All Saints’ Vision Day.
On 2nd June 2018, some 28 people attended all or part of our Parish Vision Day. During the day we looked at statistics covering the past 10 years at All Saints, central national research into what encouraged church growth, evaluated what might be All Saints most valuable assets and re-imagined what might help in building a bright future.
The Past Decade – The Facts
All Saints is a very active church and many people put in an awful lot of effort and time. We are extremely blessed with people’s positivity and dedication. Any statistics need to be read with this prominently in our minds. Any past church decline cannot be put at any one person’s door. We have gone through unchartered waters as society has changed at a pace many churches have struggled to keep up with. All Saints’ is not alone. All the same, we should not use this as an excuse to resist doing the necessary things that may help turn the tide of decline.
At All Saints’, the past decade has seen our electoral role decrease from 211 to 140 (down 71 persons) and our Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) has decreased by some 55 people (each week). The percentage of children and youth in our congregation has fallen dramatically from 18% to 8%. Thus we have not been able to replace those leaving or dying, with new generations.
Average giving per head has also not kept up with inflation and has in fact stagnated for many years. This is in-spite of most sectors of employment receiving inflationary wage increases and pensioners seeing higher than inflationary increases over that period. This stagnation of giving has, no doubt, significantly hindered All Saints’ ability to resource ministry and mission in the town.
At this moment, All Saints’ has a further difficulty in that we are operating at the lowest level of clerical staffing than it has known in its recent history.
Giving aside, however, All Saints’ is not alone. Many Church of England churches have seen significant decline in the last 10 years. Those that haven’t have had to be rather visionary in the way they allocate and empower mission and ministry. With decreasing clergy numbers and increasing populations, recent research into church growth has identified that churches that have grown have had to re-imagine ministry, utilising the wonderful gifts lay members of the church can offer by way of building community that crosses the generations, taking on the responsibility for visiting and care for one another, administration and teaching.
The Conclusions from Recent Research into Church Growth.
Those at the vision day considered the conclusions taken from recent research into church growth to try and learn from what other churches had been doing successfully.
This research noted some significant general points:
- The ‘style’ or tradition of church did not play a significant factor in growth.
- The biggest increase in attendance was seen in Civic Churches and Cathedrals (good news – All Saints’ is a civic church!)
- Churches that grew showed a flexibility in their approach and a willingness to change
- Churches that grew did not expect new people to fit in, but welcomed them on their own terms
- Churches that grew wanted to grow and were positive and forward thinking, keeping up with advances in publicity, marketing, family dynamics etc.
- Churches that grew committed significant resource into growth initiatives and especially towards young people and families.
- Church that had over 20% of young people tended to grow; 18% of young people remained stable; below 18% of young people tended to decline.
- The most effective paid appointment for growth (after a priest) was a children’s or youth worker
- Fresh Expressions of Church were extremely effective at nurturing growth when they were able to draw people into the main worshiping community.
- Churches that grew had a strong team of lay leadership supporting the clergy – these would often include Visiting Teams, Children’s Work, Administration, Teaching, House Groups, Lay Leadership and Support in Worship.
- The most important factors were positivity, friendliness, welcome and a willingness to embrace change from within the congregation
It also noted some factors concerning young people that had significant effects on church growth:
- Children’s and Youth Workers were the most effective paid lay appointment
- Good Teaching Programmes for Children and Young People
- Churches that grew tended to involve young people in the central act of worship regularly, with regular main services aimed at families.
- Admitting Children to Communion before Confirmation
- A Children’s Choir or Worship Band (depending upon tradition)
- Youth Programmes, Groups and Holiday Clubs
- Youth Camps, Pilgrimages and Retreats
- A Church School
Planning for the Future:
The groups then looked at everything that All Saints’ did well. There were lots of things! Everything from our liturgy and rich music through to our friendliness and enthusiasm. Our Eucharistic tradition is central and that will not change.
The groups then considered the challenges ahead and, having done that, they imagined practical and workable solutions that might begin engendering growth. The group recognised that this might be a long process and that there would be ups and downs along the way. The main solutions put forward were:
- Improve Hall Facilities
- Prominent Children’s Area in Church
- Holiday Clubs
- Children/Youth/Families Worker
- Daily Café – to get the church open and to encourage more people to visit.
- Rule of Life: more Prayer, Away Days and Retreats – to improve our corporate prayer-life and keep us connected to God
- Study Groups and Teaching – to keep us growing in the faith and stop our faith becoming stale
- Use Bells More – to let people know we are here!
- Upgrade Service Sheets – add colour and teaching, make them more friendly to newcomers
- Youth Council – to increase young people’s voice in what we do
- Youth to serve and fill more roles at All-Age Eucharist Services
- More diverse music at All-Age Eucharist Services
- Turn Basement into Youth Rooms – to upgrade our youth facilities (as we are a long way behind neighbouring churches)
- Improve publicity (especially quality of)
- Grow visiting team and house group leaders
- Look into service times – are they convenient to most?
- Make financial information and how to give more prominent in the church
As you can see, the outcome of the day was extremely positive and bodes well for a bright future. But some of these solutions will take some time to organise. Our decline is not something we can ignore any longer, but neither is it something to panic about. So long as everyone is on board and positive, it can be overcome in time. All Saints’ already has an awful lot to offer and is, in many ways, ahead of the game. Our liberal, open Eucharistic tradition is a real asset and unique in this area – our congregation is friendly and willing to embrace people of different genders, sexuality, cultural background and all ages. We do not have a narrow conservative view of faith. Our welcome is already very good. We have reserves to begin investing in the future (although this does need backing up with increased income if it is to be sustainable and have long-term effect). We have the most beautiful building in the area and we are the Civic Church for Orpington, which is a real opportunity.
The PCC will now take responsibility for moving these things forward, but they will also need your support and encouragement along the way. All Saints is your church. The church IS you! An old headmaster once said to me, don’t just sit and complain, do something to help. Don’t be a part of the problem, be a part of the solution. I’ve always taken that to heart. It is good advice, I think.