St George’s, Deal

St George's - Shiela PorterSt George's, Deal, faced a major challenge in 2002. Shiela Porter – who shares oversight and leadership of the church with Chris Spencer – looks back at how they dealt with that challenge and looks forward to new opportunities through the development of missional communities.

We were looking at how to shape a church that could keep on growing – not dependent on the size of the building or how many professional leaders we had. St George's was full but we wanted to engage with those who would not step over the threshold of a church building at all.

So much has changed in recent years and now we have missional communities comprising mission-focused networks of anything from 15 to 60 people.

St George's - Reduce ReuseIt is about mobilising everyone to be missionary disciples and we've got a whole variety of diverse networks that are being reached through these communities. People who previously were sitting in the pews – along the lines of a 'provider client' type of model – are now doing all kinds of things that they never dreamed they would be doing. As they've gone out and taken on these new roles with new responsibilities, they’ve discovered the need to depend upon God. As a result they've grown spiritually and in their discipleship as well. This has brought about a release of 40 new missional leaders – a real treasure trove of talent.

One of our missional communities has already multiplied and we have gained a lot of insight from doing it. It came about when they were growing to such an extent that they thought, 'we are going to lose our sense of community if we continue in this way. What do we do about it?' This was the first community that got going and had a vision for reaching young families but, as time went on, the children of those families obviously got older so the community wasn't quite fulfilling their original vision.

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They took the decision to become two communities, and one of those communities comprised those who held the original vision. They decided to develop their vision in a way that would connect into families with older children using a 'sporting' emphasis for active families. They have been involved in doing fun runs and half marathons together, serving as stewards as well as running, and are now looking into starting a family exercise afternoon to reach new families. New leaders stepped up for the second community which held on to the original vision but in a more incarnational way.

These two slightly different visions meant that they did 'lose' some people along the way but those people have been able to come back into the centre – the main church base – enabling them to become part of other missional communities when they are ready.

St George's - boatAnother important new community to evolve has been at the Church Centre. As the centre continues to be an 'attractional model' with newcomers regularly arriving, this central community called 'Shoreline' is able to invite new people into it and give new people time to experience and understand the concept of missional communities before stepping into one that is meeting outside. Shoreline is also there to support the work of the other missional communities, being on the 'shoreline' to support them in their mission events and as they come back into the centre.

In the past, St George's has engaged in church planting with the Carpenters Arms, which became an extra-parochial place in Deal and which then transplanted into a Sandwich school. This was positively entrepreneurial for those who had the vision to plant. However, there are lessons to be learnt as we look back 15 years on. The current situation is that Carpenters Arms Deal are now an independent church and Carpenters Arms Sandwich are the size of one of our missional communities but are saddled with churchwardens, deanery reps and parish share – a burden that has taken its toll. Their future is now being reviewed.

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As we engage in conversation with those involved, including Diocesan personnel, we are hoping our experience will be of value as plans are put into place for them. We note that this is a danger that what is a fresh expression, can be seen as a 'church plant' by the Diocese with the requirement for church structures that can take their eye off mission and cause them to falter. It is therefore vital to have those with experience around them who can stand in the gap and 'translate' what it means to be a fresh expression – not always an easy task.

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