As a denomination we want to see United Free Church congregations across Scotland revitalised, renewed and growing and to see new congregations established, so that the denomination can play its part in the mission of God’s people in Scotland.”
This is the vision of Reshaping for Mission, the United Free church’s mission initiative which was adopted at the 2015 General Assembly, in response to what we see happening both across the denomination and more widely across Scotland, and indeed across much of the western world, namely the growth of secularism and the decline of many congregations and churches. This could lead Christians to shrug their shoulders in despair or to put up the barriers and hope somehow to weather the storm. However, there is another response, which is to see God using this situation to drive us to a renewed commitment to mission and confident proclamation of the Gospel. The theologian Emil Brunner is credited with saying “As a fire exists by burning, so the church exists by mission.” In our current spiritual climate, churches, especially established ones with a long history need to look outward and adjust our own mind-set from one that sees church ministry as being about “maintaining the congregation” to one which sees the church’s role as “engaging in mission in the community”.
In response to this, Reshaping for Mission envisages a three-stranded approach.
Our church plants will probably emerge in two ways. The first will be the church planter working either in connection with an existing congregation to start a church in a neighbouring community, or starting from scratch in a new area identified by the denominational leadership. The second approach to church planting is to see a new church come into being spontaneously, when a group of Christians meeting together realise that in their worship, prayer and mission they have become a church.
In the case of some of our smaller, more fragile congregations, a radical commitment to bring new life into the situation, in other words revitalisation, will be vital. In these situations, we will make the intentional commitment of resources of personnel and where necessary money to see fragile churches becoming once again living, vibrant, witnessing congregations. The good news is that churches can be revitalised, but they must want to be, and be willing to go through the change that will be required.
A good number of our congregations are currently relatively healthy, but to continue to thrive, these congregations will make local mission and growth a conscious aim, rather than merely a vague hope. This may well require a re-focussing of priorities, to equip members to share their faith and free them from too great a commitment to internal church activities to enable them to spend time serving and witnessing in the local community and cultivating friendships with those not yet Christians.
For many of us this is a venture into new territory. We will need an increase in our trust in God to do new things and to bring people to faith in Jesus, an increase in courage to go out to meet others, and an increase in our imagination to see the new opportunities which God is giving to us.
If something or someone grows, it means that change will happen. The same is true for our churches. Change can be hard and sometimes scary. We don’t know what the church of the future will look like. We should expect to see new gatherings of church coming into being with new styles of worship and mission, and we are likely also to need to have different types of people coming into ministry, planting and revitalising churches to complement the existing pattern of pastors and teachers. We will need evangelists, and those with prophetic insight into the needs of our communities and a vision to see the opportunities God is giving us, and those who have the pioneer spirit of the apostles as they break new ground to make Jesus known. Above all we will need to pray—individually, in our congregations and across churches and presbyteries. Only if God works will we see the growth which we desire.
For a fuller version of this document please click here, and for more information about how to be involved please contact the General Secretary John Fulton or get in touch with David Miller who helps coordinate this.