I'm probably unwise to step in front of the Megachurch juggernaut, but Martyn Taylor (Letters. Crossllncs 13) calls out for a critical response.
His exclusion of 'the cathedrals, minsters and abbeys' (ie many of our historic urban mother-churches) skews his sample so as to suggest that growth is normatively linked with his own tradition of theology and worship. By contrast the first Larger Anglican Churches Consultation reported other characteristics - vision and leadership - to be the two most significant factors in growth.
His selective hypothesis is further challenged by evidence anecdotal, sociological and statistical. Nearby parishes - particularly evangelical ones - have found the new-style larger churches' predatory or parasitic. Is it significant that they so often enjoy desirable postcodes and/or privileged demographics? Even the much-vaunted high giving isn't necessarily all that it seems, as research found the financial response of Newcastle's flagship 'larger church' less generous and sacrificial than that of neighbouring UPAs.
I wonder whether it all represents an ecclesiastical form of Thatcherism - a promise of a trickle-down of resourcing which actually shifts riches in the opposite direction.
A lot of work has been done on the 'Minster model' recently, and its appeal goes beyond we antique Anglo-Saxonists clutching our copies of Bede and Ælfric. However, none of it assumes the evangelical enterprise which so enthuses Martyn, and I would hate the real possibilities and merits of the former to be overlooked through being identified exclusively with the latter.
Meanwhile, my own rule of thumb remains to be suspicious of any parish church with a vast car-park, and doubly so when it is full of expensive new cars!
It struck me some years ago attending evensongs, before his time, that this church was like a little cathedral in its activities. It just seemed to have that ethos about it. The question arises about what is involved in a Minster Church model.
A Minster Church serves a larger area than simply a parish. It is a resource centre for many churches - and resources go to it in order that it might serve surrounding areas. The area may not necessarily be tremendously large and should not be. It ought to be, though, an identifiable area or areas. Barton seems now to be upholding some extra rural churches since a retirement (at least for the time being).
So the Minster Church has a staff of ministers and lay readers etc. that can go out and service other churches as well as its own. From time to time the Minster Church holds central events to which people in the other localities come. This should not be a takeover, however, but rather a resource offering to local leaders in these other churches.
The Minster Church becomes an important centre for education and training. This is part of the resourcing - it resources itself and must build itself. So all the time it should be running useful courses and holding meetings that assist those all around.
In terms of plant and equipment the Minster Church should have rooms and Information Communication Technology (ICT) facilities available, especially when there are shortages elsewhere, or co-ordinate and add to the collective use of facilities when they are elsewhere. Thus a central meeting or two might be held in a church that it serves as part of its support of that other church. If the Minster Church is a learning church, then it should have a library, ICT facilities, and rooms for meetings. It should also use rooms for civic functions too that concern all these areas.
The sense of takeover has to be avoided, however. Such a merger would be a natural and consensual outcome. Until then, the Minster Church and its resources serve others. It is an offering, and consistent with Christian service. It asks before it gives.
It could be that over time, a church the Mission Church serves merges into the Mission Church. These days people can travel, and can help others to travel. Maintenance of old buildings can be thus rationalised.
There is also the opportunity to attempt to develop some of the other churches being served, so that, in the end, rather than merge with the Minster Church, they can find a new footing and build up their own leaderships and resourcing, even to independence. Their relationships continue with the Minster Church for as long as they are useful.
There is an ecumenical dimension too. There are places where well resourced church ministers and priests are added to the roles of ministers in other denominations. There is a danger here, however, of serving over-stretched and under resourced denominations that should, first of all, sort themselves out or rationalise.
Whilst it is much work for the Minster Church, it reflects the resource imbalance that may exist. It should be a flexible and just-in-time service: able to respond sometimes at the last minute to needs. However, perversely, in order to work it must maintain the resource imbalance. So the Minster Church must look after itself and its surplusses. It is also important that it serves its own congregants needs fully. In this everyone needs to be consulted and all should understand the role being carried out by this Minster Church.
Some weeks ago a few of us were joking that Barton may have many chiefs for its indians. There is a trainee ordinand, it has a local ordained minister and a priest in charge. It has a number of retired priests (and one bishop) in varied attendance. There are people of talent who have varied roles including lay readers. Soon there will be a curate, and she is married to a retired minister. There are a number of well-educated and theologically trained lay people and a number who can operate ICT quite fluently.
The model reflects the realities of attendance and outreach in postChristian society. It is about service, in the end, and not simply managed contraction. There is a sense of holding the fort, of maintaining a spiritual island in the ocean of life, but this should not be seen negatively but as generous and open-armed. In the end the resourcing is for everyone who cares to partake. The model is the gift and the worthwhile exchange.