Seeking true gospel growth

It is exciting to be part of a growing church and somewhat discouraging if numbers are barely holding steady. But neither scenario tells us nearly enough about true gospel growth, which is what mission areas are all about.

It may be that the growing church is contacting unbelievers and connecting them to Jesus Christ but it may be that all of its new members are believers on the move from other churches (for both good and bad reasons). The church with little growth may be inwardly focused and not mission-minded, or it may have sent its best into Bible college and the mission field, or it may be in an area where people move out of as soon as they get their lives in order. So, one church’s loss is another’s gain (transfers).

However, mission areas step back and ask if there has been overall growth and souls being added to the kingdom. Or to put it another way, are we reaching a greater percentage of the Sydney Diocese?

The role of the senior minister is critical and so, in the past year since mission area leaders have been appointed,
the priority has been building partnership and trust between rectors. This was always going to be a huge challenge because of many factors, including our system of parish rights (a very good thing but it can lead to isolationism), Western individualism and the normal human tendency towards competition.

Although these are still early days, I am extremely encouraged to see a real sense of partnership emerging. Ministers are sharing resources, ideas and strategies. They are looking together at their mission field of 10 to 20 suburbs, identifying opportunities and doing something about them.

In one area, several churches are working together to provide Scripture teaching in a school that had none. In another, the Scripture co-ordinators meet together to share materials. Churches are working together to reach youth. training for lay people is happening across parishes in pastoral care, theology and life skills. Churches are co-operating to plant a new congregation. This and more is happening and it requires a level of trust and a commitment to kingdom growth from all of us, even if our own church may not benefit directly or immediately.
Research and planning is also a major task of mission areas. This happens at the local mission area level and customised strategies are the outcome. In addition there is Diocese-wide research by Anglicare and consultants, and we are identifying priority areas that need attention and developing diagnostic tools and ways forward.

Our small groups and the quality of our common life need refreshment. Although many of us think our churches are welcoming, we manage to hold very few of the hundreds and thousands that visit us. We need to find ways to truly include and integrate people into our fellowship (members of churches in one mission area are busy visiting one another in the form of “mystery worshippers”).

Research shows that past youth and children’s ministry has been a key factor in the strength of our Diocese, yet these ministries are now very weak in the majority of our churches. Cross- cultural and ethnic ministries remain real challenges.

These reality checks should not serve to discourage us but help us identify priorities which, God willing, will result in greater gospel growth as we become much more intentional and focused, learn to work together and become more prayerful and passionate for the lost.

Ivan Lee is Bishop of Western Sydney and Mission Areas co-ordinator.  

Comments (6)

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  • Colin Murdoch
    August 3, 11 - 6:07am
    Ivan said: "Research shows that past youth and children’s ministry has been a key factor in the strength of our Diocese, yet these ministries are now very weak in the majority of our churches." The hard questions that must be asked are why? Why is their not an encouragement and training up of leaders within those Parishes that are weak in those areas?

    Why when the Anglican Church has both Anglican YouthWorks and YouthWorks College are the majority of churches still weak? Why when YouthWorks College has a partnership with another denomination to train up current and future leaders via the internet and other means does this issue still exist?
    Why when some Churches are going ahead in leaps and bounds is not the expertise, ideas and resources shared with those struggling in these areas?

    It is not easy to turn around when these issues exist in the majority of churches. However, similar concerns about reaching youth and children plus having enough Youth Ministers and Leaders have been raised in previous years in various forums and discussions. However, for the future of the Church and the coming of the Kingdom of God they need to be addressed and methodically worked through and if results are not delivered; people should perhaps be moved on or other approaches tried for this is an important crucial issue!
  • Nicky Lock
    August 4, 11 - 12:33am
    Ministers are sharing resources, ideas and strategies. They are looking together at their mission field of 10 to 20 suburbs

    Resource sharing is a great idea, but as a recent busy Mum ferrying around kids and teenagers, I would suggest that these ministries need to be provided in the local area, not more than one or two suburbs away from home. Sometimes it seems more of a problem that a number of different denominations in one suburb are all duplicating children and youth ministries. What thoughts are there around working with other denominations in the same suburb?
  • Colin Murdoch
    August 4, 11 - 3:39am
    Nicky said:"What thoughts are there around working with other denominations in the same suburb?"
    Personally, I think the advantages outweigh the disadvantages; and in the end we are talking about our children and youth being part of the Kingdom of God.

