Rural Church ideas from Exeter Diocese’s 1st annual report on Growing the Rural Church

exeter diocese growing the rural church annual report 2017

Today @CofEDevon tweeted about the launch of their first Growing the Rural Church Annual Report.  The 16 page document covers the first year of their 7 year project, which is funded by the Church of England’s Strategic Development Fund and their own Diocesan Synod.  With a project team of 4 the spend in 2017 was £106k (£49k in salaries) and the budget for 2018 is £287k (£144k in salaries).

Reflecting on their experiences so far they report that two things stand out:

  1. People are passionate about heritage buildings, for “their” church, a symbol of their village or community identity which should be open and available to them.
  2. For rural worshiping communities their church building often feels more of a burden than a blessing taking resource away from their passion for mission.

Through their pilot projects they are starting to see glimpses of what can happen when conversations are facilitated between people with one or both of these passions.  These develop when worshipping and non-worshipping members of communities come together to ask two questions, first, ‘What does our community need?’ and second, ‘How might our church, as people and a building, meet that need?’

As a quick heads up for you I’ve summarised below the projects and ideas the report covers.

  1. St Mary’s, Walkhampton – Champing™ with The Churches Conservation Trust – the church is used regularly for worship and community events.  From spring 2018 it will also be used as accommodation for tourists.  This will provide income for the church as well as for local food businesses.
  2. All Saints, North Molton – Developing a Community Enterprise with Stir to Action – the community is exploring, with Friends Provident Foundation’s Stir to Action consultancy, options for the development of a community enterprise.  Ideas include: a cinema, a business hub, a community energy company and a café.
  3. Shirwell Mission Community – Stories on the Street – 7 rural parishes are partnering with Mosaic Creative and Mothers’ Union to pilot a UK version of Tearfund’s Church and Community Mobilisation initiative.  It uses bible study, workshops and initiatives to support community action addressing local challenges.
  4. Two Rivers Mission Community – Exploring Community Involvement in Caring for Church Buildings – 4 of the communities’ 11 rural parishes are partnering with Devon Communities Together  and engaging over 400 people in their communities to developing a shared vision for the future of their churches.
  5. Sharing learning – there are webpages with advice and guidance.  Over 40 enquiries from Mission Communities have been given guidance, signposting and case study examples.  They are also engaging in ongoing learning conversations, exchange visits and learning events with 10 other diocese.
  6. Communications – With 3 explicit communications aims for 2017 they have used webpages, videos, case studies, magazine/newsletter articles and speaking engagements.  Videos are popular and Twitter @GtRCDevon has been used to build connections with potential partners at county and national level.
  7. Monitoring and Evaluation –  By March 2018 they aim to develop an Impact Measurement Framework to examine their activities, the outputs, how they help meet desired outcomes, and their learning.  For example, one key outcome is that mission communities have more energy and capacity for mission and discipleship.
  8. Other activities from the 8 pilot projects in 2017 (including those in 1-4 above)
  • Supporting the review and implementation of Mission Action Plans
  • Exploring releasing people from administrative or governance tasks into mission
  • Piloting resources that support the development of mission focused initiatives
  • Delivering community consultations
  • Exploring alternative governance structures for the care of rural church buildings
  • Developing enterprise uses of church building
  • Supporting the development of community groups to share the care of rural church buildings.

9. Plans for 2018

  • Increasing resources to support mission and ministry
  • Developing best practice approaches – e.g. support to different ‘categories’ of rural churches, such as festival churches, rural resource churches and tourism churches.
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