Growth in an Urban Parish Church

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St John at Hackney

St John at Hackney is an urban parish church in Hackney, East London. Rector, Father Rob Wickham, explains how the church’s context has influenced its work towards growth. “The church has a rich heritage of responding to its community and making a contribution to society more broadly - it has always been intentional in its mission strategy. In order to see growth and make a difference in Hackney, we have continued this approach.”

In 2007, the church undertook an intensive year-long listening exercise, to help inform and shape its continuing mission to its local community over the following five years. They looked specifically at:

  • building relationships with all the church’s key stakeholders
  • how the large building, originally accommodating 2,200 people, could be used more of the time and more effectively. 
  • the sustainability of the church including energy consumption and its Fairtrade status

The church prayed over the conclusions which were also shared with the community and, as a result “The St John at Hackney Project” was launched.

The project identified three main aims:

To try to restore aspects of the building which included a sensitive re-ordering of the space inside the building, taking out the pews and replacing them with chairs to make the space more flexible.

To open up the church building, especially to the community, local businesses, and the creative industries.

To be intentional about developing three specific areas of ministry including in the following ways:

Children and Young people - providing a large number of community initiatives for children and young people and adapting the pattern and style of Sunday worship.

Older people - caring for and nurturing community through a group called Senior Saints which offers weekly lunch clubs and regular trips.

Supporting a number of local health initiatives - including taking part in the Hackney Churches winter night shelter project and, in partnership with an organisation called Positive East, running an HIV testing clinic at the church.

Father Rob believes that opening up the church’s doors and welcoming more people in has influenced the increased numbers attending the church. Attendance at the children’s carol service rose from 70 in 2007 to 600 in 2013 and numbers at the traditional annual carol service grew from 70 to 300.

Regular Sunday attendance has more than trebled and the church has planted two new congregations, including an 11am informal service aimed at making the church more attractive to children who are actively encouraged to be involved.

Approximately 180 people now attend over three services and the Sunday school has grown from 15 to 50 children attending each week.

In April 2013, the church started a period of further conversations with local stakeholders and with members of the church family, including the youngest children, who had their feelings heard and recorded. 

“Oasis Vision 2018”, sets out the church’s plans for the next five years which include a commitment to:

  • work towards opening its building 24 hours a day and seven days a week  
  • treble the size of its congregations again – and aim for an electoral roll of 450
  • focus mission on those living in isolation (including the development of food banks and a credit union)
  • develop the church’s ministry and work with those in their 20s and 30s
  • continue and develop the work started with children and young people
  • use the re-ordered building to its full potential (the re-ordered space can seat 1,500 people)
  • grow new leaders who reflect the diversity of the church and the local area

Re-ordering the inside of the building has been particularly important to ensure that it is possible to use the building to its greatest advantage and to keep it open. Father Rob explains: “It’s important that this isn’t done just for its own sake but rather that these changes are made rooted in praise, in Bible Study and in the Good News of Jesus.”

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