    When a Minister to Youth, Children, Young Adults, and landing the second largest Youth Ministry in that denomination in a very affluent area, and my first ministry in a struggling inner suburban church with similar ministries but far less in resources and manpower, I was determined to not only form links with other local ministers and youth ministers, but to see how we could work together for the mutual benefit of our children, youth, young adults, churches and the Kingdom of God.

    Prior to taking up this appointment two initiatives, one from the COC and the other from UCA, both which I was a part of and embraced saw a networking of Youth Ministers and Leaders, from neighboring suburbs and across the State of Victoria/Tasmania in one initiative and Nationally in the second initiative.
    Both these initiatives are still happening today and seen much blessing to the Youth Ministers/Leaders,children, youth, young adults, families and KOG.

    These initiatives broke down some of the barriers, and saw Parish Councils, Boards and different denominations develop initiatives for the benefit of the Kingdom of God; while maintaining their unique denominational focus, teaching and rich heritages. It was great to be part of what happened!
  • Ivan Lee
    August 6, 11 - 11:45am
    Colin said: "Why is their not an encouragement and training up of leaders within those Parishes that are weak in those areas?"

    Hi Colin. I should clarify. I mean "weak" primarily in respect to numbers. Although we have some large youth groups, the average number in the local church is probably up to 20 youth. (Absolute certainty in statistics is not possible). I would love to see this average double and more. There is encouragement and training happening, I didn't mean to imply there wasn't. I am very impressed and appreciative of the dedication and hard work of those who lead our youth groups week by week by week.

    Re Anglican Youthworks and the college, they are doing a fantastic job, youth and children's workers are receiving great training, but this doesn't automatically translate into a flood of youth coming into our churches. Why numbers of youth in our churches are not growing strongly is a very important question to ask and keep asking, and I suspect the answer is complex and partial. Similarly we could ask why aren't adults coming into the church in large numbers.

    Re sharing ideas and resources, I say Yes, Yes. That's one of the key goals of Mission Areas, and it is starting to happen.

    Thanks for your concern about youth ministry. I agree it's a crucial issue and right at the top of my list.
  • Ivan Lee
    August 6, 11 - 12:07pm
    Nicky said: "Resource sharing is a great idea, but as a recent busy Mum ferrying around kids and teenagers, I would suggest that these ministries need to be provided in the local area, not more than one or two suburbs away from

    Yes, I agree Nicky that ministry needs to be "local". The resource sharing I am talking about is the sharing of ideas, expertise, materials, encouragement, training, etc. The "Anglican" philosophy of ministry is very much "local", and we have about 270 parishes (some of these have more than one church) in the diocese, seeking to provide ministry to those immediately around them. Even our smallest churches seek to provide ministry to their local area with whatever resources they have.

    Re local churches of different denominations working together, well, that is certainly possible and it does happen. It is up to individual local churches whether they chose to work together. I suspect many are flat out running and growing their own congregation and ministries, and working with churches takes extra time and effort. There are also differences in philosophy of ministry (the way they "do ministry"). Having said that, it seems to me that generally there is good will between churches, and as I say, they do work together from time to time.
  • Colin Murdoch
    August 6, 11 - 1:34pm
    Ivan said:"Similarly we could ask why aren't adults coming into the church in large numbers." This too is both simple and has many reasons.

    First, the Church has inherited the Reformation emphasis on focusing on families, especially marrieds with children.

    Second,however, with the increase in never marrieds, the divorce rate-seeing separated plus divorced men and women skyrocket over the decades, and those widowed in our communities, the Church overall, except for some welcome exceptions, refuses to address the fact that in Census 2006 50.4% of the Australian population filled these four marital status' of Singleness and for the first time in many decades outnumber marrieds; and this has been a continuous trend in every 5 year Census since the 1980's...It will be interesting to see the results for Census 2011 when available to see if this trend has continued upwards,remained the same or slightly declined. I suspect the former-upwards a fraction!

    These two inter-related issues cry out for Church Leadership in Australia and other countries in a similar position % wise to address, otherwise an extraordinary high % of these people will be lost to our Churches and the Kingdom of God; and we will be failing on a daily basis in carrying out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment to most people in society!