Speaking of Renewal and Reform; money, numbers, and growth

Just to be clear and upfront: I am a big fan of Renewal and Reform.

Fanship is an interesting concept for it implies loyalty and support, in good times and in bad. Fans are supporters, friends and members of whatever it is (normally a sports team), but also critics and lobbyists. Fans can also be agents for change.

In my fanship of Renewal and Reform I hope I am, and will remain, a critical friend; an ardent supporter who wants the best possible set of outcomes. Fans can of course be unrealistic -seeking to gorge themselves on an ongoing pattern of short-term success – but I suspect that the majority of fans are in it for the long-term, ‘in good times and in bad,’ ‘for better for worse.’

I am a fan of Renewal and Reform for the very simple reason, that like Bishop Paul Bayes,’ I want to see ‘a bigger church making a bigger difference.’ I also think that Renewal and Reform is a way of honouring the Great Commission.

My critique, not criticism, of Renewal and Reform is that it has thus far been too Reform focused. I think and believe that, during the next stage, far greater attention needs to be given to the much harder subject of Renewal. But, here is the good news: this is happening. It may not be obvious that it is happening, because renewal is less obvious, less ‘in your face’ than Reform, but it is happening.

In the early days of Renewal and Reform, it felt as though the entirety of the conversation (and the the flow of funds) was dominated by two models of church: Plants (and grafts) and New Congregations. These can be thought of as new forms – or reforms – of Church. Now there is nothing wrong with starting with these models for they are tried and tested. A fairly robust operational model exists that means it is reasonably likely that these approaches will be ‘successful.’ Success for such models of reformed church is quantifiable; numerically so. And just to repeat, I have no problem with numbers: ‘a bigger church making a bigger difference.’

But, and its a big and perhaps controversial but, I think that these models whilst being perhaps obvious ones to start with will, over the long-term, be smaller scale contributors to the overall ‘success’ of Renewal and Reform.

Yes, they are currently seen as the ‘successful,’ models of how to do and be church, but as any fan will tell you success comes and goes. Very few clubs are able to achieve a never ending ongoing pattern of short-term success. In the world of both sport and business today’s success is tomorrow’s not quite success (let’s not use the word failure!).

In the world of both business and sport very few entities flourish over the long-term. It’s a simple fact of organisational life. If you doubt me why not do a simple google search and compare the constituency of the FTSE 100 index when it was launched in 1982 with its make up now. Comparing the make up of the Premier League in both football and rugby (my sport) at their launches with now is also revealing.

At the other end of the scale very few small businesses, or small sports teams, ever achieve the heady heights of the FTSE 100 Index or Premier League. Conclusion: it is the destiny of most entities to spend the majority of their corporate lives as either medium or small sized concerns.

This is to my mind a basic, very basic, fact of organisational life. If this is true looking to the big to make the biggest difference is, as a long-term strategy, predestined to fail. (The ability of large entities to spawn other entities which survive beyond the life of the ‘founding entity’ should not, however, be discounted. RACAL Electronics, for example , which no longer exists is said to have created more ‘shareholder value’ than any other listed company).

If my thesis is correct then far more attention needs to be focused on, and strategic funds directed towards, initiatives that seek to renew the that which already exists. In many cases this will mean medium sized churches. We need to make sure our medium sized churches first sustain and then grow. To my mind this should be a significant priority. The trouble for strategists is that sustaining and growing the medium sized (and other forms of church which are crying out for renewal) is hard-work, long-term, and difficult to quantify. Renewal is the nitty-gritty of strategy and in the long-term will be both the engine of sustainability and growth.

I have enjoyed reading the recent Church Times appraisal of the Renewal and Reform initiative, but I can’t wholeheartedly agree with the last week’s ‘Leader,’ which seemed to criticise the decision makers for ‘the splashing of large amounts of cash on a relatively few projects.’ This would be fair if this was all that Renewal and Reform is doing, but it isn’t, for there are a great many renewal focused conversations looking at, for instance, outer estates, coastal towns, market towns, and medium sized churches more generally.

Where I think the Church Times is correct is in identifying that such churches ‘simply need a lot more money;’ not that money is the be all and end all. Churches in such contexts for sure require money, or the very least alleviation from parish share schemes that appear to be exercises in pure Reaganomics, combined with good leadership, diocesan support, and stacks of enthusiasm. What these churches also desperately need is long-term and stable support (from the central church and the diocese) combined with an acceptance that numerical growth doesn’t happen overnight. In fact overnight numerical growth could be a stimulus for concern.

I am currently enjoying reading Andrew Bradstock’s biography of David Sheppard (Batting for the Poor) and was struck by the nature of the mandate he received from Bishop Hugh Gough for the renewal of the Mayflower Centre. Bishop Gough believed that building a congregation was a thirty year job! Maybe he was right? After ten years the Sunday congregation at the Mayflower Centre numbered between 100 and 150, so maybe Bishop Gough was too cautious? But the one thing that Bishop Gough was not concerned about, even with his super star priest, was short-term, or overnight, success.

Renewal is harder than reform. It requires support, commitment and patience. But ultimately it is through Renewal that the church will sustain and grow. The architects of the SDF need to ensure that they are as committed to renewal as they are to reform; the evidence is that they are.