The article went on to say that the Session had set aside a day in November to consider the work of the two groups and concluded with these words, “This gives you time to contribute your own thoughts. We are at an important point in the life and witness of our Church and if we truly believe in the importance of creating a sustainable and worshipping congregation of God’s people in our community for generations to come, it will take all of us to think deeply and prayerfully about what that means. Please let us know how best you think we can secure that lasting legacy. Your contributions will help the Session in its work. “
The Session Away Afternoon was held on Sunday 12th November at the Carrick Centre, Maybole. The Carrick Centre was used as it had the advantage of letting elders see an example of what one church had done in building a new facility and responding to the needs of its community.
The event began with worship led by Simon Walker that set a positive, prayerful and challenging tone for the day’s work. Following this, elders moved through a number of sessions. This current piece brings you right up to date with what the Session has concluded and once again invites your own thoughts.
A Context and reality
Peter Howard had been one of those working on figures and he took us through some statistics at the national and local level. Focussing on our own congregation he displayed the following graph and highlighted the steady fall in membership and the projection of future membership if the decline continued at the same rate for the next thirty years as it had done in the past.
Peter suggested that there may even be acceleration in the rate of decline due in part to the increasing age of the congregation and the increasing lack of young, new members. If this were to be the case, the numbers on the graph might be considered to be the most optimistic. The figure of possibly only 60 attending morning worship by 2046 was particularly arresting.
The gap between the number on the role and the number actually attending was also highlighted. More people are involved with Greenbank through its many organisations than are on the roll of members or who attend on a Sunday and there was some discussion as to how best we can reflect this larger number when we talk about numbers. There was also discussion about how we encourage those on the roll who are no longer actively involved to become involved once again.
Peter then moved on to look at the possible financial impact of a falling membership roll. He emphasised that a church like ours should be able to cover costs with its offering income and not have to rely on additional sources. That is not currently the case and clearly would not be in the future. In addition to direct offering income, we recovered almost £40,000 in Gift Aid in 2016 but that income will of course decline over the years ahead in line with falling offerings generally.
Non offering income, which for 2016 stood at around £49,000, includes for example income from the rent of halls and donations from various sources. This income has risen over recent years mainly due to a sustained effort by many to increase it. There is, however, a limit as to how much can be generated and we may well be at or close to that limit at the moment, certainly as far as capacity for further hall rental is concerned. While very welcome, non-offering income will never be as secure as offerings. It would only take one or two of those currently renting accommodation to move elsewhere, or cease renting for any reason, for us to see a disproportionate decrease in income.
Peter also reminded the Session of the list of work, totalling a significant cost and reported at the previous Session meeting that could not be undertaken through lack of funds. This figure is certain to grow over time as the property continues to age.
The falling roll also has non-financial implications. We know already how difficult it is to find people to take up roles within the Church and with a far smaller pool of people to draw on; this will only become more and more difficult.
Two Sundays after the Maybole event, the minister spoke about the current reality within the broader, National Church. Over the last ten years, the church as a whole has lost 160,000 members and 24,000 children from attendance at Sunday worship and lost 11,000 elders and 246 ministers. There are more than 260 vacant churches in the Church of Scotland and this figure is increasing by 17 each month as Ministers retire. Of the 750 ministers currently in post, 400 are due to retire within five years and presently there are only 38 ministers under the age of 40 and very few ministers in training. The consequence is that within the next 5 years the Church will probably have 350 ministers to serve 1032 parishes throughout Scotland and this figure will still be declining.
A Sustainable, Worshipping Congregation
This session, led by Jim Harvey challenged us to think deeply about what we meant as a Session when we talked about a sustainable, worshipping congregation. He spoke of the constantly evolving nature of the church and the fact that it was now our turn to think deeply about how the church should evolve to meet the challenges of the modern world. Elders were asked to depict, either in word or picture, what they regarded as the key characteristics of a sustainable, worshipping congregation.
What is really important?
The task of the next session was to distil the large number of characteristics in the previous discussion down to a core set, avoiding duplication and repetition of ideas but with a focus on non-property characteristics, recognising that the church is not the building. This was in keeping with the discussions that had taken place over the summer by the group looking at property option definitions when it decided that they would only be able to finalise their work once the precise nature of future communication with the congregation had been agreed.
