In a previous post I promised some thoughts on the way ahead so here goes:
Home Mission depends on voluntary contributions from churches. In the last couple of years the Union has changed its appeal to encourage each church to give 5% of income to Home Mission. I’m sure this is the right strategy; it has the benefit of simplicity, long term resilience and clarity. But targets are poor motivators, they send signals to churches but don’t inspire people to generous, sacrificial giving. A target is also a blunt instrument because churches react to them differently, in particular the larger the sums of money the more the effectiveness of giving is open to question. [For these and other reasons I think we should not presume that Home Mission income will rise significantly over the next five years].
Home Mission money is spent in two main areas. The first is providing resources and support to local churches through the Union’s offices based in Didcot and through the local Associations and Regional Ministers. It’s not easy to reduce expenditure here as lots of energy has been spent on trying already. I think we will need to reduce the number of regional staff to about 2.5 people per association (which will require realism and clarity about the roles and tasks performed) and limit the work done in Didcot; which will mean that good pieces of work are not done. The second area is in direct grants to churches so they can support ministers and here we need to be more robust. Giving grants to churches to support ministers and should remain the priority; but which churches and which ministers? We need to be more reluctant to give grants to long established churches and more keen to be entrepreneurial.
Or is there a more excellent way?
Rather than giving a number of smaller grants to churches what if we gave grants to larger churches! If our church had a grant we could then have a mission enabler on the ministerial staff. This would directly impact our own mission but also enable us to resource, develop and encourage other churches in the area. As a team we would have a range of people and giftings to share with other churches; evangelistic, pastoral, teaching as well as strategic leadership skills. It would not be popular with many but would create a network of flourishing churches; well resourced, focused on mission in their immediate local area; sharing gifts between large and small, financially rich and poor, urban, suburban and rural. It would encourage church planting, build committed relationships between churches and put resources into areas which are seeing growth.
The risk is that the alternative to change is to give grants to struggling, declining and dying churches; where a grant simply delays the inevitable demise. Or, more positively, to give grants to situations where there’s lots of potential but not the network of support which needed for them to flourish (or that the support required comes from the Association staff, thus requiring more staff and more grants……..)
So how about we think the unthinkable and do something radical?
Interesting Neil … I admire your commitment to something bold, and hope others engage with you on this. This kind of conversation is sorely needed and rarely to be found. Having said that I am not sure I agree with your main proposal about giving grants to larger churches. Firstly there are issue of power (one church with all the resources, but possibly not the imagination). Secondly around my area it is the smaller churches which i think are more clued upto missional questions, the larger churches are operating with a very outdated understanding of mission. I wonder if the implications of your view will create new associating around larger churches, rather than through regional ministers … why not give a group of churches together missional grants, which would share questions of power and also encourage baptist churches to work together more (I think this will be very important looking ahead)
in my view, churches grouping together is perhaps as provocative if not more in my view … there is still too much independency about us baptists.
i would encourage, if not implore you, to write something a little longer for BT or BMJ, we desperately need this kind of provocative thinking and for others to engage with it.
Having Glen with us at our ministers conference last month, made me realise how little as a Union we are thinking about the future, although I do see the regional ministers are taking some time with alan roxbourgh for a few days …
I think it is time for a radical look at how HM funding is used. One thought would be to devolve to the Associations the decision about where funds should be used in that Association. That would give the Association the task of looking strategically at its own area and making local decisions about how best the funds could be used to support churches, groups of churches, new initiatives, particular ministries, etc etc. I would also suggest that we move away from the annual applications that need to be made and look at offering funding over a three or five year period in order to give opportunity for longer term planning.
“So how about we think the unthinkable and do something radical?”
Sadly, I’m not sure this is. Different, yes. Radical, no.
I’m certainly not anti giving HM grants to large churches but I don’t agree witht the argument or solution you offer in this article.
The fact that your church doesn’t already help resource local smaller churches with the many gifts that you list suggests to me that having a HM paid for ‘mission enabler’ will have little effect. You may actually simply end up with a ‘frustrated mission enabler’. For me it’s wishful thinking that an ‘enabler’ will change the priorities of a church that clearly does many things well.
As a church that, through HM, has managed to turn and is still turning a very large corner of decline, I look back and ask ‘what were we, then in response to your article?’ – struggling, declining, dying, or with lots of potential?
For me, the answer is all of the above, but the the time was right, the people were right, the finance (through HM) was right, and God was directing and the people chose to follow (note – not always the case).
The question I therefore ask is, ‘how do we identify these churches and situations?’ It is too simplistic to say large churches can offer this – they can if it is ‘right’. It is too simplistic to say ‘don’t give to long established churches’, because God may still want to raise a new ministry there. It is too simplistic to say that ‘enablers’, ‘evangelists’ or ‘planters’ are the way forward, they will fall flat on their face if it is not Spirit-led.
Our church had a limited life left in it – after 200 years of ministry. HM came in at the right God moment. Was this luck, human judgement, or a Spirit-led response?
