Archive for the ‘If I ran the Diocese, I’d …’ Category

When money is tight, there are only 2 options – cut back expenditure, or find additional sources of income.

For the Sydney Diocese, money has never been tighter. The losses incurred in the GFC continue to rumble down the pipe-line. Until now, the response has been to cut back. And that’s been exactly the right thing to do – central activities can be important, but they are not the front line.

The current proposal is to stop cutting back, and to find more income, and there is only one place that can come from – taxing the parishes.

It’s included in a document you can read here, for the pre-Synod briefings this week (the particular report starts on p. 83).

It looks harmless enough – a suggestion for a set of new principles for the Diocesan budget. What stands out is the fact that 2 groups of costs are to be shifted away from being covered by central income, and onto the parishes.

One calculation suggests this could amount to $2-2.5M!

The reasoning for this shift is unconvincing.

Although it’s not argued for in any detail, there are a couple of hints that the basis of shifting these costs to the parishes is the fact that they are necessary for us as a Diocese. But that’s not a reason, it’s a logical leap, a fallacy – the fact that they are necessary simply means they should be the first expenditures we make (from funds available to the Synod  from the Diocesan endowment), not that the parishes should pay.

If we had no central funds available at all, then it would make sense that the parishes should bear the cost. But we still do have central funds – not as much as previously – but still nearly $5M in 2012 for the Synod, and more from the Endowment of the See (the Fund that currently pays for the bishops).

The only legitimate argument that the parishes should pay is that the particular item of central expenditure is more important than front line parish ministry.

So here’s the thing – our conviction (up til now) has been that the parishes are the centre of the Diocese. It’s front line ministry that matters most. We don’t hold the view of other Dioceses, who see great significance in the office of bishop, a central bureaucracy etc. Our commitment is to evangelism, preaching, prayer, pastoring, the local church in missional mode.

If this proposal is adopted, what we’ll be saying is that to the tune of around $2M, front line ministry is less important than centralised programs.

Surely we can’t say that?


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Synod is here, and it dominates – in time and thought – and so even though I have outstanding debts regarding population policy, I’m shifting to Synod business.

On Wednesday, we deal with an initiative in church planting. And I’ve finally figured out what’s wrong with it.

It’s too nice.

I was at the Anglican Church League dinner. Al Stewart, who leads the soon-to-be-renamed ‘New Churches’ organization, gave the keynote address. His topic was church planting, and he made it clear why it was so necessary.

It’s because so many of our churches are decrepit.

The image he used was of a person getting old. When you get old you start losing your vision, your flexibility, your urgency, your creativity etc. You start to value order, comfort, predictability, you become risk averse and slow. The point of course – many of our churches are old churches, they are not doing the job (the reading was from Matt 25, and the challenge was put whether Jesus would say to us, ‘well done good and faithful servants’). And so we need to plant churches that will.

This may be true. But what is really clear is that it is the inadequacy of existing churches that is being used as the basis for church planting in a Diocese where we have plenty of space in our existing churches.

So here’s the point. The main problem with the church planting strategy is that it’s still too nice.

If inadequate churches are the problem, then we should have the courage to name them. To speak the unspeakable and instead of speaking in safe generalities, and name names. The issues that Al mentioned were reasonably objective, and although it may well be painful, it shouldn’t be too hard to defend this labelling. It’s just too easy to speak in general terms.

But with the labeling comes responsibility. Namely, the responsibility to help those churches turn around. Getting labeled should initiate a sequence of events. Along with a ‘New Churches’ ministry, we need a ‘Renewing Churches’ ministry. Its task would be to work with all labeled churches – Rector and members – for, say, 3 years. If at the end of the 3 years, there was no turn around, then the parish should be handed over to New Churches to do an effective church plant. Mission areas will never be able to do this job effectively – it takes more time, and more specific training, than mission areas can provide. It needs a structure in its own right, upon which mission area can call.

Of course, no one can coerce an Anglican church / Rector to do anything, so if a labeled church refused to participate, then New Churches would be free to proceed.

So here’s the challenge. Is anyone prepared to name names, and label 20 churches. (The label of course would be ‘Turnaround Prospect’).Better still would be to self-label.

The time has come to stop pretending, and letting the culture of niceness stop effective gospel ministry. There are a lot of sick, declining churches out there. But just plonking a plant in their parish is not the answer. We need to be more honoring than that. We need to be more accountable than that. And the accountability goes both ways – the Diocese should be accountable for providing a Renewing Churches ministry; and churches should be accountable if they are failing.

At the moment, we have half a strategy, and like a row boat with one oar in the water, the danger is that we just go round and round in circles.

The question is – do we have the courage to create a system that will do both halves of the job. I understand that in New York, the education system was turned around by a rigorous approach to failure – every year, they close down the worst performing 10% of schools. At the same time, they open new schools with new leadership and new DNA.

Of course, simply shutting down churches is too brutal, and frankly not necessary. St Matthias’ Centennial Park was fewer than 20 people before it was turned around in the late 70’s, and there are plenty of similar stories. It’s possible, it happens quite often. And it needs to happen more. And where it’s not happening, a New Church should be planted.

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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.


from flickr by Stevpas68

And that seems to me to provide some shape to an answer, something like this:

  1. A church planting arm – because we will always be needing more parishes, as the city grows.
  2. A church development arm – to help churches do better what they are doing
  3. 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.

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I’m in Melbourne this week at an Arrow Leadership Australia conference. It’s a ministry designed to fast-track the leadership development of church and para-church ministers. we have nothing really like it in our context.

