Keeping Growth on the Agenda
What does church growth look like during a pandemic? Darren Wolf, Grow Course Programme Manager, reflects on why it is important to keep growth on the agenda.
What is the Grow Course?
The Grow Course aims to help church leaders and their teams to see real growth where they are. It’s more than simply growing in numbers – we also explore growing our churches in depth of discipleship and impact on the community. Our hope is that as people grow in spiritual depth, others can be invited in to grow together, and the church will stand out and make a difference in the community where God has placed it.
Is it just for certain traditions or sizes of church?
No – the course is for all churches across the Diocese of London, whatever their size or formation. We want to challenge the idea that growth belongs to a single church tradition. All traditions have a history of reaching out and inviting others to join the family of God, whether it’s the Anglo-Catholic missional movement at the beginning of the 20th century or the Evangelical revival in the 1960s or recent growth of Alpha. We want to help churches connect with their tradition of growth and help to reframe this for a contemporary context. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all course – we love seeing churches applying the learning to their different situations and exploring strategies that reflect their unique context and tradition.
Is this the right time to be focusing on growth with a global pandemic?
We are all coping with huge amounts due to Covid, so it can make sense to focus on simply the immediate. However, we also want to emerge out of this pandemic with our churches healthy and alive. Exploring how we can grow is one way that we can do this. Healthy things grow – as we look at nature or the parables in the gospel, we see that growth is a natural kingdom activity. So when we intentionally think about growth, we are encouraging practices that help us to stay healthy and alive as a church.
There are always a dozen reasons not to think about growing, from ‘I haven’t got the right people’ to ‘the roof needs repairing’. But these sorts of issues will always be present – even before the pandemic, most churches in London were either plateauing or in decline. We appreciate that growth can feel out of reach, but instead of simply putting band aids on problems, the Grow Course can help you to identify long-term solutions to move you towards life and growth. Even if you’re a small church or don’t have a team, it’s always possible to take a step further forward into growth. When we look at the life of Jesus, he surrounded himself with all sorts of people, at different stages and from different backgrounds.
During our recent livestream on ‘What does a disciple look like?’, Tamsin Merchant, vicar of St Mary Hornsey Rise in Islington, spoke about the discipleship growth that has happened recently at her church due to Covid. Although the Hive Foodbank at St Mary’s had been running for 6 years, suddenly the number of people needing food dramatically increased when Covid hit. The church was allowed to stay open to provide food and extraordinary numbers of their local community (some who they’d never met before) started helping, giving food and time. Recently, some of the people served by the food bank started coming to St Mary’s to see if they could give back, offering to clean or stack food. There has also been an increased interest in prayer, either from new people asking to sit and pray in the church or from members of the congregation. The church started praying as a community everyday, either on Zoom or in the building, using the Church of England’s Morning Prayer. In Tamsin’s words, ‘the prayer has sustained the service – not everyone can serve, but everyone can pray.’
How is the course run and how will it benefit my church?
Churches are grouped together into learning communities, so teams experience the content with other churches and the learning community becomes a place to support each other. One of the biggest challenges for priests, clergy and church leaders is that we can feel and be very isolated. Sometimes we can’t always share what we are going through with our congregation or church wardens, or even our archdeacon and bishop. The course helps to bring us into a network with other clergy where we can have honest conversations and we can be supported and encouraged to move things forward.
Coaching is a key element of the course – we offer one-to-one coaching so there’ll be someone there who’s ready to ask questions and guide you. It’s like having a critical friend who can help you explore what actions might help to implement growth in your church community. Leaders who have been working with coaches on our courses tell us they find this invaluable as they seek to grow their churches.
Currently the content is delivered online and focuses on four pathways: vocation, formation, mission and multiplication. After each pathway, you’ll develop realistic and measurable strategies and a clear action plan of what you need to achieve in the next few months. The course isn’t a silver bullet so we can’t promise that it will sort out every problem or that you’ll suddenly explode in numbers, but the Holy Spirit can work through our plans, sometimes in ways that we never expected.
The Grow Course starts online with an introductory session on Wednesday 25 November 2020. It runs on Wednesday 27 January 2021 (Vocation), Wednesday 31 March 2021 (Formation), Wednesday 26 May 2021 (Mission) and Wednesday 14 July 2021 (Multiplication).
Find out more and sign up here: www.ccx.org.uk/grow/
Interview by Philippa Guy