A focus on small Baptist churches
A report from the latest gathering of Association representatives with a heart for small churches, which took place on 26 September.
There are approximately 1000 churches with fewer than 40 members belonging to our Baptist Union, making up around half the denomination
Opening devotions, led by Hany Abdelmasih, a regional minister with the London Baptist Association (LBA)
The church are people who gather around Jesus. We are called to build, not maintain. The church should be a building site with much building activity happening. Jesus said ‘I will build my church’. It is built by Jesus not by tools or projects. We each need to apply our various gifts with faith and build with Jesus.
We need to focus on Him, the Son of the living God.
Currently 122 churches under 40 people, 28 more between 40 and 50. Only 2 churches have grown over 40 this year. In the under 40 bracket, 43 have declined in membership but 21 have grown. We held a Communications Day with Mike Lowe, Baptists Together Communications Enabler looking at communications both inside and outside the church. We thoroughly recommend it to all Associations.
Small Church Connexion has run six gifting workshops and encouragement days this year. We have added more skills to our database including advice on building projects, starting messy church and running coffee shops, among others. Our autumn event in October will include worship, stories from the churches and Ken Benjamin speaking. Plans for 2020 include roadshows around the Districts training deacons. It was great to have a space in the networking area and a seminar at the Baptist Assembly this year, as well as speaking at two seminars at New Wine. Small church in every denomination is a big deal! I am updating my Toolbox book and need stories from the small churches around the country – please send them in to me!
Leaders training day roadshows are happening in local areas rather than centrally. All RM’s attend and many people have engaged with this. The annual conference also attracted many smaller churches. Nigel spends 80% of his preaching time in smaller churches, Carl speaks to all SW churches about mission in the community. They have a pioneer project in Ilfracombe (joint BU and Fuelcast) where the life expectancy is 49 years due to drug and alcohol misuse. Some of the SWBC small churches have property lettings which could be a good way of funding ministry and as an association, they are working with them to see the potential.
There is to be a small churches day conference on 14th March 2020. Many of the churches have governance issues like many across BUGB. 3 small churches look likely to close by the end of the year. As an Association, they are looking at how to deliver ministry differently in our changing world.
53 churches out of 150 have less than 40 people. The encouragement days have been well attended. Jerry and Stuart have led a roadshow in North Kent to 8 small churches which had more engagement between people than a larger gathering would have had. There is a small church of 8 people in a community centre with assets of £1m! Another story is a church of 2 people where the church owned a shop and a flat. A pioneer bakery and coffee shop project is proposed and being actively pursued at this time. The Pastor Baker has developed his own Alpha style course around the baking of six different kinds of bread!
West of England
All churches in WEBA are encouraged to do a Re:Imagine course. This promotes a Jesus centered response to our changing culture. The association team are working towards Home Mission grants being linked to Re:Imagine. Partnerships between churches are encouraged across the Association. A shared Team of Ministries is being explored in a city centre comprising of 2 small and 2 larger churches.
Big churches have to know how small churches work as they will hopefully be planting out as pop up churches! Churches are encouraged to link with the Faith Space online resource http://www.faithspace.org.uk/. Telling stories is often more powerful than courses. NWBA still run ‘Help I’m a deacon’ sessions. They also run young people weekends away where the cooking and accommodation etc is done by the NWBA so the youth leaders engage more fully with their youth. This year, 110 young people from 14 churches attended. NWBA have encouraged the larger churches to step up and partner with small churches. Groups are getting together to share ideas and to plan for Christmas.
NBA hold regular small church gatherings for teaching and training. There is much small group discussion at the events and sharing experiences. Keep it simple such as one couple with a yard that opened onto the street who held a yard party with coffee, cake, books etc and chat with people as they passed by. They hold events where the catering is brought in and the church plus a friend each are treated to a great evening. They plan to run Re:Imagine from January.
Heart of England
A great small church day conference was held in March with Hilary Taylor as the speaker. The next small church conference will have Ali Boulton as the speaker addressing the church impacting the new housing areas. HEBA are encouraging Church Twinning, churches building links based on Companionship, Generosity, Diversity, Learning and Innovation. One problem with some tiny churches is the income from a rented manse is keeping them afloat, hard to get a minister to come to these tiny churches. Good story from Shropshire where the local ecumenical partnership bought a pub between them to reach out into the community!
