Living Faith: Testing the temperature in 2013

LIVING FAITH was launched at the end of 2008 as a vision for the Diocese of Oxford. As we come to the final year of the initial five-year phase of Living Faith (2009 to 2014) it is time to take stock, writes Sarah Meyrick. 
Thanks to a generous grant from the Maurice and Hilda Laing Charitable Trust, we have been able to commission independent market research (at no cost to the diocese) to help us find out how Living Faith has affected the life of our churches. The findings, together with the conversations and reflections that will emerge from our three major “Imagining faith” events next year, will help the Bishop’s Staff, Bishop’s Council and Diocesan Synod discern the way forward for the next phase of our journey as a diocese.
Who did we ask?
The Christian Research Consultancy 9-Dot Research conducted web-based surveys with three different groups: clergy and Licensed Lay Ministers; PCC secretaries and churchwardens; and members of church congregations. The first two groups were actively invited (by email) to participate, while option to complete the congregational survey was open to all, publicised in the e-news and the Door. The response-rate was encouraging: 296 clergy and LLMs responded (31 per cent of those asked), and 383 PCC secretaries and churchwardens (19 per cent). Just 106 church members responded.
“I’m really grateful to everyone who took the time to respond to the researchers,” said Bishop John. “I’ve always been clear in my own mind that the health of our diocese lies not at the centre, but in the vitality and imagination of the local parish or arena of ministry. What we have attempted to do with ‘Living Faith’ is to provide a vision, and a set of priorities, to help you frame your thinking as you live out your faith together.
“It’s fascinating to hear what use people have made of it, and there’s a great deal of information still be to be mined from the report. Knowing what has (and hasn’t!) worked well will be hugely helpful as we plan for the future.”
What did we ask?
The research looked into people’s awareness of Living Faith, and their level of engagement with it, in general terms and specifically around the five priorities. The researchers asked what use people had made of the Living Faith resources; what they had done as a result of Living Faith (the “outputs”); and what difference this had made (the “outcomes”).
What did they say? In summary
The researchers conclude that Living Faith has permeated well throughout the diocese, with 95 per cent of clergy/LLMs aware of it and 82 per cent engaging at least to some extent. PCC/churchwardens reported lower levels of awareness (76 per cent) and engagement (63 per cent).  For those who engaged the most, Living Faith had become the foundation for strategy and planning. Just 14 per cent chose not to engage at all.
One of the main barriers to engagement was perceived relevance. Some churches use their own strategic planning tools and others felt it was not relevant to their context, perhaps because they were small, rural, elderly, part of an LEP or going through a time of change. Other barriers included apathy, lack of time and a resistance to diocesan initiatives.
Most people used the five priorities to suit their own situations at the right times to suit their particular contexts, something the researchers felt fits well with the ethos of Living Faith being a flexible resource that can be adapted to accommodate local circumstances.
‘Sustaining the Sacred Centre’, ‘Making Disciples’ and ‘Mission in the World’  were found to be the strongest of the five priorities with high levels of awareness and engagement. This was unsurprising since these were amongst the first priorities we have focused on.
Again unsurprisingly, ‘Shaping confident, collaborative leadership’ (the 2014 priority) has the lowest levels of awareness and engagement, was perceived to be the most difficult to engage with and least helpful.   In most cases if people were aware of a resource they tended to use it. Awareness and use was highest for the Living Faith introductory leaflet, with Simple Guides and articles in the Door being next.  PCC/churchwardens were less aware than clergy/LLMs of all the resources.  Those who used the resources found the Living Faith books and Simple Guides the most helpful.
Most respondents were positive about Living Faith as a use of diocesan resources, although those who engaged more were significantly more positive than those who did not engage at all. It tends to be used most by churches that are liberal catholic or rural and least by those that are urban and evangelical. (We infer that this is because the latter tend to have existing frameworks for action and strategy with which they are already working).
Most of those who engaged with Living Faith found it to be inspiring, a useful framework and effective stimulus for taking action. They also agreed it helped people live and share the love of God and to deepen their enjoyment and recognition of God in everyday life. Clergy/LLMs were clearly positive about Living Faith and appreciated its simplicity and flexibility. However they also acknowledged the difficulty of getting churches engaged and seeing transformation as a result of engagement.
What impacts have Living Faith had?
Respondents named a number. The impact cited most was that Living Faith had caused their church to look out more into its community, particularly by making their church more welcoming.
As the Door went to press the full research report was still to be completed. As soon as it is available it will be published on the diocesan website. For this and everything else to do with Living Faith, see www.oxford.anglican.org/livingfaith
A reminder: what is Living Faith? 
Living Faith for the Future is the vision for the Diocese of Oxford for the five years 2009 to 2014, as approved by diocesan synod in November 2008.  The Living Faith vision offers five priorities which resemble a palette of colours that everyone can use to create their own distinctive work of art. The central strands are holistic mission and sustaining spirituality. The vision is the transformation of all human life under God. The purpose is to join with God in creating a caring, sustainable and growing Christian presence in every part of the Diocese of Oxford, enabling every Christian and every Christian community to live and share the love of God, seen in the life of Jesus Christ. We are concentrating on one of the five priorities each year, over the initial five-year period of Living Faith. This is not intended to be to the exclusion of the others, but just to help focus our thinking and some
of the resources we are offering.

2010 – Sustaining the Sacred Centre
2011 – Making Disciples
2012 – Making a Difference in the World
2013 – Creating Vibrant Christian Communities
2014 – Shaping Confident Collaborative Leadership

So What did the people say?

‘The colour palette expresses creativity. It seems well thought out incorporating the main strands of mission and ministry. Sustaining the sacred centre rightly runs through the palette like a matrix.’

‘Some saw it as yet ‘another’ thing to do which was imposed from the Diocese. Oxford is quite a distance away from my parishes and some people find it difficult to relate to initiatives coming from Oxford.’

‘It is a wise, easily accessible, practical discipleship guide, presented in a very user-friendly way.’

‘Most helpful to have the five strands to focus on. All aspects have been really important in our developmental thinking and have helped shape the development of our church.’

‘Hard to quantify. Arguably over the last three years all the change has been rooted in the Living Faith material as it has shaped our vision and work together.’
‘I didn’t engage with Living Faith. I think initiatives have to start in the parish rather than being imposed from the top down, sorry.’

‘Thank you, Bishop John, in giving the lead in the spiritual growth and life of the diocese that has not previously been known in recent years. The church has grown in confidence in God and in commitment to worship and service in the local and wider world.’

What was your experience? 

Above are some anonymous responses taken directly from the research report. Over the coming months the Door hopes to bring you stories and case studies (not anonymous) showing just how parishes have engaged with the vision and used it to inspire their work locally. If you have a story to tell please contact the Editor Jo Duckles on jo.duckles@oxford.anglican.org or 01865 208227.

This is an older post. Please note that the information may not be accurate anymore.