Growing new congregations

The population across the Diocese is expanding and we are seeing rapid social and environmental changes. A population at least the size of Edinburgh will move into this Diocese over the next fifteen years. The New Congregations programme is centred around the aim to support our parishes grow 750 new congregations over the next decade by establishing fresh expressions of church through local, contextual, mission outreach work, and innovative church planting and revitalisations.

It is an ambitious aim and if we are to succeed it must be a plan for us all: congregations of every tradition: rural, suburban, and urban parishes and churches large and small. We recognise the faithful work that currently exists whilst looking to those people, neighbourhoods, communities and networks in each area of the Diocese that are unreached and untouched.

Watch the video below to hear three inspiring stories of growing God’s Kingdom.

What is a ‘new congregation’?

Might our Parish have a New Congregation?

A new congregation doesn’t necessarily mean a big church plant – it could be a midweek outreach initiative that has begun to introduce a worship element and invites people to share in a communal life with Jesus. This may be something you are doing already; if so please let us know so we can support you by connecting you with others on this journey and offering helpful resources.

How are we supporting parishes to grow new congregations?

Jesus was present and engaged with people and as a Christ-like church we are called to be present and engaged in every community. We want to nurture courage and creativity in enabling as many local churches as possible to pioneer new congregations and we are paying particular attention to areas which, historically, have been under-resourced.

We are doing this in three different ways:

  • New worshipping communities and Greenhouses

    New worshipping communities emerge among people who do not normally attend church. They typically (but not always) come into existence through a small group of Christians who prayerfully listen to their context, find simple ways to love people outside the church, build community with them, share their Christian faith and help people journeying toward Christ to form a worshipping community where they are and connect with the wider church. There are new support networks called Greenhouses, developing in the deaneries and led by local leaders, which will provide a community of shared learning, support and resources for these type of mission initiatives that hope to invite people into a life with Christ.

  • Resourcing Hubs

    Resourcing Hubs are large churches that want to give themselves away to love and bless others. They offer resources, ideas, and a forum for learning where it is needed, where it is wanted and in a way that’s right for the local context. There are currently seven Resourcing Hubs in the Diocese of Oxford, with potential further Hubs in the future. These are Greyfriars, Reading, St Andrew’s, High Wycombe, St Mary’s, Bletchley, St Frideswide’s, Water Eaton, St Paul’s, Slough, St Mary’s, Cogges, and North Aylesbury.

  • Church grafts & church plants

    Church plants take members from an existing congregation to a new place. Church grafts are people moving from one church to another or into a new area of housing. We have seen a strong desire for church planting, grafting and partnerships in the Diocese where the mission strength of one parish can be released to unlock potential elsewhere.

News and Updates

Resourcing Rural and Urban Mission to Grow New Congregations

Growing new congregations is for every type of parish tradition, size and location within the Diocese of Oxford. As a Diocese with a rich diversity of rural parishes and expanding urban centres, we recognise the importance of supporting churches in both these settings to meet the different challenges they face and bring God’s kingdom to all people.

We are therefore delighted that the Common Vision Development Fund has supported two new Resourcing Hubs in the Diocese that reflect the need to work in both rural and urban areas. St Mary’s Cogges and the North Aylesbury Team are committed to giving themselves away to bless others, to share the good news of the gospel with those outside our normal Sunday services, and to grow new congregations of new Christians in new places. Read about their vision, plans and hopes to grow God’s Kingdom.

Learning from Pioneers: Building on the New Communities Pilot in the Diocese of Oxford

From 2012-2019 the Diocese of Oxford ran several New Communities Pioneer Pilot Projects, to grow congregations in areas of new housing. In February 2021, the Church Army Research Unit released a summary report of their evaluation for this project, with some fascinating learning for our current aim to grow 750 new congregations by 2030. Head of New Congregations, Revd Will Donaldson, offers his reflections and how we can all take this learning into the future. 