2 small churches have closed recently and there are 10 churches with under 10 members. Major issues with governance are addressed at the small church network days (used to be called Home Mission days). SCBA will run Re:Imagine next year. Pioneering is happening in SCBA but how to sustain the momentum into the future? They are looking at having networks or mission enablers working across smaller geographical areas.
CBA is divided into 5 forums with a mixture of small and large churches, with and without ministers. Larger churches are offering preacher training. Recently one family moved from a large to a small church building links and now exploring further involvement, maybe even shared leadership. One church has recently put windows in the hall (just walls before) and a path leading into their café. Some non-Christian people offering to help in the café where good conversations are taking place. CBA are running Mission Reviews as churches face our cultural shift. Many need transitional ministers to merge the old and the new with skill. Small church days are no longer held due to dwindling numbers. Two small churches have closed this year.
NWBA shared learning for Lay Leaders
Unlocking the Potential
Use what you have. Not enough ministers so train up local lay leaders.
Build purposeful relationships between the churches
Bring about meaningful change which is managed, planned and overseen by Association.
Use effective resources
People from a variety of contexts that need help / training
Community of learners support each other
Host church (Latchford BC Warrington) have their ministry needs met
2nd Monday of every month 10am – 3pm (soon to be an evening session/workshops)
Cost £20 per session which sending church are encouraged to pay
1 year commitment (can sign up for more but only one year at a time)
Group led learning agenda (what does this group need most?)
Contextual learning (what is happening where you are?)
Prayer and relationship building – good support through MinRec.
Positive partnership with Northern Baptist College
Usually more women than men
High level of commitment
At present the group is nine people – small numbers are good for deeper engagement
This model could be replicated around the UK. A small church host and provide refreshments/lunch etc. Release more leaders and lay preachers into the area.
Footsteps course http://www.scba.org.uk/footsteps.html or http://centralba.org.uk/ministry/953-2/
Equipped to Minister course in London, Cambridge and Birmingham https://www.spurgeons.ac.uk/equipped-to-minister-course/
Missional Learning Community https://www.webassoc.org.uk/mission/re-imagine/
Small Church Hubs
Small Church Connexion is encouraging small churches who are near good road and rail connections and/or have a car park and kitchen facilities, to host events for the small churches in their local area/county. Many of the central events are too far to travel.
Two churches already signed up are:
Lawrence Weston BC, Bristol
Totteridge BC, Hugh Wycombe
Where do we grow from here?
Baptist Union President 2019/20 Ken Benjamin is encouraging churches to ask this question prayerfully
https://www.wheredowegrowfromhere.org/ Resources for group discussion and study.
God does growth, we are the gardeners. Actually, we are more like pomologists (people who specialise in growing fruit!)
As churches ‘We will never get anywhere until we equip people for their everywhere’.
Be bold, do different, bold experiments, TRY!
Among the responses to Ken have been, “yes it’s a good idea but….”
We have an old congregation
Keeping the show on the road taking all our energy, this is another thing, another programme
The weekly sermon is like a half time team talk between last week and this week. How can you do things differently? People have an unbalanced view so you are preaching to extremes – most people have normal days but the minister only gets called for the extremes. GO and visit people at work and understand their day!
We are God’s people but we often don’t see results at work.
Our frontline friends are too far away, so they would never come to MY church.
I don’t feel called to my frontlineIt’s about Kingdom NOT my church!
DO LESS but do it WELL – busyness kills.
Funny expression ‘the church is closing’. The building may not be used anymore on a Sunday but the church is the people and their lives go on. The church never closes!
Try bold experiments – work together as churches – collaborate. The Bible has more flexibility to reach people than we think! Check it out!
Four tables: Gently move people from the DESK, to the COFFEE TABLE to the DINING TABLE to the COMMUNION TABLE
Small churches – pray for 1 or 2 to come to faith this year – GOOD GOAL! Turn the soil over before planting the seed
The group prayed for each other and closed the meeting at 3pm