Engaging with Rural Communities

Ploughing the Fields ~ a plan to help Rural Parishes engage with their communities

Ploughing

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Over the years many PCC’s have tried to find ways to engage with their communities to ask for support to ensure that the local church continues to be open for all.

Many of us believe that financial and practical support is vital by those who look to the church as an integral part of village life, but who may not regularly attend services.

Unfortunately, many of the campaigns undertaken to reach this goal are not as successful as we would all hope, and many hours of work (let alone letters and leaflets) feel wasted.

Over the last few months a group of rural clergy and laity have met to try to understand why this should be and what could be done to encourage such levels of giving. They have concluded that before any campaign can be run, the PCC and congregation need to do some deep thinking about the role the church plays in the community as well as understanding exactly what the wider community feels about the church.

St Wilfrid's, Kirkharle [photo: P.Barham]Without such understanding by the village, any support will be slim.

Equally, without our church members taking time, through their own giving campaign, to consider what God and the church mean to them and then to increase their gifts, a request to the wider community may go unanswered.

This will take time, perhaps as long as a year, as well as a lot of energy, but hopefully the results will be such that the outcome will pay real dividends.

It is no good these days just saying that the church 'serves'; everyone needs to know how and when it is that the community feels the benefits. Asking for support in isolation is often a waste of time and resources.

No single person will understand all that the church does; this research needs to be as wide as the church itself, a piece of work for the whole congregation.

The answers each parish receives will be unique. However, the questions should have some common strands: ask why we are here as a church, is it for the church members or for the community as a whole and if it is for the latter, how does this manifest itself? Where else are church members involved in the wider community? Where does the church engage with the community? – Local / church school events, quizzes, hospital visiting, as members of other organisations, village fete, church garden party, panto’s or other theatrical events etc.

Byrness – St Francis of Assisi [photo: P Barham]In other words, what difference does the church and its members make to the community as a whole?

This list is not exhaustive, but if there is little or no connection, then the mind-set of the church will need to change.

We cannot do everything, but what we do need to know is that what we do is done well.

Of course we are there for baptisms, weddings and funerals; we celebrate Christmas and Easter as well as events such as Remembrance Sunday. Our clergy are there for those who need support at times of sadness, or when families are celebrating happier milestones in their lives. But for many this is the least a church should be doing.

We need to show the community that we are a major part of what the community stands for and is involved in.

 

This is a campaign with many opportunities for all concerned.

The church needs to be “sold” to the community as more than just a Sunday club or in a worship context. To understand the relationships and to comprehend how church and community relate to each other we have to find ways of talking and listening to each other through meetings or through questionnaires, by working on initiatives or other community events.

Invitations to other groups to meet and work with the church on areas of joint interest, or for the church to volunteer to support local initiatives, will cement relationships that can then be used to inform the wider community of why the church is worth supporting.

An audit of the community and church, where they meet and why, could be the start of a deeper understanding or partnership.

Clypping ceremony, Norham St Cuthbert 2015Whenever we ask others to help, we must be prepared to do so ourselves. If we show leadership in our personal giving, support for the church will be easier to attract, encouraging others to join in.

A word to the wise. We know about parish that rented a stall at a local agricultural show to sell cakes. All went well until just before mid-day they sold out of produces and closed up. For the next six hours there was an empty and closed stall with the church banner flying above it.

What message did this send out to the local community and to the visitors attending the event?

If only the church had used the afternoon as an opportunity to let the wider world know what happens at church, what they are involved with and are currently engaged on. They could have promoted church weddings, baptisms, worship times, messy church, the MU and the men’s club. Instead the message that was received was we are either closed or empty, both of which are untrue, but it is the perception.

This was an opportunity to meet, talk and listen, to explain and to ask questions. Use this time of reflection to make a mark, then you can ask for support.

'Selling' the church. When we fully understand our relationship with the wider community we can begin to ask for help. We need to know exactly what we are asking for and why we are making the request, what we are currently involved with and what we offer outside of “normal activities”.

We need to explain what we hope to do in the future, why we believe we need to do this and what it will mean if it does not happen. We need to show that any support, financial or practical, will help achieve the aims.

These aims can be for the survival of the church and the building, or for creating something new, such as a change to the use of the church building, or to support a wider based community initiative.

High Sherriff of Northumberland for 2015 installed amid her fellow Church Choir members at St Cuthbert's, Norham.We should not shy away from saying exactly what the church costs to run and why. We do need to help people understand. Equally, we will need to “Bust a few Myths” such as “the Church gets money from HM The Queen" or that "the Government pays for the church".

It can also be a time to state that each individual church has to be financially stable if it is to exist. There is no wealthy benefactor nor is the national church cash rich; it cannot pay for all our parish churches.

But all this will go for nothing if we don’t have a relationship with the community we are in.

Running a campaign. There are a number of ways in which a campaign can be run in a rural setting. The leaflet “A Guide to Rural Stewardship Campaigning” has three ideas to consider, one of them is specific to Church Members, and the other two are for community engagement. All of them have worked in the rural setting, especially when the ground work has been undertaken before the launch. Talking with the Parish Giving Officer about all things connected to Stewardship and running campaigns is the place to start.

It needs to be understood though that any request for support from the wider community has to be dovetailed into a giving campaign for church members and supporters. We cannot ask others if we are not seen to want to do it as well.

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Resources:

There is help available from Church House: Richard Gascoyne, the Parish Giving Officer is available to come and talk with your PCC/DCC about how you might begin to build and understand you relationship with the wider community.

And then how you begin to ask for support; help with artwork, presentations and content are three ways to help get your campaign off to a professional start.

Whether you choose to engage with your community in a church or any other setting Richard will help you to think through the process.

   A Guide to Rural Stewardship Campaigning  A Guide to Rural Stewardship Campaigning; produced to help rural parishes engage with stewardship and giving campaigns (PDF).
   Model parish leaflet  Model parish leaflet; a completely fictional example of a leaflet aimed at the community outside regular church members, which you may copy, adapt or use in any way you wish (Word, 2MB).

 

 

 

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