Church Planting and Church Renewal: The Way Forward
The Executive Committee have committed to grow the Unitarian community by 20% in five years. How do you achieve that? Do you expect every congregation to grow at 20%? Well if you did then every congregation would have to grow as laid out here by Scott Wells.
But the fact is not every congregation well grow at 20%. Obviously some will decline, some will grow, will stay the same. Some will change at a different rate than others. The least we can do is monitor this, to get a sense of what is growing and why.
But eventually the Executive Committee are going to have to make an uncomfortable decision. That decision is based on the fact that they cannot give the same support to all congregations and so will have to prioritise those congregations that can benefit most from their support.
For my congregation, for example, I wouldn't expect to get a any particular support from the national body. We can (just about) afford a full-time minister, we are in an area densely populated with Unitarian churches. We're doing OK.
But there are other places that would most benefit from support. We need to identify which those ones are. Here's a modest proposal: In every one of the ten biggest British cities there should be at least one healthy Unitarian congregation with a full time Minister. This would prioritise Glasgow, Bradford, Liverpool and Bristol. Liverpool and Bristol have some, part-time, ministry, Glasgow and Bradford have none.
I would pick one of these cities as a growth project. This would involve largely providing money towards the stipend of a Minister. But it could also involve something like a local publicity project. It would, of course, depend on the local congregation committing to the process, and wanting to be part of it.
In addition to this I would look into planting a new church somewhere in London and the southeast. In fact I would aim to plant a new church in London and the southeast every five years. I would fund a Minister for this new start.
Where does the money come from?
Of course this is the key question. The answer is obvious. The money comes from the funds of closed down churches. These will either tend to go to districts or to the national General Assembly. What we need to do is make sure these funds go to some kind of pot that can be used for missions.
This is potentially a lot of money. A closed down church could easily have assets that could pay for a full time Minister for five years. We would have to understand that the money would be for spending, not for living off interest and investments.
And what you cannot plan for
The kind of thing I'm talking about is a national plan. But there's plenty that would fall outside it. It would never have occured to me to plant a new church in Bangor, but there were a handful of Unitarians there, and they did, and so there it is.
None of this national planning should discourage any pioneering folk from planting new churches wherever the hell they like. And if such congregations start they should be supported (including financial support) by the national or district body. There's the stuff that a national committee would plan for and then there's the local project inspired by the vision of a few in a local context. Great, fantastic, let a thousand flowers bloom.
The point where the rubber meets the road is money. We've been talking about growth for ages. Now's the time to commit it. We need to set up a fund for church planting and church renewal. This fund needs to be where funds from closed churches go, and can also be supported by other fund-raising. That's the next step.