Diocese of Portsmouth

    Conference inspires parishes in mission

    Vision and Strategy
    18 March 2023

    AROUND 100 clergy and lay leaders were inspired to think about enlarging their congregations at a day conference.

    They gathered at St George’s Church, Portsea, for a day on the theme of ‘Leading Your Church Into Growth’ (LYCIG). It was led by LYCIG director Canon Robin Gamble, who encouraged parishes to create plans and strategies to help their churches grow, numerically, spiritually and in terms of their impact on local communities.

    It was the latest in a series of LYCIG conferences organised by our diocese, which began before the pandemic. Similar groups of clergy and lay leaders have gathered for residential conferences in Liphook previously for similar sessions. For some, the day was a refresher, whereas for others it was the first time they’d engaged with this material.

    Delegates were given the chance to chat to each other throughout the day
    Canon Robin Gamble kept delegates engaged with a light-hearted, practical style of speaking

    Canon Robin Gamble, who is a vicar in Bradford and bishops adviser in church growth for the Diocese of Leeds, began by setting the context. He pointed out that our society is secular, and me-focussed, but with a vague recollection of the role of the Church. The Covid pandemic speeded up elements of church decline, and the 2021 Census confirmed that less than half of those in the UK would class themselves as Christian.

    “After the pandemic, the average Sunday congregation was initially a third smaller than it was before,” he said. “The most recent research in five dioceses says that the figure is now 26 per cent down on before the pandemic. It’s often the larger churches – those with 100 or more adults – that have struggled to see people return. Meanwhile, the Census figure is something I don’t see talked about by church leaders. These are shocking figures, but we don’t seem to be shocked by them into doing something. Is this just the new normal, or a launching pad for something new?

    “We assume, a bit like climate change, that we need to do something radical at some point, but – like climate change – we keep putting it off. Many have bought into ‘decline-itis’ – they assume that the best we can do is to slow the decline.

    “In LYCIG, we don’t have a magic formula, but there are things that we know have worked before, and they aren’t rocket science. We have seven simple steps, and they are things that any church can do – to pray, to invite people along, and to make them feel welcome.”

    He outlined that establishing a culture of growth could involve praying specifically for new people to come; extending our church’s presence in the local community with drop-ins and events; proclaiming the gospel at specific guest services or evangelistic events; and discussing the issues raised in basics courses or one-to-one with those who are interested. He suggested that writing lists of individuals or groups of people to to invite, as well as setting targets for congregation sizes would help us to become more intentional in our evangelism.

    Discussion at the LYCIG day conference at St George’s Church, Portsea
    Canon Robin Gamble speaks at the LYCIG day conference in Portsea
    Groups from each church sat together, so they could discuss the issues raised

    Canon Robin Gamble also talked about making worship more accessible and hospitable, including practical questions about the start-time, length and culture of our worship. He suggested that a default setting of invitation and hospitality at church events would make a big difference.

    There was plenty of time during the day for delegates to chat with those from their own parish about how this might all apply in their churches, and to map out a potential strategy for the next steps forward.

    Latest News

    More news