Can rural churches grow? Co-author of new report meets senior clergy

Bishop Nick Baines and Jill HopkinsonThe co- author of a key report into the future of the rural church and strategies to enable churches in farming areas to grow, has been meeting with senior church leaders in the Ripon area.

Jill Hopkinson, the National Rural officer for the Church of England co-wrote the recently published report ‘Shaping Strategies for Mission and Growth in Rural Multi-Church Groups’ with Bishop James Bell who, until his retirement at the end of April this year, was the church’s rural bishop as well as Area Bishop of Ripon.

At the weekend, Jill toured some Yorkshire Dales churches, attending two baptism services – one in a more traditional church setting, and one in the River Swale at Brompton on Swale, and then met on Monday with Area Deans in the Ripon Episcopal Area for a practical discussion on rural mission. Chairing the meeting was Bishop Nick Baines, pictured with Jill.

The short report provides recommendations, advice and guidance for dioceses, parishes, clergy and PCCs.  It draws together the findings of recent research and suggest ways that this can be applied to support local rural churches and encourage deepening of discipleship, making new disciples and serving the needs of community.  

It looks practically at the challenges faced  by population change, reduced clergy numbers and other factors and says that despite the problems, growth can occur if six particular characteristics are in place:

  • An intentional focus on mission and evangelism, beyond a focus on Sunday worship.
  • A culture of personal and corporate discipleship within congregations.
  • A committed group of lay people leading a range of activities and events, with easily accessible training and support available.
  • A redirection of time and energy, particularly but not exclusively for clergy, from administration and building maintenance to outreach, service and evangelism.
  • An approach to ordained ministry in which discerning, nurturing and equipping the ministry of lay people within the body of Christ is one of the highest-priority areas of work for the clergy, backed up by appropriate training and support.
  • Co-operation and collaboration within and between different multi-church groups, and ecumenically wherever possible.

The report also includes some practical suggestions for implementation which include:

  • The development of the ministry of lay people is a key part of the reality for rural congregations.
  • Mission or Growth Action Plan or other approach that helps every benefice and every parish within every benefice develop an intentional focus on mission and evangelism, is essential.
  • Developing new approaches to church, including fresh expressions of church, that take place across the week, not necessarily on a Sunday morning.
  • Partnership working: working out what can be done together, drawing on and learning from other’s strengths.
  • Clergy working as part of informal or formal teams of lay and ordained, across a multi-church group, deanery or other area.
  • All multi-church groups need to develop effective systems for administration, finances and managing / developing the church building to enable mission and free up the time of clergy and lay people alike.

Read the full report here.


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