A Vision for Growth and Growth Action Planning

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St Mary’s, Bowdon, Greater Manchester, Chester Diocese

When Revd. Roger Preece, arrived at St Mary’s Bowdon in 2008, the parish was already committed to the Chester diocese Growth Action Planning initiative (GAP).  Roger worked with the PCC and standing committee to develop a strategy for Bowdon which identified pathways of belonging and believing, appropriate to Bowdon’s context. This has increased the church’s connection with the community and has led to significant growth.

Roger explains: “We realised that many people make connections to church life in different ways and that the journey of belonging can move in a different way and pace to the path of believing. We aimed to find ways of helping everyone in the parish move closer in their journey of faith by making increased connection with the church community.” It is about providing opportunities that people can take up if they are interested.

This led to the development of a large number of different pathways – a range of activities for each group of people including (children, youth, retired and older people) with bridging points to allow people to move from one to another. All the programmes are open to everyone regardless of faith. Some activities are purely social, but hosted by members of the church, others have some Christian content that introduces the faith at the heart of the church, other activities are focussed on committed worshipers;  the aim is for everyone to be able to find something of church that they can belong to.

The Youth pathway, for example, offers activities for local young people whatever their faith; programmes for those wanting to explore faith and opportunities to meet together for those who have faith and are wanting to grow in knowledge and discipleship. This includes work with local schools and hosting a Street Academy in partnership with The Message Trust offering creative arts, and music production skills; a significant development was when the church became a centre for the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme. In the first year a total of 40 young people took part and in year two 90+ are involved.

Finding ways of connecting with different groups of people, has also led to changes in the pattern and style of worship at Bowdon, adding some more contemporary options. Those who prefer traditional worship can choose from a range of services using the Prayer Book and Common Worship.  There is also a new all age worship service on a Sunday morning which runs alongside the main service in the parish centre and a café style church – Café Sundae - which is popular with younger people.

“We’re deliberately trying not to be homogenous,” says Roger - “we’re looking for things which will appeal to the variety of people in the parish – those with different experiences, different cultural backgrounds and different needs. People are, on the whole, really supportive of this approach. We have done everything we can to ensure that those who like things the traditional way don’t feel concerned about new ways of worshipping.”

Growth in a widely diffused parish with multiple congregations and many ways of connecting to church life is very difficult to measure. But there are some great indicators of spiritual growth:

  • There were 5000 visits to church over last Christmas
  • Income from giving and rental has tripled over 6 years
  • There are now 10 adult cell groups and 5 youth groups
  • 250 volunteers serve church life in some way
  • Six congregations in different styles meet for worship regularly
  • 60 people have attended Life Recovery groups
  • There have been around 350,000 visits to the website in five years
  • The Bowdon Facebook page has 440 “likes” with around 2000 connecting to content for some weeks.

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