Ministry Strategy Feedback and Advisory Group
Common concerns
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Common concerns

There are a number of common concerns that arise across the County, on this page we attempt to summarise the key ones and provide some response to them.

  1. Isn't this just an exercise in restructuring to save money and make do with fewer stipendiary clergy?
  2. Working together
  3. Effort
  4. Finance
  5. Timescale
  6. Constraints
  7. Local freedom to decide
  8. Pioneering ministry
  9. Why is there no 'plan B'?

Isn't this just an exercise in restructuring to save money and make do with fewer stipendiary clergy?

Some people see the ministry strategy simply as a continuation of the policy of creating bigger units to spread stipendiary clergy more thinly. If that were truly the case:

  • the strategy would be seen as driven significantly by financial concerns,
  • and as a reaction to the drop in stipendiary numbers,
  • it would result in too many parishes retreating into their shell,
  • we would see a decline in the size of congregations and a drop in giving,
  • we would be in a downward spiral.

The mission strategy can only be a viable strategy if it is treated as a genuine route to enabling substantially more mission. Success will be contingent on:

  1. Growing/enabling disciples:
    • freeing up stipendiary clergy for mission and pastoral work,
    • lay leadership significantly more involved in the running of inherited church,
    • empowering more people for mission,
    • significant levels of pioneering ministry,
    • people working together across the denominations and across congregations.
  2. Sufficient people coming forward:
    • for lay ministry, other lay roles and for self-supporting ordained ministry,
    • sufficient training capacity [note: there are issues about where and how training should be delivered].
  3. Re-imagining ministry:
    • ministry needs to be seen as something which involves all of us,
    • lay leadership needs to play a much greater role in future.

It is important to recognise that the anticipated drop in stipendiary clergy number (in the Church of England) is not the result of financial pressures but is simply the recognition that a significant number of clergy are coming up to retirement over a relatively short period of time and that number is greater than the numbers being trained for ordination as stipendiary ministers. Another key factor is the desire to see more of the time of stipendiary clergy devoted to pioneer ministry of various forms, either in dedicated posts or as a significant focus of their work

A key message is that we need more people, lay and ordained, coming together to engage in mission and outreach. As part of that we need our stipendiary clergy, as a whole, devoting much more time on outreach to those (the vast majority) who do not come to church on a Sunday.

Working together

There are a number of distinct concerns around the concept of 'working together' (which is perhaps the key component of the ministry strategy).

Conservatism / parochialism - we do not want to work with other churches

Typical attitudes:

  • we don't want anything to change,
  • we don't want to do anything new,
  • it will see us out,
  • we don't want to work with anyone else,
  • we must have our vicar / minister.

This is, quite simply, a recipe for the death of our churches in many places:

  • Church has to be more than an exclusive 'Sunday club',
  • we have to take church to people - we cannot rely on them coming to us (particularly in the case of churches exhibiting these characteristics).

Christianity is about sharing, Christ wants us, all of us, to change.

And for those who say 'we must have our vicar / minister': a reminder that we know that the number of stipendiary clergy will inevitably drop over the next few years, so if we leave things as they are one in five parishes will lose their vicar or minister,

We are a big successful church - we do not need to work with other churches

  • We don't understand the need for mission communities
  • We already are a mission community

That may well be true, but we also need to support smaller churches and help them to grow. Alan Bing, Rector of Ulverston, makes some telling point based on his reading of the 'Anecdote to Evidence' rearch:

"From my reading of the report it seems that behind growing churches, there are general factors, such as quality of leadership and context (some ground is more fertile), but there are particular categories of church which are growing: cathedrals (though there are doubts about the depth of discipling), greater churches, church plants and fresh expressions. Teams are not growing, except where the key leader is based at one church and makes it a priority.

If this is the case, it seems to me that there are several useful lessons we can learn, which will affect the ministry strategy. I will pick out two for now. Firstly, greater churches with a civic role (such as Holy Trinity Kendal, which took part in the research as a 'greater church') are key hubs for growth. This adds credence to my view that we need to consider the minster church model alongside mission communities, however we end up defining them.

Secondly, where we have a rural mission community, the leader/s need to think strategically about which church/community will be the focus, rather than spreading themselves out thinly in the interests of being equitable."

One form of mission community that might fit in such cases is the 'Minster Model' - and the minster model is entirely compatible with the Mission Community approach.

Ecumenical concerns

  1. Doesn't it just add to complexity?
  2. What happens to the services I am used to?
  3. What about the other denominations that we do not appear to be talking to?
  4. The Anglicans are bigger than us, we won't get our say.
  5. They are smaller than us, why do we need them?
  6. I joined Church X, that is where I am happy, if I wanted to be a Y then I would have joined Church Y.

There are some brief comments that one can make about such issues:

  1. Yes - but we do not have to make it overly-complex. The main message is that we need to be working together at local level. We are not going for complete revolution or integration at this stage.
  2. They are not necessarily affected - although some of us do enjoy the opportunity to worship in other traditions or to take part in joint services.
  3. Whilst the United Reformed Church, the Methodist Church and the Church of England in Cumbria have a joint agreement and have been working on shared strategy documents the arrangements are not intended to be exclusive - we welcome co-operation with other denominations, particularly where we already have strong local links. The other churches have signed a letter of companionship and are in support of the journey we are on
  4. Something that we all need to work hard on. We also have to be aware of the fact that although the CofE is the largest in overall numbers that does not necessarily make it the largest in every place.
  5. The simplest answer might just be 'because we are Christians' - we are stronger together and can learn from each other.
  6. Maybe the differences across the CofE are greater than between the denominations.


