Church development: bound by love and fear

Churches are communities of memory, and of the hope of the risen Lord. That well of memory also makes them valuable and stable parts of the wider community. It also makes change exceptionally difficult.

Vicar Victoria returned on Friday from a workshop with the Susanna Wesley Foundation designed to enable leaders of all sorts in churches to learn from the experience of ministry in very different contexts and spaces. Victoria shared that a common theme was that it was difficult to stop activities which no longer met the call to proclaim the faith in each generation.

Observation shows many churches have an equivocal relationship with foresight and planning, often conditioned by the collision of love for the places they minister, and fear of failure. The rate of societal change means that sadly this often results in fellowships ’doing what we have always done’ with attendant failure. Victoria shared an anecdote from the workshop:

One leader spoke about their “own church which has run a holiday club during the summer for a week every summer for the last thirty years. And this church leader has persuaded them to give up. The reason for giving up was that they had lost their purpose in doing this holiday club. So for one week every year they had several hundred children come through their doors who they never saw again and never interacted with in any other way. And they had lost their purpose. What was God doing? They were thinking more about what the church was doing rather than what God was doing and the fear of giving up after thirty years caused a lot of consternation in the church … And they have now realised as a church that they need to do something for their community and with their community that may not even involve coming into the church, and they are growing as a consequence of being able to get over their fear and get on and do something new.

The Susanna Wesley Foundation is a community of scholarship focused on equipping people for ministry and leadership in churches and faith communities. Their work touches on work, life and identity in ministry, diversity in leadership together with decision making and governance systems in churches.

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