New Digital Congregations

Research from the first lockdown suggested that as many as one in five people watching online church services were people who would not normally attend church. The pandemic has brought some difficult questions, and many people are turning to church as they seek comfort, community and answers during these challenging times. How can our churches continue to support and invite these new online viewers to explore faith? Is there an opportunity to continue these new, online congregations once lockdown is over?

Two churches in the Diocese have been considering these questions as they have seen a growth in their online church community. Read about the experiences of St Mary’s, Hitcham and Winslow Benefice and their efforts to connect with new online visitors.

Building on the opportunities of lockdown

On 26 November 2020, a number of clergy and lay people from across the diocese attended a webinar to learn and share experiences of loving and serving their local communities online, and to consider how you can build on these opportunities going forwards. It was also a chance to hear about pre-COVID mission initiatives that had exciting potential to become new worshipping communities, and how these could be continued or re-launched after the pandemic.

What’s happening already?

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Hope Church, Chesham

Hope Church launched in April 2019, a new missional congregation in the Parish of Great Chesham, serving the communities of Hivings and Pond Park. The Pond Park area has some of the highest levels of social deprivation in the county, and the vision of Hope Church is to be a ‘light on the hill’ bringing God’s love to the community in word and deed. It was the culmination of two years of partnership between the two churches: Hivings Free Church and members of Emmanuel, Chesham.

God’s fingerprints have been seen in so many ways:

  • the remarkable gift day at Emmanuel that raised more money than expected
  • the grace of Hivings members to receive an influx of new people
  • the sacrifice of Emmanuel members to leave their church family
  • the generosity of the Baptist Union to sell their building at below market cost.

The first year, before the pandemic, saw new relationships being formed, new people arriving, and new Christians marking their faith in baptism. The Sunday congregation is up to 60, including 15 children. Vibrant Messy Church afternoons with a bouncy castle and BBQ in the car park also made clear to the community that there is now life in the place. Relationships with the local school have been developed and ministries to Seniors has been supported. A Christians Against Poverty life skills course has run twice.

The big dream is for Hope Church to become the very centre of the Pond Park and Hivings community, with a new purpose-built hub for serving the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of the residents. The vision is to be connected into the community with fresh expressions of church, a place of healing where those who are hurting find a place of comfort, and those who are without hope, to find that hope in Christ.

During the pandemic services have included pre-recorded Sunday services and a number of children’s and family activities, both at Hope and as part of parish-wide initiatives. Two lessons learned through this process have been the need for the church to work hard to maintain pastoral contact with all members of the congregation, and the critical need for a developed digital strategy enabling the widest effective engagement with the local community.

St Mary and St George, High Wycombe

A church plant strategy into the parish of St Mary & St George (SMG) Church in High Wycombe was the result of several years of prayer and reflection, followed up by a discussion and consultation process between the trustees of St Andrew’s Church, Hatters Lane, and SMG.

Revd Jonny Dade arrived in summer 2018 as church planting minister. His first challenge was to convey this call of God to the congregation at St Andrew’s and begin the process of forming a church planting team, made up of those whom the Holy Spirit was prompting to join them.

On Sundays and at other gatherings, they shared the vision for the planned church plant using a short film to convey ‘the context, the challenge and the invitation’.

Meanwhile, the vicar of St Andrews and Jonny were working behind the scenes to prepare the way amongst the existing congregation at SMG that their plant team would be joining.

Jonny attended Sunday worship at SMG once a month and also preached on some of occasions. The SMG Church Warden (chair of trustees) proved to be a pivotal figure in the planning stages of the church plant and was a great champion of the initiative.

In the wider community, they began to forge connections with local leaders, neighbouring institutions and other local churches. This was vital to establishing fruitful connections with leaders of other faith communities in the area.  The local primary school were open to building a renewed relationship with the church too. Jonny met with the Head Teacher early on to discuss how they might partner together.

The Sunday before launch day, they held a lively and celebratory Commissioning Service at St Andrew’s to commission a core team of 35 people.  Like many churches, much of SMG’s communal life and ministry has had to move online during the pandemic with live streams of Sunday gatherings and creative ways for small-sized groups and ministries to continue during the week.