It seems an obviously good approach – we live in Sydney, and we should be asking, how do we reach it!
The problem is that the question makes an assumption – that we are starting from scratch, from terra nullius. It didn’t work for Descartes philosophically, and it doesn’t work strategically either. The better question is, from where we are how do we reach this city.
And where we are is the Parish system, back more strongly than ever with Connect ’09. Every square inch of, and every single person resident in, the Diocese is the specifically allocated mission focus of a community of God’s people. For better or worse, that’s one of our givens. So the question becomes, given we are a Diocese of Parishes, how do we reach this city.
And that seems to me to provide some shape to an answer, something like this:
- A church planting arm – because we will always be needing more parishes, as the city grows.
- A church development arm – to help churches do better what they are doing
- A church ‘gaps’ arm – to help church notice and plug gaps where they are not doing ministry.
The relevance of this: we now have 2 out of 3 of these! This is a terrific step forward. Evangelism ministries will have its focus changed to church planting; and the new mission areas, bringing together the parishes in an area to research and reach the ‘tribes’ and ‘deserts’, is the gaps arm.
But 2 further implications follow from this:
It’s really important that the mission areas not also be given the responsibility as the church development arm. This is for 3 reasons – it will dilute their focus and distract; doing both is too much for any specific structure; but most importantly, a church development arm has no particular relationship to geographical areas, and mission areas are by definition geographical. Church development, on the other hand, is much more a function of the place in the life cycle of the church, and the history and situation of the Rector.
This is why the Area Deanery system has been so ineffective, because it tried to do a contextual task (church development) on a geographical basis (areas). It was never going to work. And if the new mission areas lose their specific focus on developing new ministries to tribes and deserts, then I bet they will fall back into the same pattern as area deaneries.
The upshot: 2 out of 3 ain’t bad; in fact, it’s huge progress. But the next step is to create a genuine, embedded arm of the Diocese for church development, distinct from but integrated with, the other 2 arms.
Then under God, this Diocese of 270 (and growing parishes) will be in a position to reach this city for Christ.