Introducing the Growing Rural Parishes Programme (GRPP)
In our diocese, although 80% of our population is in urban areas, 60% of our parishes are rural. The increasing challenges of rural parish ministry are evident across the Church of England, with rural clergy being asked to take on more churches , often with fewer resources. It is clear that a more radical and more imaginative approach is needed.
In seeking to develop thriving, sustainable and generative patterns of mission and ministry, the diocese has piloted and are developing innovative ways of growing rural parishes using national church funding. The ‘Benefice of the Future’ pilot began in 2017 and is being continued with new funding as the ‘Growing Rural Parishes’ programme.
The programme works with rural church communities to develop their resources, from their leadership teams to their church buildings, to enable them to grow in prayer, make new disciples and serve the people of their communities with joy. Through seeking the vocation of each church, not replicating everything everywhere, investing in technology where it supports, adding curates and building ministry teams, and simplifying governance where it is welcomed, we are learning lessons in how we can continue to value and be committed to local communities, whilst bringing a greater sense of belonging and interdependence over larger rural areas.
The pilot programme, ‘Benefices of the Future’, involved working with four large multi-parish benefices to explore innovative models, with the long term aim to roll out some of our learning to other benefices. The benefices were spread across the Diocese and varied in size, make up and tradition. Have a look at their websites here:
- Avon Valley Churches – avp-benefice.org.uk/
- North Hampshire Downs – More to Life churches – moretolife.church/
- Pastrow Family – pastrowfamily.org.uk/
- The Bright Waters Benefice – hantswhit.church/
Each area has had the freedom to address the specific needs of their local community. This has led to a whole range of approaches to everything from new forms of worship to what a modern church website should look like. This in turn has resulted in a wider range of learning for the rest of the Diocese – see the ‘How to’ guides below created using learnings from the pilot.
To move the rural church from weakness to strength and change its culture, the model begins with a step change. Rather than stretching the current rural model, we create a benefice of sufficient size to provide enough internal resource, produce efficiency of scale and permit diversity/differentiation.
Unity is strengthened by a leadership team under a distinct shared identity (enhancing internal and external consistency), simplified structures and a single point of representative governance. Simplification frees up resources. Diversity is strengthened with each church being confident of its unique contribution to the mission and life of the benefice. Not everything will be offered in every place. What is offered in each place is the best that can be offered. Each place celebrates and supports what is offered elsewhere in the benefice. Rather than finding it difficult to fill clergy and lay positions the rural church becomes a generator of these.
This is supported with ICT employed wherever possible to improve access to and engagement in the life of the Christian community and by a culture in which all benefice initiatives prioritise the ‘missing generations’, youth and children.
To help shape a culture of change we asked benefices sign up to mutually agreed principles such as
- We are not going to do everything everywhere
- We have as much to offer each other as we have to learn from each other
- Clergy may take services; laity may take services
- When something is about the needs of children and young people, adults give way
- The answer is ‘yes’, the question is ‘how?’
Prayer undergirds all we do and needs to undergird this whole process. Deliberate and explicit prayer should be worked into the plans of each benefice to surround and inform the vision and its outworking.
NEW FUNDING APPLICATION PROCESS
We are delighted that the Diocese of Winchester has recently been awarded a further £460,000 of national church funding ‘in principle’ to support our work in rural multi-parish benefices over the next five years through the Growing Rural Parishes Programme (GRPP).
As part of the GRPP, we will be making £30,000 available to each of nine multi-parish benefices to help their ministry teams to develop parish ministry of the future, allocating the funding through three annual rounds of bidding, in each case selecting three rural benefices for support. The details of the selected benefices in each round will then be submitted to the Church Commissioners for final approval. This current Mini Bidding Round therefore seeks to select the first three rural benefices for support.
Download the application form which includes selection criteria, the form your bid should take and the timeline for the bidding process here >>>
Desired Outcomes of Benefice of the Future
- Arrest the decline in numbers and within three years in the 3 initial pilot benefices bringing 15% growth in new and returning disciples with at least 60% from the missing generations, youth and children
- Generate up to 30 new BCMs and at least 4 new vocations to ordained or Licensed Lay Ministry
- Capture learning to share with other multi church rural benefices across our diocese
- Each church (building and Christians locally) finding its ‘vocation’ – what it can offer and contribute to the mission of the Church
- A shared, strong identity across the benefice with parishes rejoicing in and owning all that the Church offers across the benefice
- Excellent communication
- Benefices prepared to risk ideas, get things wrong, try and try again anew
- People coming forward to serve God in new ways and some ministry being offered/given away to other benefices
- Growing congregations with a significant increase in numbers from ‘the missing generations’, youth and children
- Simplified governance structures, freeing people from meetings to mission and ministry
- Efficiencies of scale
- New uses of technology to better serve the Church and community
- A deepening of discipleship
- A growing number of ‘fresh expressions of Church’
- The incumbent’s role increasingly be one of oversight, strategy and ministry development, with laity taking more of a leading role in mission and ministry along with other ordained ministers
- A stronger social offer/engagement from the Church, ‘serving the common good’