministry time from the clergy, or even a responsibility for a geographical area, pastorally, using existing buildings for occasional offices. Bishops' Mission Orders, or extended licences, might be utilised initially.

The churches allowed to belong to such a deanery might need to demonstrate that they are:

Financially viable
Happy not to meet in an owned building
Willing to multiply when they grow, because they value being small - 50-75 members. (cf DNA's 'SLIM' churches in Colchester which remain cell-sized)
Lay led and clergy served

I firmly believe that setting a few congregations free from any responsibility to give money towards the upkeep of buildings, save for paying their rent, would enable such to focus their efforts on mission issues and numerical growth.

As many non-viable churches continue to fail over the next ten to twenty years, network churches will grow and thrive. Some may eventually choose to build or buy buildings, possibly using moneys raised by the sale of non-viable church buildings. Wetherspoons have made an excellent pub-chain business by saving old buildings - churches, banks, shops - and turning them into pubs. Maybe we could turn some buildings into viable churches?

To take this one step further it may be missionally vital to consider selling some of our not redundant-but-not-dead-either churches and to stipulate in the sale that we need to lease back some time and space. Not necessarily on a Sunday.

As various poorly-attended churches die out over the next twenty years other places will thrive. Centres of excellence will develop. Indeed it looks as if cathedrals, minsters and abbeys are becoming increasingly popular. This would be our expectation. Brian McLaren is fond of pointing out that buggies were at their most popular when cars had already come along but were unreliable.

If traditional church is the buggy; maybe network church is the car.

I have deliberately left this paper short and devoid of recommendations. I wanted it to be public and to start discussion. Many people will immediately think of legal matters and details which will need fixing before progress can be made. Great. Let those who like such details get stuck in.

There is some urgency for our situation here. I have explained why in a less widely circulated paper. Suffice to say that those members of Trendlewood Church who live in Backwell, and have a passion for meeting in Backwell, could easily choose to do it anyway. If we don't facilitate it they could be lost to the Church of England. I want to belong to a church that does its best to keep its missional people.

Steve Tilley
Nailsea 20/5/14

If you cut and paste this to A4 and use 12pt Verdana it comes in at two sides.


Anonymous said...

Alternative title to this article:

How to save the Church of England without reference to the Bible.

Steve Tilley said...

Thanks anonymous friend. Can you think of any texts I should have been informed by which I have overlooked? I don't find adding Bible references to documents that helpful to their readability but I will mark one up for you if it would help.

Ken Boullier said...

Thanks for this Steve - very relevant for me as RD here in Cornwall where we have many expensive buildings which are hard to justify, not just for the small congregations but also other people's giving. Meanwhile, one of our growing Churches (a rare thing here) wants to plant in another parish. With TW & HT I always asked the question - How long is a Church Plant a Church Plant? Great to hear TW is growing.

Dennis Croome said...

All very interesting Steve. During the time I was in Nailsea I often felt that Trendlewood was not sure of its identity and which way it should develop in the future. Of course, the two tragic events that affected the church before your time certainly had a damping effect upon any vision.

I am so pleased to see that through your ministry of recent years growth is taking place and it is clear that now is the time that major decisions need to be made concerning the future of Trendlewood Church.

You give some very interesting ideas that are well worth exploration, keep pushing the doors, you may be near one that is going to open wide for Trendlewod.

Anonymous said...

The concept of "The Parish Share" has always been a bugbear of mine. Your paper seems to be suggesting that this should be something which is only paid by relevant and appropriate churches, to relevant and appropriate coffers. Good call.

Uncle Walter said...

There is a corollary to your argument: If we explicitly grow churches which are lay lead and clergy served, then we also need a diocesan structure which also serves. In your model the churches agree what services they need from the centre and how much they are willing to pay for it

Brian Robinson said...

If the maintenance is too great for small congregations like Trendlewod, the logic is that it is potentially too great for all congregations, settled or nomadic. The cost of organisation, the Parish Share, needs to be reduced. This implies less clergy, less bishops, more lay led worship. Is this the way forward? A sort of Anglican Free Methodism. It just might work that Free Anglican churches can operate separate from diocesan control.

Deborah said...

"This might involve a tithe or tax, or an agreed portion of ministry time from the clergy, " Is this about re negotiating which band on the Parish Share Trendlewood and other like minded churches fit into. I think it needs serious discussion and asks the question, where would this new band of church sit within the Anglican Communion? Will it cause divisions? I like the the idea of being free of the 'building burden' and being free to focus on mission.

JP said...

Hi Steve,
Its always great to hear encouraging news about church growth - thanks. Having a discussion about independence, though, is a tricky one since Christian independence is surely about local character and distinctiveness, rather than fiscal freedom. What we do with our money is more about our unity, isn't it?

Are there other ways in which Trendlewood might grow its sense of independence without money being the primary indicator?

Steve Tilley said...

I would expect a Network Deanery to be allocated a Parish Share that covered its ministry costs and it would need to do what all deaneries do and collect it appropriately. By any assessment Trendlewood is in a top band. Thanks for the comments and engagement with this. There have been others on Facebook and Twitter where I am @s1eve

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Backwell is better off without its refugees! You get out what you put in so perhaps they just didn't invest spiritually or emotionally in their own churches.

Steve Tilley said...

Sorry anonymous friend but I don't understand. What do you mean by 'their own churches'?