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18 July 2013

Building mission-focused churches in Scotland

Building mission-focused churches in Scotland

Alan McWilliam, a Church of Scotland minister leading Whiteinch Church in Glasgow, is deeply concerned about the state of the Church in Scotland.

Driven by his passion for Jesus, the Church and those who don't yet know Jesus, he is desperate to see the Church move from an 'established' to a 'missional' model. The realities of parish ministry in Whiteinch mean that Alan's big picture thinking is firmly rooted. The Alliance's Phil Green asked him a few questions ….

I hear conflicting stories about the Church in Scotland – some of growth and others of severe decline. How do you see it?
A recent survey suggested that only 1.98 per cent of our population are evangelical Christians – by some definitions that makes the Scottish an un-reached people group! The Church in Scotland does have a future, but a big shift in approach needs to happen.

There about 50 evangelical churches that are growing and in the last few years thousands have become involved in mission activities like food banks and Street Pastors. However, many have shrinking congregations and arriving at a point where they are just no longer viable. There are many more that, unless they switch to a different pattern, will soon be closing too.

What are the challenges that churches face when attempting to adopt a 'missional' model?
A significant shift in thinking is required, but it can be difficult. It's like telling a bus driver that they need to change the tyres while continuing to drive it along the road. It has to begin with a change in mindset before a change in practice. In post-Christendom, the Church is no longer at the centre - it's on the edge. Understanding this is unnerving new territory. It's more about pioneering than pastoring and requires different patterns and different types of leaders. It is about rethinking ministry training and national decisions as well as ensuring individual churches move from maintenance to mission.

How have you developed a missional model of church in Whiteinch?
Our church, planted in 1996, has only around 180 people with an average age of just 22. Ten years ago we adopted a multi-congregation model – focusing on different sectors of the community in order to connect - a congregation for children, another for young people, one for spiritual seekers and another in a wealthy area of Whiteinch. The similar 3DM missional community model was developing in Sheffield at the time and we have been connecting with 3DM since.

We've also adopted the concept of creating an Urban Monastery – holding onto the best elements of Celtic spiritual heritage, but without detaching ourselves from our community. We aim to be five things; a house of prayer and worship, a mission base, a community of healing and renewal, a place of learning and equipping, and a centre of creativity.

Although missional churches can have big front doors, they often have large back doors. Therefore, at the moment, our priority is to build a culture of discipleship through small groups.

What does your new missional church leader training look like?
It's about taking people on a journey. After a year of teaching, placements and mentoring they are in a good place to plant a church. We will also support them to do this, through regional hubs for church planters – not just for people who have been trained through Forge Scotland's Invest programme, but others as well.

However, we also recognise that it's not just about training church planters but also working with leaders from a very traditional church setting who want to move into a more missional approach of church.

What would you say to someone that is stuck in a traditional ministry mindset?
Take time to remind yourself what God called you to in the first place. Very few people entered church leadership wanting to be in middle-management jobs. It takes courage to take the first step so it's important to go back to your roots and remember your calling.

What would you say to a young-radical-full-of-ideas-pioneer type?
Find somewhere you can belong to who will support and encourage you to pursue the dream God has given you. If you're not getting that at the moment, move to somewhere that will nurture you.

Find out more about Alan and Whiteinch Church www.whiteinch.org

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