Congregation: Who let the church... out?

The next Pioneering Parishes course (a series of four fortnightly webinars) is starting in 22 September. Its up our street so, may well be up your sreet. Details here. We highly recommends it to HeartEdge churches wanting to focus outwards. Catherine Morgan Hickey explains:

A few months back I met someone with a pioneer role attached to a HeartEdge church – a church which is creative, welcoming and inclusive, with its doors always open, literally and figuratively. She is building relationships on a housing estate located at the edge of the town, isolated by geography, poor transport links and its reputation, but a place of genuine community. She commented playfully that if the church ever closed its doors she’d rather be locked out than locked in, such is her interest in what God is doing among people and places beyond the church. This reminded me of a comment during our Pioneer Practice webinar series in January in collaboration with CMS, that pioneers begin things beyond the church in the hope that the church will open its doors, come out and join in. This image of the church moving out, rather than just letting people in, through its doors has stuck with me. It resonates with the HeartEdge aim of the church reimagining itself in relation to society, moving into new spaces, discerning how God is at work beyond the church.  It struck me that pioneers have a key role to play in letting the church out.

The words “pioneer” and “parish” have sometimes been pitted against each other. That is changing with the growing recognition of pioneer ministry in different denominations and the emphasis on developing a “mixed ecology” (one of the Church of England’s three priorities). But for many parish churches pioneering is unchartered territory and the inward pull of church life is a real challenge. This is where the Pioneering Parishes course comes in. It bills itself as “a series of four fortnightly webinars to help parishes start to move their energy outwards, become more pioneering and network with others”.

Pioneering Parishes has been devised and is run by Revd Tina Hodgett (co-creator of the Pioneer Spectrum) and Revd Greg Bakker (Dean of Pioneer Ministry in the Diocese of Portsmouth).  It offers a series of “postures, practices and tools” to help participants explore what pioneering is, why it is needed, and how parish churches can create an environment in which pioneering groups and individuals can flourish, supported by the church’s values, mission and vision. Tina and Greg also invite input from the participants to shape the particular content of each series.

Pioneering Parishes is now offered in two stages: ‘starting out’ and ‘next steps’. It tackles the challenge of changing church culture head-on with practical tools to help parishes resist the pull to the centre, and to identify what they need to stop doing in order to do new things. This seems highly relevant to churches in the HeartEdge network as they move into new innovative spaces through culture, commerce, compasson and congregation initiatives, working with others and discovering the Kingdom of God beyond the church. It often takes people with a pioneer gift to get such initiatives off the ground.

While pioneering and HeartEdge are different movements there are points of overlap, here’s seven:

  1. Both movements value imagination - seeing differently – re-imagining the church, how it gathers and how it relates to society
  2. Both value creativity, innovation and experimentation.
  3. Both stress the importance of context – discerning what God is doing in your context and joining in
  4. Both encourage a lens of abundance rather than scarcity – looking for the gifts in our midst – seeing treasure rather than trash
  5. Both are about moving outwards, building new connections and being church in new ways, sometimes in new or unexpected partnerships. This means being prepared to learn from others, to receive (not only offer) hospitality and to be in spaces others control.
  6. Both require the hard graft of learning how to do things differently – moving into the unfamiliar, identifying what you don’t know and the help you need, building team etc.
  7. Both require and contribute to culture change in the broader church.

HeartEdge sums up this culture change as “humbler church, Bigger God”. People with pioneering gifts, who are discovering what God is doing beyond the church, can help us see what this looks like. Local churches need pioneers and need to support those in their midst, or on their margins, who have this gift. Of course, pioneer ministry has value in its own right, but it certainly challenges and enables the broader church to open its doors and step outside.