Resourcing Church Revitalisation
Rachel Dalby reports on our first ever Church Revitalisation Forum. It was designed to resource churches considering getting involved with a revitalisation work as we seek to help smaller churches both inside and outside the Fellowship.
There’s no quick fix when it comes to helping smaller, struggling, churches. But partnership working can and does make a real difference. That was the message from FIEC’s Church Revitalisation Co-ordinator Phil Walter, opening our first forum for larger ‘helper’ churches.
Phil said that grace, patience and a willingness to build long-term relationships were key to providing revitalisation support.
Leaders from 19 of FIEC’s larger churches gathered for the meeting at Hothorpe Hall in South Leicestershire. Each had, on FIEC’s most recent Data Return form, expressed an interest in assisting some of the 60+ churches currently asking for help.
Phil told the ‘helper’ leaders about FIEC’s Let’s Look programme – designed to take struggling churches through an eight-week review to help them to identify options for the future.
He said: “Usually, Let’s Look helps leaders and elders to see the changes that are needed to move forward in a gospel-loyal way. But sometimes, for various reasons, the process brings the end of the road into focus. In these cases, FIEC can assist churches in closing well – perhaps helping them to allocate their resources for the advancement of the gospel in other areas.
“For struggling churches that feel they have a future, a partnership with a stronger church can be a lifeline – giving the support and encouragement needed through a challenging period of significant change.”
Phil asked the larger churches’ leaders to consider ways in which they may provide that help in their own communities. Group discussions yielded many ideas. These ranged from loaning a few congregation members and supplementing preaching rotas to the one-to-one mentoring of struggling churches’ leaders. It was agreed, in all cases, that a combination of approaches, built on mutual understanding and trust, would be needed.
Sharing Revitalisation Stories
Pastor and revitalisation author John James said that struggling churches should be encouraged to take some risks and be bold in their visions for the future. “The church I’ve been working with had acknowledged before my arrival that change was needed. But it took a fresh pair of eyes to help them develop a new vision, and begin to move out of their comfort zone,” he said.
Our short film about church revitalisation featuring John’s church was shown during the Forum.
Geoff Gobbet, an urban pastor for 40 years, recently worked as a voluntary revitalisation facilitator for FIEC. He said revitalisation was often about helping church members to move on from the past in order to embrace the future. “There can sometimes be reluctance among members to let go of what worked well decades ago. But times move on, and we can show churches how to live in the present.”
Dougie Affleck, Associate Pastor at Enfield Free Church for the past three years, recently moved to lead nearby Bury Street Community Church – a long-established non-FIEC church that needed help. He told the forum: “When the opportunity to help the church arose, we weren’t sure that we could spare any money or people. However, we were ambitious for the gospel, and God has met that need.”
Dougie highlighted four stages he considered essential for ‘helper’ churches to go through when supporting struggling ones: talking to people (both in the congregation and the local community); getting to know people better; engaging at a deeper level with a team of committed regulars, and a focus on running a few simple activities really well.
Partnership, not Takeover
The importance of struggling churches feeling supported, rather than threatened by, larger churches was noted. “Small churches sometimes have the misconception that bigger ones are waiting to take them over,” said Phil. “And yes, in a few cases, a merger may be the best way forward. But, generally, smaller churches need help to get back on their feet.”
Michael Stringer, a member of FIEC’s Revitalisation Team, said it was vital to help brothers and sisters at struggling evangelical churches, regardless of whether or not they were affiliated to FIEC. He said: “Alongside all the other good reasons for supporting struggling churches, we never know when we, ourselves, may need to turn to them for help. If we don’t help them now, they may not be around to support us at a later date.”
Michael said he’d seen many examples of smaller churches being a real blessing to larger ones. “You just never know what God may have planned for you when two churches work together.”
If your church is considering taking part in a revitalisation, we’ve got a limited number of John James’ book ‘Renewal’ to give away to your leadership team. Please get in touch with the office if you would like a copy.