Pioneering Parishes: the word is getting out

Pioneering Parishes: the word is getting out

Pioneering Parishes is about redirecting congregations’ energy outward into their local communities.

“The thing is, Greg, we are just never going to go to church.”

by Naomi Rose Steinberg

These were the candid words of one couple to Rev Greg Bakker, one of the leaders of Pioneering Parishes.

Research indicates that 85 per cent of the non-churchgoers in the UK, just like this couple, are unlikely to ever come to church.

But that doesn’t mean they are unreachable.

Pioneering Parishes is about redirecting congregations’ energy outward into their local communities. And nurturing the discovery of faith among a wider range of people, like this church-wary couple.

Energy shift

This is a real shift of thinking and practice.

For many churches, the majority of energy and resources are focused inward, constantly pulled to the centre.

It takes someone like Greg or co-leader Rev Tina Hodgett to help churches become more outward-focused, without increasing workload on clergy.

It’s not a competition

Greg and Tina understand that pioneering and traditional ministry have often been seen as hostile rivals. People in traditional churches can feel threatened by new approaches and continually being told that only the new is needed.

Tina Hodgett
Pioneering Parishes founders: Rev Tina Hodgett…
Greg Bakker
…and Rev Greg Bakker

Pioneering Parishes doesn’t treat pioneering and parochial as foes. It’s not an either/or thing – each sphere brings a unique contribution.

Pioneering Parishes training fosters learning and collaborating between local churches, pioneers and those we want to engage outside of church. The team are persuaded that pioneering should be an integral part of every parish and that all churches are called to be pioneering. That’s one key theme that comes out through the training.

There are other key factors too:

Unlock barriers to thriving

One thing the Pioneering Parishes team have learned as they go is that one barrier to churches being able to move outward is grief. There can be sadness and a deep sense of things being lost in the process.

One vicar said that a church can be so full of this kind of feeling that there’s an expectation that someone can come wave a wand and make things like they used to be.

In Pioneering Parishes training, the team help congregations lament about what might have been lost so they can move forward together.

Be driven by values

Pioneering Parishes is rooted in helping churches become values driven.

Many congregations are stuck on personal preference being the basis for decision making.

One parishioner once practically screamed at Greg after a service: “You played the wrong tune!” Greg asked, “Do you mean it was morally objectionable or that you prefer another tune?” The woman then clarified that she meant the latter and, thankfully, smiled.  

“So many communities make decisions on preferences instead of values,” says Greg.  

“So, we help congregations go through a values discernment process, to help them determine what and who they want to be.

“It’s not that preference is wrong, but values help pave the way forward so the church can be who they have agreed to be for God and their local community.”

Nurture dreamers

Churches can be good at snuffing out alternative thinkers, making them feel unvalued or unheard. So the Pioneering Parishes team ask, “How can we nurture an environment where creative thinkers are allowed to thrive?

“How do we identify dreamers who do?

“What can we put into our frameworks and structures to allow for all kinds of ideas to be put on the table without judgment or ridicule?”

Effective and affordable

To see some of the inspiring ways congregations have taken Pioneering Parishes training and applied it to their local contexts, click here for stories.

Pioneering Parishes is not off the shelf training; it gives churches tools, postures, practices and skills to help change their culture:

“We hope to see church culture focused on the edges, engaging people at the edges in context-appropriate ways that will lead them to faith discovery and faith development.”

In this way, the fact that 85 per cent of non-churchgoers might never attend church is seen as an opportunity for creative mission, not an occasion for doom and gloom.

Hundreds of people have taken part in Pioneering Parishes training so far. It’s currently a real bargain, thanks to a grant that subsidises the cost of the seminars – £10 for four sessions.

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