About this page

This page is mostly about planning for change in the Wirral Methodist Circuit. If you are looking for links to resources, skip down to the Appendix at the bottom.

District Changes

There are also changes at the District level. The Methodist Church is undertaking a review which it is hoped will lead to the merger of four existing Districts (Liverpool, Lancashire, Cumbria and Bolton & Rochdale) into a new North-West District. You can hear more about this via the link below., where different people talk about their hopes for the impact this new structure will have on our work and mission, alongside some perspectives on the impact on Circuits and the financial implications.

YouTube videos about proposals for the new North West District

Here’s a video interview with the District Chair-designate, Rev Dr James Tebbutt.

Background

In March 2022, after extensive work by and with the churches, the Wirral Circuit Meeting adopted a Wirral Circuit Mission Plan. The Plan contained four areas for immediate action:

  1. Carry out a review of church mission plans and dialogue with the churches about how they see their future post-COVID; help them develop compelling, clear and realistic goals, and consider resourcing needs.
  2. Decide how best to restructure Circuit financing/assessments in order to reduce costs, maximise church engagement and promote joint working.
  3. Develop lay leadership across the churches.
  4. Address governance and church council structures across the Circuit to lessen the burden on ministers.

Beginning with the Circuit Meeting in September 2022, we devoted substantial Meeting time to exploring these issues. This process culminated (for the moment) in a Circuit Meeting Awayday on Saturday, 25th March 2023, when more than forty members spent a day considering the way forward. Here are the main points; you can download a full copy of the report here.

The March 2023 Awayday

The context

We are aware that there are various pressures on our witness and our ministry as Methodist churches in Wirral. The latest membership figures register a further decline; finances are an ongoing concern; and we are in the middle of a period of change in terms of ordained ministry, with changes expected both in September 2023 and September 2024. Already ministers are being stretched to cover the churches, and that is a matter of concern for them and for the churches they serve. We know that “business as usual” is not an option, and we must be proactive in the renewal of the Circuit both spiritually and structurally if we are to fulfil our calling.

Our purpose

Deacon Ellie Griffin began the day by challenging us to look at what we do in the context of our purpose: begin with why. The session began with a short video by Simon Sinek, which you can view on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Wb8KpHqU5tg. As churches, we mostly focus on what we are doing and how we have to do it – adding new ideas and events; but we can lose sight of the why – the purpose. As we focus on purpose, and our mission becomes the driving force in our churches, we are more likely to be able to create structures and activities which truly fulfil what we want to do – build the church, bring people to know Jesus, and serve our communities (however that is expressed or stressed in the purposes of each church). We reminded ourselves that we work within the framework of purpose established by the Methodist Church, and by the Circuit. Neither is constraining: they should galvanise and encourage, rather than inhibit.

The Purpose of the Methodist Church: The calling of the Methodist Church is to respond to the gospel of God’s love in Christ and to live out its discipleship in worship and mission.  It does this through Worship; Learning & Caring; Service; Evangelism.

Wirral Circuit Mission Statement: The Circuit exists to support the churches in God’s mission: to know Jesus and to make him known.

Options for change

The Methodist Church nationally recognises that there is a need for major change in how churches engage in ministry and mission. Rev’d Jackie Bellfield described some options for change which are being explored and introduced in other parts of the country. A number of initiatives and models are already in place, and more is being written and promulgated on almost a daily basis. (See Resources below for details.) The Methodist Church is being very flexible in terms of what solutions churches might generate, and what kind of structures will need to be in place to fulfil governance requirements, while freeing up energy for mission.

The issues around these changes have been summed up in three words: Presence; Pastoral; Polity.

Presence: In what ways is God calling you to your community? Have we become so inward dwelling we have forgotten our outward focus? Which places in our community/area are we absent? Only once we have discerned where we join God in mission do we talk of the practical – governance, finance and buildings.

Pastoral: We recognise the loss, pain and anger associated with any change, especially when people have a long history with particular places and people.  We must look after hearts and minds – look after each other. There is support for churches and individuals going through this process of change.

Polity: Legal and constitutional issues. Guidance regarding schemes to amalgamate Local Churches into a multi-site Local Church under Standing Orders 605A and 942 with a number of sample resolutions are available. Some circuits have already embraced the change and we can learn from each other.

Jackie talked through two options for merging churches, both of which are real-life examples. You can read about these in the report of the day.

Moving Forward

Churches

The Circuit Leadership Team requests the churches to share this information with their members, and, ideally, to devote a Church Council to exploring how you might plan for change. Please invite your Circuit Steward representative to join you for this meeting so we can understand how churches are responding, and what support we can offer.

Circuit Leadership team

Decisions about the future pathway of individual churches rest with those churches. The Circuit’s role is to lay out a vision for a viable and vibrant Wirral Circuit; to encourage churches to consider how they may best fulfil their own vision and mission within that context; and to co-ordinate and support the work which is being done to that end.

The CLT’s support of churches will be led by the mission strategy group. This group will be the contact point for churches seeking any kind of support, and will report regularly to the CLT on progress. The contact for this group is Pete Wildman (petewildman@wirralmethodist.org.uk). In addition, each church has a Circuit Steward representative; please invite them to your Church Council them and encourage them to come! In that way the CLT will be able to gain a better understanding of the churches’ ideas, intentions and initiatives, and to hear directly about the obstacles being encountered.