I would suggest that we need to ask ‘how can we improve the Spirit-led responses?’ We may need more local input to feedback where we think God is moving, but we should certainly not limit where, when, who and how God wants us to act with HM money. The prophet may therefore be the radical voice needed in HM – and it may be our role to identify those people locally, before the ‘enablers’.
Thanks for starting the discussion Neil, I hope it will be taken much further. In Bristol we are trying to figure out how three small local churches might work together with one shared leadership team. If you (or anyone else) has any idea’s re governance and what shared ministry/mission might look like, we’d be very grateful to hear them.
I agree it is a discussion that is needed! I believe the HM funds should come with other resources – when a school goes into special measures it gets money but also expertise for a period to really help it turn the corner – once people hav…e been supported, envisioned and transformed and are able to continue on wards and upwards. Surrounding schools loan staff and training for that period and then withdraw once internal staff are trained. Outside experts also give input and support.
Churches often need a minister + other help – the one is sometimes not enough.
Within that can come a suggestion to a community to be really radical – a core for something different if that is appropriate,.
Is also means that progress is being monitored closely and where a church is not willing to change and move into a more healthy mode of being then the grant can be withdrawn in the sure knowledge that that that could be done has been done!
Julie, interesting observations made re schools. Are you suggesting churches get the equivalent of an OFSTED? 🙂 – i’d like the BT correspondence on that suggestion! I’m sure other help would be / is offered to churches that ask, but I’m not sure that churches do ask, there is perhaps a lack of humility that we need each other. I’m a little nervous that ‘a more healthy mode of being’ might get translated into financially viable/independent …
Churches with HM already get that – though not always very through – they have to submit reports to visitors who come and see the church,deacons and minsiter – where they ask (should ask) penetrating questions and they then submit reports to Association and Union!
When money is short value judgements have to be made and some denied the help – we need to ensure good stewardship of scarce resources.
I suspect ‘financially viable/independent ‘ is the current criteria and ‘healthy mode’ criteria might help us to support churches who are active rather than able to be independent as some churches in deprived ares may never be able to achieve that due to the circumstances of those who attend!
Just a thought… what if HM grants only went to larger churches? BUT with the clearly communicated expectation (or is that too weak?) that they commit to doubling the amount given as well as putting in other resources (people, property, etc.) to bring new life into areas where smaller churches are struggling, or where fresh expressions are being explored, or where no witness exists at all?
(This doubling must be on top of historical income / mission giving and can’t just be a massaging of the figures!)
Thinking parable of the talents here. Not put in the ground but returned twofold. Or Dragon’s Den for churches! (Or maybe not!)
Add to that, picking up Andy’s point, the requirement that only the broader church (i.e. the other churches in the area, the fresh expressions team, the regional ministers) are all consulted, and trusted, for the decisions on where and how the increased finance and other resources are used.
Inevitably lots to think through – power, longevity, moral responsibility for the people involved, but worth thinking about???
As a minister in training in a church supported by HM, I’m a fan of seeing the money used purposefully and strategically. However, I feel that our radical independence and governance structure as Baptists means that it is very difficult to do things as a denomination strategically – getting churches to work together; or looking at where future effort should be applied nationally. Herein lies the seeds of our own demise, unless as a denomination we can get a grip of it. I don’t see much sign of this at present.
East Lancs Minister-in-Training
As a minister who has received HM funding for most of my 25 years in Baptist ministry, I don’t agree with this.
In my experience large Baptist churches, and large churches in other traditions, contribute least to the corporate life of the wider church. Because large churches feel they don’t need others they don’t find the time or energy to share what they have with churches with fewer resources. Large chuches tend to ascribe their success to their own efforts, creativity and vision, and so they assume that small churches are lacking in these qualities and should be left to die.
Home Mission has a vision for mission through the small church and enabling a presence of the Kingdom in the most difficult communities.
Here’s an idea: why don’t we suggest that the Government’s Development Aid funds are sent to the United States? Then the US would have more resources to support poorer countries.
Wayne, I agree with almost everything you say, but I think you might be missing the point of the original post.
HM resources are limited and getting more so. As a wider Baptist community we do need to acknowledge this. And rather than simply speculate on why it is we also need to address it to ensure that much good work continues and also to enable fresh mission initiatives to get off the ground.
My reading of Neil’s post is of an invitation to imagine how we might begin to address the HM challenge. You might have good reason to think his suggestion won’t work and you might be right. But on the positive side do you have an idea to offer?
Maybe the larger Baptist churches (and other larger churches) are too blinkered. Maybe they don’t think they need their smaller neighbours. Or maybe that’s just the perception of those of us in smaller churches??
That perception needs to be expressed but with humility. E.g. “It’s our impression that you’re self-sufficient and not interested in any contribution from us. Is that true?” Who knows what response that might get?
Maybe the leaders in these larger churches are well aware that they need the input of others. Maybe, like Neil, they’ve asked for our contribution. And maybe, because of our perception, we’ve not heard the invitation or just rubbished it as fine words with no substance??
So any more thoughts…