Gordano Valley Circuit Mission Action Plan 2023

This document is in three parts.
The first part sets out the Mission Statement of the Gordano Valley Circuit.
The second part explains our situation in 2023.
The third part details our strategic plan for pursuing that mission in the face of the urgent
need to grow.

Part One: Gordano Valley Mission Statement

Our mission: to encourage and enable people of all ages to become followers of Jesus
Christ, and to learn and grow in the Christian faith.
Our conviction: we are committed to celebrating and sharing the good news of the
Gospel—that God loves us, Jesus died for our sins and is risen, and the Holy Spirit gives us
strength and inspiration in our daily lives. We seek growth and renewal through the
centrality of prayer and scripture, worship and sacrament.
Our calling: to draw where appropriate on circuit, district, connexional and ecumenical
resources to encourage churches and individuals to pursue the calling of the Methodist
Church in the following ways:
By offering God-glorifying worship and teaching which is engaging and relevant to people of
all ages, backgrounds, and stages of faith.
By encouraging and supporting ministers, local preachers and worship leaders to adopt
innovative and creative approaches to worship.
Learning and caring
By offering appropriate pastoral care to those inside and outside the church.
By identifying and resourcing training needs in the circuit.
By prioritising ‘good practice’ in all things including the safeguarding of children and
vulnerable adults, risk assessment, health and safety, employment and trusteeship.
By actively promoting cultures of hospitality and generosity in response to God’s gracious
love for all.
By offering spiritual resources to support mental and emotional health.
By recognising that everyone is valuable and has something to offer and by encouraging
everyone’s gifts.
Through good stewardship of money and buildings, ensuring that the churches in the circuit
are well maintained, well-resourced and welcoming to all.
By resourcing ministers and lay staff to work in mission alongside circuit stewards and the
congregations of the circuit’s churches.
By encouraging churches and individuals to adopt sustainable lifestyles and to take actions
to safeguard our planet home.
By encouraging churches and individuals to show solidarity with those who suffer
disadvantage, to challenge injustice and to promote freedom and flourishing for all.
By encouraging and equipping all Christians and congregations to fulfil their God-given roles
as sharers in his mission.
By offering regular discipleship courses with the invitation to embrace membership of the
Methodist Church.
Seeking to reach all people.
Working in local communities to build bridges with those outside church life.

Part Two: Gordano Valley Circuit mission – our situation in 2023
Growth is our priority
Evangelism and church growth has always been part of our vision and integral
to the Methodist movement, and indeed, should always be. It should be
emphasised that there is nothing new in identifying it as a priority!
Nevertheless, we are at a juncture where we recognise that intentional,
targeted growth is our key priority at this time.
The challenges
We face two key challenges at this time: church membership and financial
resources have both been declining for some time. Our vision is to reverse that
decline and grow.
The impact of Covid and lockdown on churches everywhere was immense and
the challenge of recovering and rebuilding active church membership and
financial resources has been significant. In 2022 the CLT looked at the circuit-
wide trends in membership between 2009 and 2021, and an overall decline of
from 727 to 502 (31%) was identified for that period. It should be highlighted
that such figures do not give the full picture. Throughout that period there
have been many stories of significant growth which membership figures alone
do not convey. For example, there are many who attend worship services and who are regularly engaged in the life of our churches through midweek groups, Alpha, youth and children’s ministries, and all sorts of outreach activity, which membership figures do not capture. Nevertheless, membership is an important and relevant figure, used for statistical returns and financial assessment, and must be taken
seriously. Our circuit treasurer calculated that if membership continues to decline at the same rate, it will be down to 350 by the end of the next five-year stationing period for 2024 to 2029. Circuit budget projections, based on reasonable assumed rates of inflation and taking into account a number of
variables, suggest that the medium to long term sustainability of a circuit staff
team of four full-time presbyteral ministers is simply unaffordable if the
membership decline continues at the same rate.
Alongside these challenges, the connexional availability of ministers continues
to radically reduce. The stationing system currently looks to a ratio of
approximately 200 members per minister. Even if it was affordable, it would
seem unlikely that four ministers would be stationed in a circuit with a
membership that falls significantly below 800 without there being signs that
the trend is significantly reversing.
Our strengths and opportunities
A realistic mission strategy must take serious account of the challenges, but
will also recognise the strengths and opportunities that exist. We must not be
naïve, but neither should we underestimate our potential for growth. While
overall membership figures may have declined circuit-wide over recent years,
there have been – and continue to be – stories of growth, ranging from ‘green
shoots’ early-stage experiences that are just beginning to emerge, through to
more developed strategies that are more tried and tested. These should be
shared, listened to, and learned from in order to engage the genuine
possibilities that lie before us.
We are at a juncture where we recognise the urgent need to reverse decline.
Without downplaying that urgency, it’s important to be aware that we are
taking steps from a certain vantage point that takes recent trends seriously but
from which we are in a position to do something about it. In other words, it’s
not too late to grasp nettles. We may not have the same level of resources to
invest in growth five years from now; but we do have those resources now,
and to that end we are currently in a position where we can look to saving
costs in some areas while at the same time invest in growth.
For all the financial challenges we face, it’s important to recognise the
generous spirit that can be found in our churches. There is a long track record
of readiness to respond to appeals, whether that is for building projects,
appointment of lay staff or simply meeting the ongoing need to pay circuit
assessments. Growing a deeper level of discipleship and expanding a culture of
sacrificial giving, particularly across what are the current fringes of our
churches, can be seen as both a challenge and an opportunity. The relative
affluence of the Gordano Valley area might be noted here.

