This week’s Synod was focused on our Diocesan Mission.
There is much to praise God for in the work of the last six years. But there is still a long way to go. There is no sign yet that multitudes of Sydneysiders are beating a path to our door. Nobody promised they would.
A mid-point review gives an opportunity to understand where we are up to in the Mission process, and to make any necessary adjustments to our plans. Two issues are coming to the fore: “the population” and the “ten years”. These are critical issues that we keep trying to ignore but lie at the heart of the Mission.
Most people hearing of the Mission have focused on the wrong part of the aims and goals. The critics and the supporters alike have emphasised the ten percent that we are aiming to reach. Not understanding what it is about.
They tend to think that success or failure will be measured by this ten percent. They fail to notice that the aim is actually one hundred percent. They spend a lot of time trying to count heads in church—never agreeing on the numbers, the method of counting or the significance of the numbers. (Do we count those who attend regularly or only those who were present on a particular Sunday? Do we count children or only adults? Do we count other denominations or only Anglicans? etc).
The key to the ten percent is what it is a percentage of. We are not aiming to grow by ten percent. We are not aiming to reach ten percent. We are aiming to reach the population around us. The real heart of the Mission’s goal is to go beyond church people to reach “the population”. The important and radical idea is not the ten percent but “the population”. Ten percent of the population is just the first major bench mark towards reaching the whole population.
Since the middle of the twentieth century the local church has been steadily marginalised in the community. We Sydney Anglicans survived by changing the way we conducted church. Churches, dioceses and denominations that did not change have almost gone out of existence.
A key to our survival and growth has been recapturing the reality of congregational life. Parish churches have focused on their own development as congregations rather than on their place in the community.
It is therefore difficult to turn our attention back to the population in the suburb around us. It is a major shift in thinking to move from growing our church to reaching the population of the parish around us. But if we are going to reach any percentage of the population—that is the shift in thinking that we must undertake.
The next key phase of the Mission is Connect 09. This is when our church family stops concentrating all our efforts on church members in order to reach the people of our suburb (or “parish” as Anglicans call it). On average each parish has 15-20,000 people living in the suburb around church buildings. Most do not know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, even though they live within a stone’s throw of a church that preaches the gospel. Now is the time to move the attention of the congregations away from themselves to the people who live around them.
This is a critical move for the Mission to be successful. But it is a very difficult change to make. It goes against the last fifty years of social and church development. People who fix their attention on the “ten percent” instead of “the population” have not yet understood what the mission is about.
But that is only one issue coming to the fore. The other issue is the “ten years”.
People are beginning to notice that the years are rolling along and the Mission is half over. But if we are to succeed we have to understand or embrace the “ten years”.
There is nothing magic in the ten years. Nothing has to happen by 2012 that cannot happen in 2013, or 2023 for that matter. The Mission has not failed if it takes five, ten or twenty years. So why specify ten?
The aim of the Mission has always been to focus Christian people on evangelism in our diocese. It was to bring Christians on board with the changes necessary to reach Sydney for Christ. The reason for the ten years was always to express the need for urgency and the need for action.
As an old organization our Diocese and its Synod has done nothing quickly during the last century. With the rapid social changes of Sydney we can no longer afford to sit and consider, to write another report or to undertake more research. We need to change and we need to change now.
Synod received the following considered advice from a select committee:
Given the present scene, and the trends for the future, this Committee is of the opinion that our denomination is facing a serious situation; a critical phase of its life. It is time to take stock of our situation. If we continue unchanged for another decade, we can expect a major decline in our already marginal impact on society.
Unfortunately that advice was given in 1990! Nothing in our present statistics, research or developments has changed the picture it presented.
This is why the mission set a time span of ten years. It was meant to force us to face reality and change. That is why we invited Mark Driscoll into the Cathedral to speak to ministers. It does not matter whether we agree with everything he said. It is important that we receive his wake up call to action.
The mission does not fail if we have less than ten percent of the population in our churches in ten years time. The mission does not fail if we see no results in ten years. The mission will fail if we do not change church life within ten years. Results are not our responsibility—change is.