Effective Ministry has been partnering with local Bishops and Paul Borden to pilot a new Church Growth consultation program in the Diocese. Beginning with two churches, St Clement’s Lalor Park and St Andrew’s Dundas, the consultation process is designed to promote mission and church growth in local Anglican parishes.
Here is a recent article posted on the Sydney Anglican website outlining the initial response to the consultation process.
Dr Paul Borden, recently retired Executive Minister of Growing Healthy Churches (formerly American Baptist Churches of the West) and a church-planting consultant, led the consultation process in both churches. The consultation team, including Dr Borden, Bishop Ivan Lee and Mission Area leaders, spent a weekend at each church interviewing, working with and training both ordained and lay leadership. They then compiled a report with five strengths, five weaknesses, and five prescriptions for promoting church growth and creating an intentional approach to reaching people outside the church.
“I invited Paul to come to Sydney because of his passion for seeing new disciples won for Jesus Christ through the local church,” Bishop Lee says. “Paul is not into any quick fixes but has helped churches and denominations turn around from being in plateau or decline, into a new growth cycle.
“His basic methodology involves three things: clusters of ministers to develop leadership, church consultations and lay training. This fits in very well with our mission area aims of gospel partnership and training.”
According to Dr Borden his approach hinges on three key assumptions: that growth, as seen in the natural world and everyday life, is often a key indicator of general health; that the church is ultimately not meant to serve the saved, but to reach the lost; and that the gospel never changes but the church must always be changing.
“I find that most congregations struggle with creeping consumerism that leads the congregation to function for those who are already a part of the church and not be passionate about reaching out to those that need to know the gospel and take advantage of God’s grace that is found in Jesus Christ,” he says.
“However, I have also discovered that many believers want to reach their neighbours and friends and when a path is provided that helps them do it effectively they will follow.“
Both St Clement’s and St Andrew’s have already received reports from the consultation process, with both congregations voting with large majorities to carry out the recommendations of the report.
“The whole weekend itself was pretty full on,” says St Clement’s senior minister the Rev Mark Tough.
“In some respects it was pretty hard, but it was also really good. I’d say it was one of the best, if not the best, ministry weekend I’ve ever had.”
Mr Tough found the extensive pre-consultation, where churches provide background material on their own ministry history, financial situation and other areas, to be of significant benefit on its own, and helped him understand his new church of less than twelve months.
“The self-study, particularly for me, was very useful in terms of understanding St Clement’s better,” he says “It was a useful exercise even in just understanding the history of the church, but it also made sense of a number of things and I felt I understood the people in the church better.”
The Rev Alistair Seabrook, senior minister at St Andrew’s Dundas, says he was struck by how quickly Dr Borden in particular was able to grasp the dynamics within his church.
“The thing that really impressed me was how, just from the self- study, how good a grasp he has on our situation, and his questions were so insightful,” Mr Seabrook says. “I was very impressed with that and then also the way the weekend gathered momentum. “
Both Bishop Lee and Mr tough said one of the key things they enjoyed about the process was seeing all layers of Sydney Anglican polity – the bishops, regional ministers, local ministers and laity- working together in a concerted and thoughtful manner.
“I think that this is an example of the Diocese working at its best,” Mr Tough says. “We had the bishop and clergy from other churches working hard to help another church in the task of mission. In terms of Michael Robinson [senior minister and Mission Area leader of Blacktown] and Raj Gupta [senior minister at Toongabbie and Mission Area leader of Parramatta] giving up their time, Ivan giving up his time, in my mind that was a really big thing.”
Mr Seabrook says the process itself created a passion for mission and discipleship in his congregation, even before the church voted on the report.
“I love the way that it has engaged the whole of the church,” he says. “Some vision exercises can be quite top down, but I love that this has engaged the congregation as a whole from the start, and even after the weekend but before the report was voted on, there was a new passion and commitment for people to get involved in things.
“I feel like it released that enthusiasm in people.”