God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit - is in the business of transforming individuals and communities, and we have the joyful privilege of joining in.
The call to Christian mission begins, continues and ends with prayer – ‘unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain’ (Psalm 127:1). Prayer leads to godly action, and growth in humble confidence to share afresh the love and saving power of Jesus Christ, both being good news and proclaiming good news. The fruit of prayer and godly action is a healthy, vibrant church in which lives are transformed and communities are enriched. This process, like our own growth as Christians, is often slow and gradual, but occasionally swift and dramatic.
The result of much prayer and discussion, our Diocesan Growth Strategy, Transforming Church, Transforming Lives, draws together all that we are seeking to do across The Diocese of Guildford, and brings a greater focus to areas of mission opportunity. This strategy isn’t intended to add to the workload of hard-pressed clergy or church members, nor is it being advanced as a magic solution. However, ‘Transforming Church, Transforming Lives’ does start with the conviction that God is still at work in the world He loves so much, and that it is entirely possible to reverse the narrative of a slowly declining and ageing church through prayer and godly action. Our vision is of growing churches, schools and chaplaincies making a significant impact, bringing fruitfulness, fulfilment and transformation in their wake.
More than 1,500 people have helped to develop Transforming Church, Transforming Lives, through prayer, deanery meetings and a unique diocesan online survey. from this consultation, the following themes have emerged strongly from across our diocese and its wide range of contexts, cultures and churchmanships:
- Signs of Growth are associated with places which prioritise ministry among children and young families, and those which initiate new worship services and social action projects. Churches benefit from being responsive to social developments, most especially to the changing nature of Sunday.
- Hindrances to Growth generally include a deficit of prayer and strategic thinking, a lack of youth and children’s work provision, various financial, building and administrative difficulties and – most significantly – low levels of Christian discipleship and a lack of confidence in sharing the gospel.
- Central Resources – according to the responses - should therefore prioritise church growth training, audit tools and consultancy, along with offering seed-corn funding to encourage new initiatives, especially among children and youth. Discipleship, evangelism and lay leadership training are also vital, as is the commitment to increase the number of ordained vocations by 50%. The establishment of congregations in new housing areas is a particular opportunity – and in all this there seems to be a growing commitment to learn from one another (between parishes and ecumenically) and to work together in prayer and mission.
Five theological themes have emerged from listening to one another, and to God:
- The Mission of God- The Bible teaches that mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but rather lies at the very heart of God – hence the need to pray as much as to act.
- Kingdom and Church - Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God to earth, and encouraged us to do the same: to pray ‘Your kingdom come’, then to work for that prayer to become a reality.
- Transformation - The New Testament uses the word ‘morph’ when it speaks of Christ being ‘formed’ in us (Galatians 4:19), and the word ‘metamorph’ when it speaks of us being ‘transformed by the renewing of your minds’ (Romans 12:2). Jesus pictures the transformative nature of the church in the images of salt, light and yeast.
- Growth - God’s creation call is to ‘go forth and multiply’. Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God as like a mustard seed, and of the sower, who perseveres through disappointment and failure, and sees the ground yield mixed but, at times, startling results (Mark 4:1-20).
- The People of God - Both Old Testament and New holds out a vision of a people who are filled with God’s Spirit and called into His service: what the reformers called ‘the priesthood of all believers’ (see Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9).
Following widespread listening exercises, our survey, discussions and prayer the strapline Transforming Church, Transforming Lives has emerged to encapsulate our mission as a diocese.
Transforming Church, Transforming Lives is a framework not a blueprint, encouraging a thousand local initiatives to work towards broader diocesan goals. It is primarily a strategic toolbox for the local church, though many of its principles can be extended to groups of churches, network congregations, chaplaincies and church schools. Its ethos is to create a culture of prayer, permission-giving, partnership, honesty and mutual accountability; and at its heart lie three main commitments:
- A set of 12 Transformation Goals, which we all seek to fulfil together.
- An expectation that every parish will pray over its mission priorities in the light of those goals, and produce a Development Plan which will be well-owned and regularly reviewed.
- The provision of Resources from the centre, including support, training, mentoring, prayer resources and grant funding through a newly established Growth Fund.