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Two interesting maps of Britain

Happy new year. I thought it was worth commenting on two maps I've seen recently.

One is just to say "holy shih tzu! Look at all that snow."

The other is this map from the Unitarian Communications blog which shows the location of every Unitarian congregation in Britain:

I find it really interesting to look at this distribution, which is so obviously uneven. A few observations:

You can see the "Black Spot" from space! (small rural area in west of Wales containing many Unitarian chapels)

It's obvious that there are many more congregations in the northwest than in the southeast, even though the population in the southeast is much bigger.

It's easy to spot places with no Unitarian churches. What do you do if you're a Unitarian in Carlisle? Or somewhere like Bedford when you're pretty equally far from Cambridge, Northampton, and St Albans?

Conclusion: There's a lot of scope for church-planting.


NUFer said…
Any isolated Unitarian ,in Carlisle or anywhere else,should at least try to join the National Unitarian Fellowship,that has been in existence for 60 years to provide fellowship and support for those who cannot easily reach a chapel.For a modest membership fee, members can have newsletter and e-mail contact and participate in a lively internet discussion forum as well as have access to ministerial and pastoral support as needed.I find it a lot livelier than some of the chapels I know. I reckon about 10 to 12 miles is as far as I'm prepared to travel to a worship service - any further and the travelling time will likely exceed the length of the service. Looked at in this way there is an even greater need for church planting than the map suggests.
Tim said…
Interesting maps.

The pinpoints map doesn't show the size of the congregations, however, and the question has to be raised as to what will happen to congregations with only a handful of members (i.e. less than 10), which would make up a significant proportion of the pinpoints on the map. Do these smallest congregations have much chance of surviving this decade, particularly those trying to support buildings in small towns and villages? I suppose the same question was asked in the last decade, and decisions ultimately rest with the individual communities themselves.

You're right to flag up the prospect of church planting, as you have done in the past through this blog and your "live" ministry. I think this should become a priority for the GA and there needs to be further discussion and planning on this. If the following hasn't been done already recently, discussion might include identifying areas where NUF membership might be strong enough to set up a regular meeting, working towards weekly activities and ultimately to witness to liberal religion based on spiritual transformation and a search for truth, yet not on shared beliefs.

Church planting leads to the issue of professional pastoral support and strategic leadership from the GA for Unitarian church planting. I would be interested to see how ministers (and ministry funding) could be deployed in the future to facilitate church planting and supporting smaller, geographically scattered fellowships. I'd also be interested to know how the recently rejected "future ministry" model for Scotland included church planting and isolated communities. There seem to be some interesting initiatives in the URC, such as the Inner Manchester Mission Network, which ought to be looked at.

I think the traditional model of a minister serving over one or two churches won't disappear, but it is clearly becoming less viable with decreasing funds and increasing vacant pulpits. The experience of our URC and Methodist neighbours has shown that simply placing ministers in bigger and bigger pastorates, serving 3, 4 or more churches, has led to some hugely negative conseqences not only on congregations, but also on ministers' personal relationships and their health.
Tim, I agree that ministers serving 3, 4, or more congregations is not really viable.

I think right now it's a matter of funding priorities. The GA (and the richer districts) need to prioritise getting paid professional ministry into as many congregations as possible, with no minister with more than two congregations. Recruiting, training and deploying ministers has to be the number one priority right now.
NUFer said…
Tim's suggestion of using the NUF as a means of testing the strength of support in a particular area is a good one ; at present the NUF membership form only asks whether you would like to be put in touch with an existing congregation not whether you would like to form a new fellowship. Church planting,as I am sure you know, usually works by starting with a 'seed corn' of committed members from a nearby congregation forming the 'core' of the group,so that 'newbies' come into a welcoming ethos; I'm very dubious as to how many existing congregations are strong enough to provide such a 'core' for a new group,without weakening the 'parent' fellowship.
Tim said…
You raise a very good point, NUFer: most Unitarian congregations just aren't large or strong enough to have a "seed corn" leave them. I can imagine on the other hand, that if a small congregation grows and wants to keep the intimacy it's used to, then starting an offshoot church plant might be a viable option. As the NUF is already part of the GA, it should definitely be integrated into any future church planting strategy.

As for ministerial resources, I agree with Stephen that training high quality professional leaders for local churches should be a priority. My next question for Stephen would be whether you think church plants should be facilitated by ministers already attached to local churches, or receive leadership and pastoral support from dedicated pastors, who could manage more than one such group, but may or may not be based in the location of the church plant?

Church plants would also require some sort of "start-up capital" to sustain them for several years while they find their feet. As they won't have the trust funds underneath them that keep many of our existing local congregations going, church plants would eventually have to become financially self-sufficient, which will probably mean doing church quite differently to what many of us are used to.
Yewtree said…
How will new churches get buildings? I suppose they can rent premises, but with property prices being so high, it must be difficult to get a building.

By the way, I think I did link to that map from the Unitarian Communications blog, but it actually lives on the UK Unitarians site, and it is they who deserve the credit, because they did the Google Maps mash-up.
I think I'd advocate a mixed economy of new church starts. In some circumstances you might want to make sure a plant had one full time minister. In other circumstances maybe a half time minister with a minister serving another existing congregation half-time. In other circumstances energetic and committed lay leadership may work for a few years before a minister came in.

"which will probably mean doing church quite differently to what many of us are used to."
- Ah, this is exactly the point. A new church will have to have a different attitude to stewardship than exists in most of our churches. But that "doing things differently" (financially and otherwise) is exactly what will invigorate the denomination by example.

Yewtree: new churches would buy buildings when they could afford to. Until that time they could rent a space somewhere for a couple of hours a week, then permanently rent somewhere. This is what new businesses have to do. You start with what's possible and keep being ambitious for the next stage.
NUFer said…
I notice you mention a number of places that have no Unitarian witness ;it strikes me that if church planting is to occur, there ought to be some strategy for choosing the locations of the planting - my own suggestion would be that cities with universities ( where currently there is not Unitarian presence, or where the witness is small and elderly )should be the focus. It is often during the university years that young people begin to respond to the 'big questions' - evangelicals know this and are well organised on most university campuses - often better than the official chaplaincies ;where there are young Unitarians (there are some!) going to university would seem to be a fruitful place to start.
Tim said…
Stephen: I think your model for leading church plants sounds realistic and workable with the movement's diverse but limited resources. You're right about the kind of churches that new starts ought to be. I should modify my position to " would definitely mean doing church quite differently"!

Yewtree: Not having buildings is barely the start of how church plants must be a different kind of church! Good of you to point it out. New church start-ups shouldn't have to adopt the kind of worship style, service or meeting we are familiar with; the regular meeting shouldn't even have to be on a Sunday.

NUFer: Spot on again about university outreach, in my opinion. Many university chaplaincies have an agreement not to proselytise on campus. Here in Manchester there is an interfaith declaration committing to this. These are commendable but they don't stop "unaffiliated" evangelical and more coercive groups from taking advantage of students' vulnerability, however. I remember writing on the UK Unitarians Facebook group some time ago how I think that Unitarians can potentially provide the safest space for students to explore their personal and spiritual identity. It could potentially be Unitarianism at its best.
a said…
It's interesting that there's never been a move to the suburbs. Whilst there are several congregations in and around London, there's a huge underserved area there, and with their current initiatives, they might get somewhere. As long as we are willing to stretch the definition of congregation to merely being self-organised (rather than a course or event laid on by others).
a, yes it is obvious that the outer surburbs of London look pretty under-served with Unitarian presence. Considering the huge population in those areas, it seems a logical place for church planting.

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