An extract from a note of their final meeting included the following; “We could use this time (up to the publication of the Local Development Plan 2) to focus on the harsh realities we face, in particular, to establish a better understanding of this and an acceptance that action will be needed to avoid a crisis; to discuss new and better ways of engaging with a changing society, in particular with our community; and to discuss how we can find new and better ways to bring people to faith. During our discussion we posed the questions: how did we come to faith and what part (if any) did a building play in this – for us, the building was not a major influence. Yet the building seems to be the major topic of discussion whenever we talk about the Legacy Project. “
Kate Sanderson led us through this session and encouraged discussion as we went. The group agreed that the key characteristics included:
Being a community hub
- Being part of the community, not necessarily geographically but in spirit and living our faith through our actions
- Encouraging members of the wider community to continue to feel that they belonged to the church in some way in the hope that in God’s time that sense of belonging might lead to believing.
- Many of those present commented that on entering the Carrick Centre they knew this was a community facility but there was no doubt that it was also a church.
- An essential characteristic was the need to make people feel welcomed at all times of the week.
- Some spoke of the fact that many who are unfamiliar with the church or churches could be afraid to enter the building as they simply do not know what happens or how they are to dress or behave once inside.
- The positive influence of having a real and genuine welcome was emphasised.
- Very many depictions and words on the frieze focussed on the issue of relevance.
- Our approach needs to be seen as relevant to the modern world, not a past age.
- Worship needs to be relevant and reflect the digital age in which many now live their daily life.
- The relevance of buildings and other resources required for our work in the community was also mentioned.
- Relevance was seen as helping achieve the aim of being inclusive. If we are not seen by folk to be relevant, they will exclude themselves.
A seven-day a week church
- Responses spoke about the need to not let our entire thinking be dominated or determined by what happens in one hour on a Sunday.
- Creating a sense of community will not happen if we limit ourselves to worship one hour each week at a time when we know the majority of our parish do not attend.
- The need to ensure that whatever we do, and what we do not do, does not place a heavy financial burden on those who will come after us.
- The need to strive for financial sustainability.
- Ensuring that we are sustainable in terms of the people necessary to fulfil the mission of the church.
At its February meeting, the Kirk Session agreed on these characteristics and also that they would be used as the yardstick against which to assess future decisions concerning our legacy, including decisions relating to property.
The Session would be very interested in your own views on these characteristics. Do they seem to you to be the right ones to describe the kind of sustainable, worshipping congregation we all wish for in our community for years to come? If you use email then please email your thoughts to email@example.com. Alternatively, you can send written comments to the church office. All views are welcome.
A session led by Lindy Dallas looked at the possible challenges that might face us in trying to achieve the characteristics we had identified. The discussion that followed could be categorised into three areas of challenge.
The first related to how we all can move away from a focus on buildings to one that looked at the whole mission of the church in our community.
A second was to determine what else we might do to create a sense of community not only within the congregation but also between the congregation and the wider community
A third challenge was how we keep relevant in this modern, fast-moving world.
Alan Veitch then concluded the session with agreement from those present that volunteers would be invited to continue the discussion on meeting challenges and bring recommendations to the Session. That work is continuing and further updates will be provided.
The afternoon concluded with a thought-provoking session led by the minister that ended with the following question:
Can we, will we, hold in our hands all of our joys, anxieties, questions, plans, challenges, opportunities and carry those loads whilst still walking forward in trust with Jesus, to make God’s love real and relevant to our travelling companions? Following the meeting, a small sub group of volunteers agreed to continue the discussion looking specifically at:
- How we help us all move away from a focus on buildings to one that looked at the whole mission of the church in our community.
- What else we might do to create a sense of community not only within the congregation but also between the congregation and the wider community
- How we can keep relevant in this modern, fast-moving world.
They will bring forward any recommendations to the Kirk Session.
Due to the ongoing update of ERC’s Local Development Plan, it will be a number of months before further progress can be made on our property options.
The latest advice we have received from ERC is that the Plan will be presented to the Council in September. In the meantime, as you will see in this update, the Session is keen to move away from a focus on buildings to reach a consensus on the characteristics of a church for the future and an understanding of what a sustainable, worshipping congregation actually means. Therefore the Session is keen to hear your own ideas on the key challenges outlined above and how they might be addressed. Do you have ideas that you would like the Session to consider? If you use email then please email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can send written comments to our Church Office. The Kirk Session would very much value your contribution.