We publish a Parish Magazine 4 times a year and in each Magazine there is a letter from the vicar or a member of the Ministry team.
Letter from the Vicarage
Every diocese in the Church of England is asking parishes to grow: numerically and spiritually. Our diocese of St Albans is no different. Much of what we are being asked to respond to at parish level currently goes under the name of mission action planning, which the PCC is asked to engage with, review and revise on a fairly regular basis. Being intentional in our planning for the future is vital; if we look at current research on the state of the Church of England two key messages are identified in relation to the future growth in our national church.
The first is that there is an urgent need to attract and involve young people and children in the life of the church - research shows that 48% of churches have fewer than five under-16s. Fortunately here at St John's we are not in that perilous position, but even we cannot afford to be complacent. As a parish we need to continue to keep children at the forefront of what we are doing and to find ways of presenting a living faith that is lively and engaging for them.
The second message flowing from this research is that there is a need to explore new ways of expressing and being church. Within a parish setting, this is likely to mean churches being outward looking and ready to introduce new styles of worship and new service times, and contexts of being church. There are many fresh expressions of church, new worshipping and witnessing communities - more than half of which (56%) don't meet in church and are reaching those who have previously been unreached by church.
This is not to suggest for a moment that we are being asked to abandon what we are currently doing in terms of worship and church life. Rather it is to recognise that we have room for manoeuvre and the chance to do new things that will address a generation that in the main have not been exposed to a regular diet of Christian teaching through school assemblies, and old-style Sunday Schools - these cultural props have long gone.
So, what will we need to do here that will lead us towards numerical growth over the numbers and work to bring people alongside our shared strategy. Second, involving people early on and making small tangible changes will help us all to be more open to further change. It is all too easy to confuse local customs with church tradition and allow them to become frozen. But we also need to be sensible - change for change's sake is pointless; continuing to do what we do well makes a good deal of sense; there are good things here at St John’s and we don't want to jettison them. Third, taking up new opportunities as they arise and following up families who bring their children for baptism and who might attend church afterwards. Fourth, we at St John's might seriously consider providing different styles and timings of worship for different 'markets'. Finally, as evidence from other pieces of research shows, sharing our leadership and encouraging and developing leaders already in the church will itself foster growth.
Lots of parish churches across the Church of England have been exploring new ways of expressing church, and this is something we ought to embrace at St John's. Given the time still available to us on Sunday we have space to consider other styles and contexts for worship – for example, a monthly cafe-style worship in the parish hall. Such a service would be rather different from anything else that is currently on offer at St John's; lay-led, it would have a different format, timing and style of worship. We might describe it as 'a place of Christian exploration and worship.' We would meet in the church hall, a place where anyone is welcome, wherever they are on their journey of faith. People would be encouraged to: 'bring their laughter, bring their questions, bring their faith, bring their doubt, and all in the hope that we might encounter God afresh.' There would be an emphasis on creative worship and teaching, alongside fresh coffee, chocolate and fruit.
Some who may attend this new style of church may also go to other services, but for most part the people attending will see it as their main service. Some may be mature Christians, but hopefully it will attract people who have had contact with the church at some time in the past but have not been regular churchgoers for some time. Most importantly, we will be aiming for young adults looking for a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives but who have little or no experience of church life and will possibly feel ill at ease in our more formal services.
These are just a few things we need to thing about and wrestle with in the next year with regard to our mission action plan as we seek to discern what the Lord is asking of us, as he seeks to use us in this place, filling us one again with boldness and fresh hope that we may have the strength to proclaim his risen life in this parish and be bearers of his peace to the people we meet beyond our doors.