Peldon is a small village of some 600 people situated to the south of Colchester. The regular congregation of the parish church has seen growth of around 50% over the last three or four years – from around 10-12 and declining, to around 18 and increasing (often in the mid-20s now). This has had a greatly positive effect in all sorts of ways, from simply increasing morale and generating momentum to finally paying our full parish share, from a position of only paying around 50% five years ago. I thought that it might be helpful to put some thoughts down about what has enabled this growth to take place. There is no one 'magic bullet' that can be applied without care in other parishes, but hopefully there might be some encouragement to be drawn from our story. Having said that, the one essential component in my view has been the dynamic lay leadership within the parish, in the form of a very active church warden, who has given much of the energy and impetus for the work carried out. I am certain that without this the outlook for the church in Peldon would have been very bleak.
I would pick out the following, in no particular order, as contributing to the growth of the church:
- consistency of Sunday worship pattern, with all Sunday services rationalised to 11am and a service at that time every week. Normally there are enough ministers available (through access to benefice resources) to ensure that there is a licensed minister leading the worship, but sometimes the services have been lay led;
- an overhaul of the fabric of the church, most especially including the removal of the pews. The pews were of no historical or architectural merit and had become a decrepit hazard to worshippers (one collapsed just before a funeral). Their removal has energised the space within the church and enabled a much more flexible approach to worship;
- the launch of a Friends organisation, which has had two major positive consequences – financial assistance with the cost of fabric repairs, and a generally positive engagement with the members of the community who do not attend worship but who have good will towards the church;
- hosting special events on a regular basis, such as quiz nights, suppers, history lectures and so on. This has helped to raise the profile of the church within the village and made it easier for those unfamiliar with the church to cross the threshold;
- running a simple 'mission' to the parish, which involved gathering a small team together to knock on every door in the parish, asking a few simple questions and advertising the Alpha course, which ran subsequently;
- a particular funeral, of a young man who had grown up in the village, and to which the great majority of the village came. I believe that this put the church back on the 'mental map' of the community.
I view growth as the outcome of a healthy church, and believe that if our priorities are right then the inherent attraction of the gospel will draw people in. We haven't done anything particularly novel, we have simply tried to follow the best practice seen elsewhere (I've been particularly helped by BobJackson's research). The conclusion that I draw is simply this: it works.