A Bigger Difference: Social Action and Church Growth in Liverpool
From a report by Church Army
In Autumn 2018, the Church Army published a report regarding Christians in the diocese of Liverpool who are undertaking social action, enabling more people to know Jesus and pursuing more justice in the world.
Conversations with church leaders and parishioners suggest that social action can lead to both numeric and spiritual growth.
Numerical growth may not be the primary (or even secondary) motivation for parish engagement in social action. Conversations with church leaders and parishioners found that:
Numerical growth of Sunday congregations through involvement with social action was identified by all parishes.
Church leaders perceived that Sunday congregation growth was small in numbers (although parishes were often engaging with large numbers in conversations about faith throughout the week).
Church leaders and parishioners perceived that Sunday congregation growth was often a slow process - at times taking years to see any ‘fruit’.
More typically, social action activities led people to greater involvement in the wider church community (e.g. attending other parish-led events/activities) - this may or may not eventually lead onto Sunday attendance.
Church leaders and parishioners perceived that social action leading to increased Sunday congregational growth was particularly evident through child-based activities (e.g. toddler groups, uniformed groups, engagement with local schools, performance of the offices - baptisms and confirmations); these activities connected both children and their parents/carers into the life of the parish
Each of the parishes had considered whether the social action activities they engage with may lead to the development of a new congregation/fresh expression of Church.
"They might not be here on a Sunday but if their life has been impacted by God so that they’re living missionally then that is still bigger church making a bigger difference; it’s just not ‘bums on seats’ and it doesn’t affect statistics in a way that people want to measure." Church Leader.
Spiritual growth of congregations Church leaders worked hard to ensure formal, regular social action activities were connected into the life of their Sunday congregations. This was achieved through:
Regular notices about social action activities - including sharing ‘good news’ stories
Praying about social action activities during intercessions
Inviting outside organisations to introduce their work to Sunday congregations (e.g. Safe Families for Children, Christian Aid)
Including biblical teaching on social action in Sunday sermons or Bible studies
"(Running these social action activities) is making us more of a family and that love of Christ. Jesus calls us to love God, love one another. When we do that it makes a difference, that loving one another means everybody. And it’s learning to accept people… they take drugs, take alcohol. Sometimes they come in and they’re a bit off their heads. The next time they come in that’s not held against them. It’s a fresh start." Church Leader
Social action led to new leaders emerging. Parishioners often had to undertake new leadership roles on social action activities. Being engaged in social action influenced the personal faith journey of parishioners. Parishioners identified other positive benefits of their personal involvement in social action, including the development of supportive friendships with other volunteers and (particularly for retired parishioners) feeling valued and being enabled to put their skills to use.
Read the full report here.
Retweet about this article: