Recently, a decision has been made to draw an end to the United Services which we hold on the first Sunday of every month. Sunday 7thApril at St Peter’s will be the last united service, and from May onwards each church will have its own service every Sunday.
I know that some people will be saddened by this decision, and so I wanted to take this opportunity to explain some of the thinking that has led to it. Here is a paper I wrote to explore the united services in the context of church growth.
Feedback from church questionnaire
What are some of the good things about the united services?
- Togetherness, friendship, meeting new people, community
- Variety of worship, music, preaching
- Sharing resources
- Being part of a larger congregation
What are some of the reasons why some people don’t go?
- Parking and transport difficulties
- Time of service (too early or too late)
- Having a Sunday off
- Preference for own church
- Feeling like an outsider
How else could we work together?
- Prayer groups and bible studies
- Social events, day trips, events
- Community/charity projects across Cleethorpes
- Good communication between churches
Thinking about Church growth
We know that the Church nationally is in decline. Our focus as churches should be on growth. One of the main bits of research done about church growth is called “From Anecdote to Evidence” which can be read online here: http://www.churchgrowthresearch.org.uk/UserFiles/File/Reports/FromAnecdoteToEvidence1.0.pdf
These are some of the ways churches grow:
- Growth in discipleship– focused on our congregations – how we grow together as disciples
- Growth in numbers– how we grow our churches numerically – how we increase attendance
- Growth in outreach– how we grow our presence in the communities we serve – the outworking of other types of growth
Common factors in growing churches
- Context: churches in urban and suburban areas like Cleethorpes have more potential for growth than rural areas (which are more likely to face decline)
- Leadership: clergy should be intending to grow their churches; growing churches often have leaders who can engage with outsiders/newcomers, are intentional about worship style/tradition, have a vision for growth, can develop vision and goals, can train other people for mission/ministry.
- Clear mission & purpose: we’re more likely to grow if we know who we are, who we’re here to serve, what our identity is.
- Reflection & learning: churches which engage in self-reflection are more likely to grow; churches which have one way of doing things with no input from others are more likely to decline.
- Willingness to change & adapt: being open to newcomers even though they disrupt the status quo; trying new things but also being willing to let them go if they don’t work.
- Lay leadership: churches where the workload is shared between clergy and lay people are more likely to grow.
- Engaging children & young people: churches with high ratio of children to adults more likely to grow; churches which offer specific programmes for children and teenagers more likely to grow.
- Engaging non-churchgoers: churches which look outward and engage with the local community; community engagement improves visibility of church.
- Good hospitality & follow up: welcoming atmosphere, belonging and caring, direct route to growth is often by invitation, keeping in touch with newcomers more likely to lead to their return.
- Commitment to nurturing new & existing Christians: exploration courses for newcomers or people on the fringe, discipleship courses for long-term churchgoers.
- Vision: vision for growth, desire to experiment, desire for renewal.
Reframing the united services in the context of church growth
- Context: we are five distinct churches serving five distinct areas of the town. Doesn’t that give us more variety?
- Closed doors: Every month, four out of five churches in Cleethorpes are closed. Is that having an impact on our local communities? Is it helping us to grow? Are we being hospitable?
- Congregation size: we like feeling part of something bigger, but are we actually missing out? Our average attendance is about 60 people at a united service, but if everyone was in their own church, the number of people worshipping in Anglican churches in Cleethorpes would be double that.
- Welcoming newcomers: Regular patterns of worship are important. At the moment, none of us are able to say to newcomers/visitors “we’re here every Sunday” – we’d need to be able to explain the pattern of united services. It might make sense to us, but what about people who don’t yet come to church?
- Willingness to change: the united services started in a particular context of mission and ministry. Circumstances have changed – do we need to change too?
- Consistent worship: as individual churches we follow the seasons of the year – gathering together in different churches means that consistency in our worship and the preaching/teaching is lost.
- Leadership: Clergy have the “cure of souls” for everyone in the parish – we’re not chaplains to our congregations.
What might the future look like?
- We hope that there will be full-time clergy deployed in Clee and Cleethorpes.
- We could explore the possibility of a more formal relationship uniting the five churches.
- We would meet together for worship at different times, such as Sunday afternoons or evenings. Do the same feelings of togetherness and fellowship still apply, even if we’re not together on a Sunday morning?
- We could meet together for special occasions and festivals like Christmas, Candlemas, Easter, Pentecost.
- We do more things together which isn’t Sunday worship:
- Weekdays services, prayer and bible study groups
- Social events, trips, retreats
- Community outreach work
- Youth work