There are three main ways in which the Mission Strategy Group/Circuit Leadership Team will encourage and enable this process – and we are happy to receive input from churches on what other help would be valued.

  1. Communication

The necessary communication channels run in three ways: the Circuit needs to disseminate information to all the churches; churches need to keep us informed about their work; and churches will, of course, be talking to one another, both those churches with whom relationships are developing, and others who may be further along the process, and may be able to offer advice and cautions.

  1. Access to resources

There are lots of resources being published almost daily as churches across the Connexion wrestle with questions and opportunities raised by the idea of multi-site churches. The Resources section below gives an initial list of what we know about, but more will be added. Once we know what your specific issues are, we will also be able to tap into resources within the Circuit, District, North-West Learning Network and Connexion. Resource may be things to read, videos to watch – or there may be opportunities to set up a meeting or Zoom call with someone who can address the questions being asked.

  1. Facilitation of discussions

A couple of groups are already planning more in-depth discussions, and have invited someone from the Circuit to be involved. We’ll look around for the best people to help, whether it is a need for leading a discussion, bringing expert input, or a more lengthy involvement in the change process.

January 2024 Awayday at Prenton Methodist Church

A mini-conference was held to hear from the experiences of the Airedale Circuit, who are a few years ahead of us in their process. The following notes were prepared by Rev’d Noel Sharp.

Notes of the Interview and Q and A with Rev Claire Stainsby, Superintendent of the Airedale Circuit about the one church multiple congregations model, conducted by Rev Phyl Fanning.

Claire was keen to go to the circuit as the plan for the model was in place, and there was a clear willingness to embrace change in the circuit, with a new staff team to carry out the plan.

The Airedale Circuit has 15 local congregations, most of which are part of three Churches of multiple congregations.

Finance

They started a new bank account for each of the new church groupings. Separate congregations still have a treasurer and separate bank accounts too. They employ a lay person to do the accounts across the group of churches.The money is not yet wholly in one pot.

There is a cap on the spend allowed by each congregation. If further spending is needed the agreement of the church council is needed, this can be done by e-mail when the case is urgent.

Worship

On the 4th Sunday all congregations within a grouping worship together; this has been well received,  people enjoying the larger congregation, and these services are generally well attended. One minister always does communion on this 4th Sunday for her church grouping. There are also midweek communions taking place across the circuit. There are occasional alternative services held, eg, art-based service, Taizé-style, a discussion-based service.

Structure

Most of the group groupings came together by geography, the churches nearest to each other. They were not necessarily thinking about theology or outlook, but the matching seems to have worked.

Each Church has a presbyter and a lay worker. Each Church Council has four members from each congregation regardless of their size. Each congregation also has a relatively informal ‘congregational life meeting’ to carry on work between Church Councils; this is sometimes chaired by the presbyter, sometimes by the lay worker. One bigger congregation also has a leadership team.

Four churches in the circuit did not initially join this shared church governance model. Two of these were LEPS and so joining was not feasible. One of the other congregations has since joined one of the church groupings, and the other is principally a festival church that has big numbers at Christmas and Easter but does not have a service every Sunday.

Pastoral Care

There are three presbyters in the circuit who share pastoral care with the lay workers. They share funerals together.  When someone is in hospital the lay worker is often the first port of call.

Safeguarding

Training takes place circuit wide, but there is still a local church safeguarding officer in each congregation. Some of the paperwork is being changed over from the congregations to the churches.

Some observations

  • Some churches are growing and some are not, the need for mission and evangelism still continues. One church has closed its building since the model was in place. Another church has bought a new building.
  • There is a need for realism and a willingness to change patterns of church life.
  • The circuit has a financial cushion, because they have sold some church buildings and surplus manses. This enables them to pay for the lay workers.
  • They still don’t need as many church buildings as they’ve got.
  • They’re learning to do more things in other spaces in non-church buildings.
  • There is a weekly notice sheet across the whole circuit which goes to most members electronically, sent out by an administration and communications officer.

Phyl has agreed to be the point of contact across the circuit for comments and queries and continued thinking about the One Church Multiple Congregations model.

Website of the Airedale Circuit   https://wp22.airedalemethodists.org/structure/

Appendix: Resources

1. The Methodist Website

Leading churches into growth: https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-work/our-work-in-britain/evangelism-growth/lead-churches-into-growth/

* Sign up for the Leading into Change newsletter: https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-work/our-work-in-britain/evangelism-growth/lead-churches-into-growth/develop-transformational-leadership/sign-up-for-leading-into-change-newsletters/

Merging churches for mission: https://www.methodist.org.uk/mergeformission/

* Small church stories: https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-work/our-work-in-britain/evangelism-growth/lead-churches-into-growth/merge-churches-for-mission/small-church-stories/

Guidance on church mergers (technical and governance stuff): https://www.methodist.org.uk/for-churches/governance/guidance-on-church-mergers-and-amalgamations/

Webinars: Small Churches: What’s our future story? https://www.eventbrite.com/cc/small-churches-whats-our-future-story-1941809

2. Other web resources

It’s easy to search the web for material about multi-site churches, although the US sites tend to be focussed on growing extra “campuses” for thriving churches. I used AI (Bing) to search for articules about church mergers in the UK, and this was amongst them – not entirely relevant, but some good points. Church Mergers – 10 Things to Consider – Smart Church Management . If you come across resources, email me at petewildman@wirralmethodist.org.uk and I’ll add them to the list.