Small congregations, aging parishioners, financial concerns. For many parishes, these challenges loom large when wondering how to begin reaching new people.
The United Benefice of St Mary’s, Henlow and St Andrew’s, Langford are rooting their explorations in prayer.
When Revd Shaun Speller joined the benefice it was clear that a desire and drive to reach new people cannot just come from the clergy. He engaged lay members of his congregations in setting a vision for church growth, and in autumn 2017 they attended a Leading Your Church into Growth course and a Reaching New People Vision Day.
Over the past year, on one Saturday a month, a group of 10 parishioners from the two congregations meet for breakfast and to “pray for growth”. The PCC is working through what Shaun describes as “fairly fundamental questions about what our identity is, what our purpose is, what our values are”, with the aim of developing a vision action plan.
Through this process the benefice has discovered new opportunities, such as engaging with the schools in the villages. However, they have also identified some of the opportunities and resources they already have: a village community which is supportive of the churches and a thriving church-led monthly coffee morning which brings new people into their building. Shaun describes this as a “ministry through hospitality.” There is a hope amongst the lay leaders that through the welcoming atmosphere created by the parishioners hosting the coffee morning, this might become an avenue to beginning a journey of faith.
Thinking about how to reach new people highlighted the challenges of their context: dwindling numbers, increasing ages, and budgets. There was a recognition that to start something new would mean releasing clergy and lay leaders from some of their responsibilities of the present – something the benefice is still wrestling with. But as they do they remain rooted in prayer, and confident that the question of how to reach new people is something for all parishes, regardless of size, resource or tradition, to explore.