Sunday, 10 July 2011

Blogging from Synod: Fringe meetings and events

I was warned in advance that Synod was likely to be "deadly dull" this year, and in the light of this information and a glance at the agenda (which did rather confirm this possibility) I gave Synod Chamber a bit of a miss and instead attended a few fringe meetings and chatted to people at the stalls. First stop was the Fresh Expressions stall, and a visit to a meeting at 6.30 called "trash the church" - the sort of suggestion which did have a certain appeal. Riazat Butt, on her live Synod blog, notes that,
"  For the next five days (Synod) will discuss, among other things, "the stark and urgent choice" facing the C of E in light of dwindling numbers"
and it was interesting to talk to Rachael Jones from Fresh Expressions about some of the innovative and radical action some churches have taken to draw their local communities to church. One of the examples I was given was of one church which "trashed" most of its building and converted it into a sort of playbarn that proved to be a magnet to young families looking to entertain small children relatively cheaply in hard pressed times.
I think Fresh Expressions is a fantastic initiative, but am always dubious about the cost in terms of time and commitment and whether setting up playbarns will draw people into church long term. Rachel Jones talked about some ways that the work can be made more effective by having church members assigned the task of simply chatting and building relationships, cementing relationships and loyalties by offering invitations to other events and so forth. It all sounded like an awful lot of work... And so I went off to "trash the church" at 6.30, a presentation in which we were presented with the goal of, " moving parishes out of their managing decline mode to being more outward looking and focused on opportunities for growth." It sounded pretty convincing and there were people in the audience who did say that the team had come in and revolutionised their churches and turned them into profit making organisations ( in order for the profit to be ploughed back into ministry and outreach.) Sounds great - average cost about £10,000 for three churches to be rapidly developed over six weeks - but it did promise to move you out of the thrift trap...
Trash the Church certainly did not smack of church fetes and the Christmas bazaar, more of an entrepreneurial and daring approach that finds a niche in the market and competes with all the other attractions on offer. Whatever the solution to its problems with number and finances, the Church of England has to find it and find it soon.

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