Just talking with one of the Melbourne Anglicans here. They have a fascinating system, with a step between curate and rector. Called ‘Priest in charge’ (don’t worry about the lingo for the moment), the idea is that there is an on-the-job probationary period of 2 years, during which there is a lot of input for you from the Regional bishop, archdeacons, etc – a leadership development program, 360 degree assessment etc.

Sounds like an interesting possibility?

I hear the objections – can we trust the bishops with this power? But I think the time has come to move past this objection. Planning for a worst-case-scenario world is more likely to deliver it, it seems to me!

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So, this is a biggy …

from flickr by gerryblog

from flickr by gerryblog

In case I hadn’t mentioned it before, 80-85% of churches in the Diocese are plateaued or declining. At present we have 2 basic strategies for responding to this (we also run conferences etc, but these are not systematic or specific).

  1. give them some money to kick start them.
  2. replace the Rector.

The problem is, we’ve run out of the first, and we have to wait (sometimes decades) for the second. Hence, 80-85% of churches etc. In other words, we have no real response available.

Now, as you know, I’m arguing for a third strategy – a deliberate program of church revitilisation, using a 3 pronged approach of a line-in-the-sand consultation, a coach for the following 12 months for the Rector and church, and an ongoing leadership peer-cluster for the Rector.

There is also a 4th strategy, which is to plant new churches. This is more a work-around than a solution, and is needed why? Because of Rector tenure.

The key, of course, is to do it well! Not punitively, not unilaterally, not impatiently. It should be difficult, but not impossible, for a Rector to be helped to find a new church to serve.

Some principles

  • just because a Rector is struggling in one place, doesn’t mean he has nothing to contribute – plenty flourish at other places. No one gets written off.
  • the church, parish council, and bishop must be agreed – no unilateral action.
  • 12 months notice should be given – no hasty action.
  • notice should be given only after help (the consultation / coach / cluster) has not helped or been refused – the accountability is two-sided.
  • Others?

One way to normalise this is to provide for a mandatory review of a ministry, say, after 5 years (this is Al Lukabyo’s idea). This builds in the expectation that such a thing is normal, and just part of the process. On the other hand, it may tend towards shorter incumbencies, which correlates with church decline.

Either way, tenure is an anachronism whose time is over. We desperately need to be much more nimble in responding to churches in trouble.

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The second big development – there will be no national church planting network linked to Acts 29 and Mark Driscoll, as reported by Mikey Lynch on Sunday.

That was potentially one contribution to the second big question:

from flickr by anderspace

from flickr by anderspace

How to balance the competing priorities of church planting and church revitalisation, and how to structure a church planting program in a Diocese where every square inch is already in a Parish?

The fact is, there is nothing given about the number of churches / Parishes we have. And church planting, especially missional church planting, is the flavour of the year.

At the same time, to state the obvious, every place a church plant could be located will already be in a Parish, often a Parish that is struggling (since most are).

So the question becomes, do we go for a church plant, or a revitalisation, in a particular area? And if it’s a plant, how will it relate to the already-in-place Parish?

There are all sorts of murky things here. On the one hand, Rectors are prone to spectacular defensiveness, resisting review and at the same time, fearful that a church plant in the area they serve will make things harder, not easier, for them. A NIMBY mentality can apply to church plants as well as second airports! However, as I understand it, more churches in an area is good for all the churches in an area, and raises the spiritual temperature altogether.

On the other hand, there is enough smoke to suggest that often, the result of a church plant is not missional, but transfer of keen, often younger and energetic Christians, from the existing Parish to the plant, the net result being a shuffling of deck chairs. Rectors are understandably skeptical of the large dreams dreamed by Sydney church planters – can we point to 10 genuinely missional plants?

So what principles should apply as we seek to work out these competing priorities? How about this as one: no church plants in a  Parish until the Parish has been offered (and refused) both

  • a consultation/coaching program
  • the plant to be structurally a part of the Parish, with one bank account, one Parish Council, one Rector

Church planting and revitalisation combined?

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from flickr by tim berry's photostream

from flickr by tim berry's photostream

2 significant developments – 2 significant questions – 1 at a time.

With the SMH article last week breaking the story about the huge cut in Diocesan resources, and consequent slashing of funding for ministries, it seems to me that the big issue is:

Will funds for direct parish ministry be preserved via the Regional Councils, or will the funding of Diocesan organisations be disproportionately maintained?

This is a very telling decision. It will show us a great deal about who we really are and what we really value.

Our rhetoric is that the Parish is the center of the Diocese, and in our heart of hearts we know that’s true. And of course, funding the Dio Orgs is ultimately about the parishes, albeit indirectly and eventually – though as John Maynard Keynes said, in the long run we’re (the churches?) all dead!

But when it comes to budget time, the squeakiest wheels get the good oil, and the fact is that the Dio.Org leaders will be present at meetings, whereas those who would be given grants won’t be. The squeaking will go all one way – will the money?

My understanding is that:

  1. around 15-20% of churches in the Diocese are growing
  2. many of those churches have been significantly helped by grants from their Regional Council
  3. at the same time, other grant recipient churches haven’t grown

The wrong conclusion to draw from this is that grants are an unreliable tool, and can be dispensed with.

The right conclusion is that a grant used well is one of only 2 tools we have for helping parishes to grow (the other is to change the Rector), so we need to be much better at making sure the grants we give will be used well, rather than fail to kick-start a church’s growth. Remove them, and the number of growing churches will decline.

Funding for Moore College runs about the same level as the total allocation to the Regions. It will be interesting to see how they each fare.

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