Revd Annie Gurner Associate Vicar with the Ham Hill Villages near Yeovil, is spending the next couple of months researching village churches in Somerset that are bucking the trend and growing.
Here Annie describes the work she plans to undertake:
I’ve always been interested in how churches grow. Of course, God grows churches, not us – but we can discern where He is at work and join in.
It has been said that ‘healthy churches grow in three dimensions at the same time: in numbers, spiritual depth and vitality’ (Bob Jackson, 2005: What makes Churches grow). Numbers are useful but only tell part of the story; for instance a small church family that loses six of its number through death or people moving away, maybe making a heroic effort to welcome six new people and yet the numbers stay the same. We can’t easily measure church vitality, but I’m sure you would know roughly what I mean, and your neighbours would be aware: because vital churches invariably are outward looking and help their communities thrive.
Is church vitality something we could characterise and foster?
Inevitably, after a year coping with the consequences of the pandemic, there is a narrative of despondency in some quarters of the organised church, and in many villages churches are struggling, but in other places the Holy Spirit is hard at work and some churches have been energised and transformed in this time, bringing hope to us all.
Most research about church vitality has restricted itself to congregation members effectively rating themselves. But how do our neighbours experience the village church? During the next couple of months of my sabbatical, I will be spending time with some rural villagers in Somerset, in places where there is evidence the church has been growing numerically over the last five years – to celebrate and, via a method of Appreciative Inquiry (covid-safe of course), seek to understand better the essence of their vitality.
If you would like to contribute the story of how your village church is sharing God’s blessing in your community, do please contact Annie Gurner.