Grassroots voices heard on future of Church
Published on 1 February, 2017
The Kirk must widen its reach, deepen its commitment and become more flexible in its approach if it is to meet the needs of 21st Century Scotland, a major listening exercise has confirmed.
The ‘On the Road’ events – commissioned by the 2016 General Assembly - visited 16 locations across the country to gauge the opinion of hundreds of members about the future direction of the Church.
Discussions at the events focussed on two major questions. Firstly, how can we become the Church we hope to be with regards to worship, making disciples and engaging communities? Secondly how can we meet our ongoing leadership needs across our congregations?
The events were held using a ‘world café’ format, where participants gathered in small groups to discuss ideas and were invited to write these down as they went along.
They were neither asked to rank items in order of importance, nor to reach a consensus within the group. In this way, the voices of everyone were heard with equal emphasis. The material gathered has been collated and analysed, and is now being fed into development of a wider strategic plan for the Church.
The outline of the programme and some of the notes from it can be found here.
Rev Dr Martin Scott, Secretary of the Council of Assembly, said: “This has been an ambitious listening exercise and we are delighted at the number of people who took part and the quality of participation.
"Whilst the information presented at each event was the same, it has been fascinating to see how the discussion and responses have varied according to the different needs of each area.
"I hope you will take time to look at our initial statistical analysis and the common themes which are emerging from it. These will feed into our interim report at the General Assembly in May.
"The listening process will continue as we work towards an overall strategic plan for the Church which we will present to the General Assembly in 2018."
A flavour of the comments which came back from ‘On the Road ‘ is offered here under the headings which the events followed.
* On worship, 40% of respondents felt the Church needs to diversify its style, with one person in the Highlands going so far as to throw down the challenge: “Must worship always be on Sundays and in the same place?”
* One fifth of responses expressed a desire to enable elders and congregations themselves to participate moreregularly in leading worship.
* An attendee in the Western Isles reflected a strong call for all of God’s people to be more actively involved, saying: “Years of culture and tradition, where the minister was ‘be all and end all’, needs to be broken and challenged.”
* Another in the Northern Isles noted a common theme that more training was needed for ordinary folks who are capable of leading: “More people in the Church need to get involved and take services but people need to be developed and supported to do this.”
* An eighth of respondents suggested more congregations should be sharing knowledge through using online materials, including one participant in Perthshire who highlighted the need to stream more services online.
In the area of making disciples, participants pointed to a number of key elements, including:
* The need to deepen our relationships with God and with each other.
* A call to prayer and bible study.
* Opportunities to come together, sometimes over food, with space to talk and listen.
On the theme of ‘engaging communities’, the need for the Kirk to be more flexible in its approach was apparent in the findings. Comments included:
*Working together was a common theme, including a desire to work ecumenically and with other groups in the community.
*19% of participants highlighted the fact that many congregations are already active in their communities, seeing the importance of going out into the community, with a further 11% noting that services offered by congregations locally are seen as a real priority.
*The importance of good communications, both local and national, was highlighted by 12%.
Ordained local ministers
The need for more Ordained Local Ministers (OLMs) was affirmed across the country, but participants noted some of the barriers to preparing for OLM and in raising enthusiasm for it among potential applicants:
*The training process for OLM needs to be more accessible training (28%)
*We need to consider paying OLMs for their work (21%) – currently they offer their services on a non-stipendiary basis.
This is a response to the need to deploy full-time paid ministers effectively in a context where the Church will be well short of the numbers needed to staff the current level of separate charges.
It sees the Parish minister as the leader of a team of diverse ministries, where colleagues work together to offer ministry across several existing congregations. Over half those taking part were generally positive about the idea (57%).There were important contributions as to the flexibility needed in any group adopting this approach:
*While a large number likes the general principle, there was a regular emphasis on making it flexible enough to meet the needs of different contexts (rural; urban; suburban; island; etc.)
*The majority said it was not necessary for the Parish minister to ‘manage’ the Hub – they could draw on the skills of other talented and experienced people to do this.
*The Hub shape particular to congregations should be allowed to grow locally from within their experience and not be imposed by others.
*Some concerns were expressed about differences between congregations who might be asked to be in a Hub, such as style of worship and theology.
*34% of respondents felt a Hub offered an opportunity better to share resources between congregations.
*30% saw training as essential to creating the best possible Hub system and pointed to the provision of this as being a function for the national Church bodies.
The material gathered from On the Road will form part of an interim report on the development of a Strategic Plan for the whole Church, to be delivered by the Council of Assembly to the General Assembly in May.