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Research into local church mission collaboration

This page provides some of the research into mission partnerships on the ground in the English context.

Council for Christian Unity - Doing Mission Together

The most recent is the publication of an extensive report by the Council for Christian Unity published in November 2019 Entitled Doing Mission Togetherthe project sought to see whether ecumenism enhances mission, and if so, how this happens best. The research focused on market towns and uses both qualitative and quantitative data. Results include the following:

1. Much missional activity by Anglican Parishes in Urban settings is routinely undertaken in partnership with other churches.
2. Such 'missional ecumenism' includes a mix of activities relating to the first four marks of mission, many relating to evangelism and discipleship.
3. Partnership flourishes where there is a common calling.

The full report can be downloaded here

Churches Together in South Yorkshire - Local formal and informal ecumenical activity

Other research exists such as with Churches Together in South Yorkshire (CTSY).  Since 2009 it has had the aim of growing the number of joint missional groups operating in the local communities across the county. This was known informally as encouraging Churches Together (CT ) groups to ‘move beyond the pulpit swap’.

Joint mission development strategy

The way that we’ve encouraged this has been through example and with some direct meetings with groups. For a short time we had small mission grants for local groups to venture into new types of activity – these ranged from a family fun day to a foodbank. Since 2011 our twice-yearly Forums have not touched on formal ecumenism at all but been about different aspects of holistic or integral mission on topics such as ‘Speaking out in the public square’ with a Bishop in the House of Lords and a sandwich board evangelist; Roy Crowne from HOPETogether ; and ‘What should the churches be saying and doing to encourage good community relations across South Yorkshire?’ when speakers from local councils and Muslim groups challenged us on our role.

Shape of research

In 2016 we decided to assess how successful our approach had been. CTSY and FaithStar (a local faith sector support organisation who do admin and other work for CTSY) contacted all the local groups that were in our database in 2016, with a structured simple questionnaire to find out what they were doing. This was irrespective of whether they were, or identified as, CT groups. We also tried to uncover additional groups not already on our database, or renew contact with groups where there was no live contact. They were asked which churches were in the group and whether it was lay people as well as ordained leaders who attended, how often they met (how lively they were), and what activities they organised together (how outward-facing they were). The data received by March 2017 was compared with the 2011 baseline. The Report was published in May 2017. We know that some groups in existence haven’t responded, and that others probably exist that we did not track down, so we do not claim it as a complete record of activity.

Impact of the strategy

The results  show a shift from 45 groups in 2011 of which 38 were CT groups or Councils of Churches, to 31 groups in 2017 of which 20 are formal.  Where we got feedback from contacts about the groups that have ceased to meet, they tended to be those that had not moved into missional mode, although some have ceased through lack of engagement by clergy.  17 of the 31 are categorised as lively and outward-facing in their activities. Ten were lively, but doing nothing (except a Good Friday event) that might connect with people outside the churches. Four met only occasionally to plan and hold internal ecumenical services, Lent Groups or Pulpit swaps. 

Changes in activities and participant churches

More groups are outward-facing in prayer - 77% of groups prayer for their area, 74% have a joint walk of witness or outside service at some point. Of those doing family social events five groups do fundays or barbeques compared with three who do Harvest Suppers (a more traditional staple). There are more services or events that mark different seasons of the Christian year (ie not just Good Friday). There has also been a substantial growth in the number of Pentecostal and independent churches involved – and around one third of the representatives of the groups who attended a recent meeting about HOPE18 were from denominations not in membership of CTSY (eight denominations).

This is a much healthier picture in terms of the varieties of mission than it was six years ago, and is a heartening reflection of the missional emphasis of CTSY work over that period, as well as national trends. 

PDF of the report can be downloaded here

For more details of the research methodology, forms used etc, contact Erica Dunmow, Ecumenical Mission and Development Officer  

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