The people in our churches are also very generous with their time. Sourcing
various teams and leadership positions can be a challenge in churches with an
ageing demographic. Without downplaying the scale of this challenge, it should
be recognised that a culture of readiness to serve is a vital characteristic of our
churches, even with falling membership numbers.
A major strength of the Gordano Valley Circuit is that it is relatively compact.
The eight churches are located closely enough to give us a sense of collective
missionary focus, and in communities where population is growing. Our
buildings, which are all in good strategic locations, are in great condition, with
user-friendly, modern facilities (no pews!), and well-equipped with digital
It should also be highlighted that the Gordano Valley Circuit has a longstanding
culture of being outward facing and which values growth. While some nettles
may need to be grasped, there is already a deep heart for mission that
pervades the DNA of our churches, evidenced not least by the appointment of
a circuit Evangelism Enabler in recent years, as well as various youth / children
/ families and outreach workers in the individual churches. When it comes to
persuading our people that growth is necessary, we are not starting from
Shaping the circuit from 2024
In response to the recognised challenges identified above, the CLT engaged in a
process of consultation across the eight churches between November 2022
and February 2023. The focus of this exercise was on the question of how
many staff we might expect to be deployed in future years and how the
sections of the circuit might be strategically configured. A whole range of
possibilities were identified and explored, including closing buildings, merging
churches and the potential revision of circuit boundaries. Such possibilities
need to be kept under review, but it was decided that at this time the
following steps should be taken:

  1. Reduce the staff team from four to three full time presbyters when two
    current ministers leave in 2024;
  2. Reconfigure the sections from 2024 as follows:
     Nailsea + Backwell + Yatton
     Portishead High St + Redcliffe Bay + Pill
     Christchurch LEP + Kenn Rd + superintendency

Planning for Growth, not decline
From the outset, the strategic review highlighted a strong and widely held
conviction across the circuit that we are not about the business of managing
decline. The difficult decision to reduce the size of the ministerial team is
motivated by the intention of reversing decline, not resigning to it. To that end,
the plan is first, to strategically invest in the appointment of part-time lay
pastors at Yatton and Pill, partly funded by the letting of a spare manse. The
objective here is to mitigate against diluting ministry and the presence of
pastoral leadership. Second, the strategic consultation highlighted a strong and
widely held conviction that decisions around the reconfiguration of the circuit
should be set within a wider mission plan that proactively seeks to address the
need to grow in an intentional and targeted way, bringing all the churches
together into a closer working relationship. That plan is set out in the third
section of this document – our strategic plan to target growth over the next
five years, starting from immediate effect.

Part Three: strategic plan to target growth

Our key priority as a circuit is to grow – both membership (making disciples)
and financial resources. The first is the primary goal, while the second is so that
this primary goal can be invested in further. In order to achieve this, we need
 Nurture a more explicit culture of intentionality towards growth;
 Provide practical means of resourcing growth.

Nurturing a more explicit culture of intentionality towards growth
Culture can’t be simply manufactured, but we can take proactive steps towards
encouraging the missionary heart that already exists within our churches. The
following strategies are identified:
 Place growth on the agenda of all church and circuit meetings, with the
aim of sustaining discussion and accountability around time-specific
growth targets;
 Preach and teach in Sunday worship and midweek activity on the theme
of growth. This can be ensured through planning of appropriate material
for local church delivery, as well as through equipping preachers at
circuit LP meetings;
 Planning and ordering church life and activity around the core priority of
growth. The next section sets out how this can be resourced…

Providing practical means of resourcing growth
There are already many stories of growth taking place within the circuit, and
these need to be shared, listened to, and learned from. To this end, the circuit
will arrange events where representatives from all eight churches can gather
and share resources.
 Around 6 to 8 such events will take place through the year;
 There will be a mutual understanding that all eight churches will engage
– we’re in this together!
 Each gathering will be an opportunity for fellowship, praying together,
sharing resources, sharing the ‘wins’ as well as building one another up
in encouragement where things may not have gone so well;
 The events will give focus to a range of growth-related themes, such as
specific outreach resources, faith exploration tools (eg Alpha), work with
youth, children and families, senior citizens, and may include outside
The CLT, reporting to the Circuit Meeting, will continue to monitor and review
this strategy and its impact on the growth across the circuit. The Circuit
Meeting will encourage and expect each of the eight churches to present and
report on annual growth targets.