VISION FOR CHRIST CHURCH
The purpose of this document is to set out a future vision for Christ Church, Shooters Hill. It is intended to help with having a conversation involving everyone in the church. This vision is based on an understanding of where we are starting from, the challenges which face the church and what concrete actions can be taken to achieve this vision. This will help us serve God more effectively in our church and also provide a stronger sense of community for newcomers to the area.
Vision for Christ Church
In five years’ time we would like the church to continue to try to become as fully inclusive as possible. We would also like it to become both a more spiritual place and one which is completely self-financing, exploiting our assets to the full with a fully engaged community where everyone has a role to play.
Being a Christian
Christian life is lived in relationship with God through Jesus Christ and, in common with other Christians, seeking to deepen that relationship and to follow the way that Jesus taught.
Together, as Christians, we are part of the Body of Christ – the Church. We come together, as a church, to worship God; to deepen our relationship with God and to do Christ’s work in this parish.
In this document we will be looking at the strengths and weaknesses of our church and the challenges we face in our aim to be a place where people can worship God; deepen their relationship with God and where we, as a Church, can do Christ’s work in this parish.
Where We Are Starting From
Overall the church is starting from a very positive position, but there are some important issues under the surface which this document tries to address.
In particular, there is clearly a strong relationship between the church and the school, which is both a strength and a weakness.
In order to fully understand the needs of the parish, several “visioning” exercises were held with the congregation back in 2012. The comments made then by parishioners to describe the best things about the church were overwhelmingly positive, in particular how friendly the church is and its sense of community. The insights from these exercises arguably still hold.
The most recent attempt to understand people’s experiences in the church was the 2016 Christ Church Parish Survey. This survey brought out many positive messages, with comments from respondents describing the church as:
Appropriate for children
However, many respondents to the survey also recognised that the key challenge facing the church is its financial situation.
Most recently the Parochial Church Council (PCC) has been considering the strengths and weaknesses of the church, the threats facing us and the opportunities to resolve these issues. This document reflects that analysis.
There are many strengths to the church which give us a good starting point to address the challenges which face us:
Pen Portrait of the Congregation: The congregation is a diverse mix of people typical for London with different backgrounds and cultures. As described in one of the visioning exercises held in 2012, the congregation is mostly local and reflects the demographic of the immediate area. The congregation is multicultural, in particular with a broad African representation, as well as growing South American representation. A large number of families of all backgrounds attend the school.
The church itself has an interesting history. It started as a church very much founded by the community and was started in The Bull pub near to the present building.
Leadership style: The Vicar and Warden believe that the church and its Christian message have a role to play in social issues and the weekly sermons reflect this. They believe that it is their duty to relate the Gospels to people’s everyday lives. They are also keen to promote messages of tolerance and are positive about other religions. The Vicar and Warden are keen to demonstrate an inclusive and cooperative leadership style and want to actively listen to all opinions within the congregation. Several members of the PCC have been appointed as “listeners” so that people can approach them if they have reflections that they wish to share.
The Challenges Facing the Church
The challenges which the church is facing are essentially around three themes:
On the whole the church congregation is a friendly and vibrant community. There are however some issues around commitment from people who, for a variety of reasons, are only temporarily active in the congregation.
The location of the church near to an outstanding primary school is clearly one driver for the “churn” in the congregation (as high as 25% turnover of people by some estimates).
A particular challenge is dealing with churn related to entry into the school and how to retain parishioners once they have a place at the school confirmed.
There is a broader challenge of balancing the needs of those who come to the church for a relatively short time with those who have been attending for a long time (some in excess of 60 years).
One way to address this turnover in the size of the congregation is to imbue a greater sense of commitment amongst parishioners, particularly those who aspire to be active members of the congregation.
A related weakness therefore of the church is the level of commitment to volunteering from the congregation. There are some projects in the church where there are not enough volunteers (e.g. the Saturday morning Working Party) or variable levels of commitments to volunteering.
Variation in the size of the congregation over the year can also have an impact on the ability of the church to engage with the local community.
The role of active governors is clearly key to the success of the primary school. Communication between governors and the church is obviously critical to the success of the church and this is an area that could arguably be strengthened.
In terms of leadership another threat to the church is the perception that leadership of the church rests solely with the Vicar and Warden. Too many issues in the church currently end up having to be solved by the Warden, again due in part to the lack of sufficient numbers of volunteers.
Everyone has a role in the church and can demonstrate leadership if they have ideas which will strengthen the church. The whole church needs to try and work as a team with everyone feeling they can share responsibility for the challenges which face the church.
Key to all of this is the leadership which must be demonstrated by the members of the Parochial Church Council and the role they can play in spreading the load of responsibility. Apart from being a fairer system, it also is essential to the long term success of the church. The church must move to a more sustainable system where roles and responsibilities are spread more evenly. The church will only thrive in the future if it has the capacity to do so.
There is also a number of challenges facing the church building itself and the hall next door. The church is still essentially a 19th Century design and arguably not fit for purpose for a modern congregation. Several of the issues facing both buildings are listed below to give a flavour of the scale of challenge:
Lack of space for a small dedicated children’s area for those parents who wish to have their children in church.Large font at north porch entrance is inappropriately sited (although, it must be noted only from a practical point of view - symbolically it is in the right place) and obstructs the view of congregation sitting immediately behind it.
At various times in the past, the Parochial Church Council has discussed options to improve the site, but without a real sense of either urgency or mission.
Additional space in a parish hall could be used for a variety of purposes, such as nursery provision, club for elderly people, more weddings and outreach work to young people in the area.
One of the most pressing threats to the future of the church is the challenges of putting the church’s finances onto a more stable footing.As already noted, this was clearly recognized by members of the parish in the recent parish survey as a serious problem.
As things currently stand the church’s financial resources are not enough to support the costs of running of the church. This difference is stark and action must be taken, if the church is to have a meaningful future. This is within the context of cuts to the payments made to the Diocese, which mean that we are not self-supporting as a parish.
The church will need to continue to have a healthy sized congregation to ensure that the collections are a strong source of funding.Not having a sustainable source of income reduces the ability of the church to be a place of worship. We need a congregation that is generous and that understands that all we have we have received from God and that we need to give back to God in thanksgiving for all that we have received.
One obvious way to raise more revenue would be if parishioners donated more money.The current business model of the church relies heavily on generosity of the congregation. We ask people to recognise that the overall level of giving has to increase.
These issues do have links to broader Christian issues, such as the “theology of giving”. The church has a strong offer – not least the presence of an outstanding Ofsted school nearby. There is therefore a need to have a conversation within the congregation what a reasonable expectation is on each member of the congregation, accepting that something has to be done. This means us all moving on a journey together within the church. We have to recognise that, although the church is God’s house, it doesn’t come for free!
One of our strengths is the number of young families in our congregation. However, this can also be one of the most challenging times for families, with many pressures on time and finances, many conflicting demands.
How We Will Face These Challenges
None of the challenges facing the church are new or unique to the church. There are many opportunities to address these challenges. The greatest resource which the church has is the congregation itself.
One opportunity would be to engage more with the local community. This could involve targeting specific groups e.g. new mothers, or the community as a whole e.g. leaflets through front doors.
There may also need to be a greater level of interaction between the school and the church.
Improving communication within the congregation would also be another opportunity to engage with the congregation more (such as by setting up a WhatsApp group).
The purpose of this document is to help have a conversation within the church about how we can all help the church to thrive. This will only work if everyone is willing to engage in it in a positive spirit.
Once a consensus has been reached within the congregation on what to do an Action Plan will be developed to make it a reality.