  • We are tired physically, mentally and spiritually and don't have the capacity to do any more
  • There are too few of us
  • We're all getting old

This can easily become a counsel of despair, so we need to look for ways out of the problem. In this context it is important that the ministry strategy can be considered as a part of the solution - not a significant part of the problem. The 'ways out' are likely to involve several avenues:

  • identify and grow disciples - not necessarily from the existing congregation,
  • look for things that you do not need to do or that you can get someone else to do,
  • team up with adjacent parishes / congregations and start to pool effort, resources, competencies and ideas - a mission community, as a whole, should be be greater than the sum of the parts,
  • try and ensure a whole life approach that does give you time for relaxation, reflection prayer and the recharging of your batteries,
  • give support to those engaged in mission to try and redress 'too few of us' and the age balance,
  • in most contexts there are people waiting to be asked to do more (we do recognise that this can involve significant degrees of trust).


As we devote more effort to pioneering ministry will this reduce levels of giving?

This has to be a real concern. At one level we do expect to see some reduction in ministerial costs as stipendiary clergy retire, but this is likely to be offset, in part, by costs increasing with inflation. Currently the level of giving is relatively flat year-on-year - but if we do start to see a downturn in giving this would almost certainly signal a decline. It is key, therefore, that we can maintain generous, realistic levels of giving.

A key message is that where people can see a need for for the specific ministry and can see the success that is being achieved they are much more likely to respond to requests for generosity.

The United Reformed Church have three clear prinicples:

  • everything is for mission,
  • we belong to one another,
  • the strong shall help the weak.

Sharing costs and funds across the denominations and between churches

This is something of an 'elephant in the room'. It is not a problem that we have yet engaged with to any serious extent - partly because it is probably too early to do so. What would be useful is for people to consider the issue when looking at the shaping of mission communities in the local context and to feed through details of any (informal) agreements that have been discussed, the questions that have arisen and the issues that people find themselves grappling with.


The Anglicans seem to be working to a strict timescale that requires the shape of our mission communities to be known by September 2014, the other denominations do not seem to have such a strict timescale.

The Carlisle Diocesan Synod agreed, with our ecumenical partners, to explore the reccommendations of the Ministry Strategy and report back to the Synod in October 2014 to allow Synod to determine whether or not it supports the Ministry Strategy in the light of the feedback obtained.

In order to allow the strategy to be examined at the right level and in a sensible fashion it will be necessary for groupings across the County to consider what are the likely mission communities, how they will be resourced and the patterns of both mission and ministry that will be appropriate.

At this stage no commitment is being made as to what mission communities will come into being or, indeed, when. The process of moving towards a set of mission communities is expected to occur over a period of time, perhaps over three to five years.


The ministry strategy document and the guidelines documents define a set of constraints that planned mission communities should satisfy - do we have to stick to them or is there some leeway?

The guidelines are just that and are not completely hard and fast but they have been arrived at after a degree of thought. We would suggest that where you do feel the need to deviate from them you should have clear reasons for that decision that arise from your local circumstances.

Local freedom to decide

Too 'top-down' / too prescriptive / one size doesn't fit all

Whilst it is true that the three denominations have proposed a shared strategy for ministry manifest in the creation of a set of mission communities and have indicated the parameters that those mission communities are likely to fall within we believe that the intent is not to be overly prescriptive.

During this period when groups, at local level, are investigating the feasibility of what is being proposed, investigating the shape of mission communities in their context and considering what forms of mission will be appropriate for them there is very great scope for creativity at the local level.

It is certainly not the case that we expect all mission communities to look the same - one size certainly does not fit all. There is also great scope for sharing ideas, problems, best practice across the churches in Cumbria - and feeding those back to the people responsible for the strategies.

Pioneeering ministry

  • There is a danger that the benefits of existing parochial structures will be ignored at the expense of an emphasis on pioneering.
  • Help existing parish patterns become more pioneering rather than create a parallel pattern.
  • One third of ministers involved with pioneering is too high.
  • Although pioneering ministry sounds exciting and positive what will it look like in practice?
  • What evidence is there that this will be fruitful, to make the allocation of resources worthwhile?
  • Pioneering ministers must not be independent of church structures and must quickly become financially self-supporting.
  • Too much emphasis on evangelism and pioneering is going to put people off.
  • We simply do not have more money (for pioneering ministry).

The individual concerns expressed above are responded to more fully in the issue log but there is clearly a common thread running through them. If we take 'pioneering ministry' to be centred on communicating the good news to those outside the Church then clearly it has to be a key component of our strategy as we cannot simply wait for those who are currently outside the church to come to church to receive ministry. It surely has to be the case that we need to find a significant level of resource for pioneering ministry, We would expect pioneering ministry to be met by a combination of people (ordained and lay) dedicated mainly to such ministry and by some in parochial forms of ministry making pioneering ministry a significant part of their ministry. To make sufficient resource available to pioneering ministry implies that we also need more lay and non-stipendiary ordained ministers to ensure that we can also maintain the inherited church.

Why is there no 'plan B'

A number of people have suggested that there should be a set of alternative strategies that people could be asked to select from. They, and others, have also questioned why there is no 'plan B'.

There would seem to be three answers to this:

  1. centrally, we do not have the capacity to consider and draw up multiple possible strategies,
  2. we almost certainly do not have the capacity on the ground to consider multiple strategies at the level that would be required to arrive at a sensible decision,
  3. we do not know of better strategies.

Additionally, in the light of the feedback that is received, there is nothing to prevent the strategy being revised.

If you have a better idea, tell us. The documented experience in other dioceses and denominations is that fresh expressions and pioneering ministry are largely lay and largely unpaid.

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