UP TO 20 Church of Scotland congregations will be chosen to take part in a new pilot scheme using business management techniques to boost numbers.
The new scheme starting in January 2016 will see ministers being given monthly mentoring and coaching sessions.
Extra staff, with pastoral connections, will be drafted in for up to two days a week to conduct funerals and carry out administrative work.
This is aimed at freeing up ministers’ time to identify core skills of members of their congregations to be shared in the church and community.
It is hoped some of those involved as leaders in the congregations would then go on to enter the ministry.
The proposals, discussed yesterday at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, are largely based on the principles of Christian Schwarz, a German church growth consultant.
Mr Schwarz, founder of the Institute for Natural Church Development International, identified eight key characteristics of “healthy” churches after carrying out surveys of 1,000 churches in 32 countries.
Rev Graham Duffin, from Loanhead Parish Church, Midlothian, who is spearheading the project, said the initiative was driven by the recorded decline in congregations.
Rev Duffin said: “Falling numbers is what is waking people up. We are at a critical juncture where we have a difficulty in filling posts. The present situation is just not sustainable. Folk realise the necessity for change.
“We don’t have enough ministers and there are sometimes even difficulties in finding treasurers.
“We will be drawing on some of Schwarz’s work. Firstly, developing the gifts and skills of members – such as being involved in food banks or working with children – and letting these skills cascade downwards.
“This means actually looking at what talents people have rather than taking a ‘one size fits all’ approach and just shoehorning people into a position they might not be suited for.” Rev Duffin is shortly to take over as convener of the Kirk’s panel on review and reform.
He added: “By doing this we are following ‘the priesthood of all believers’.
“This fits in with our findings that younger people tend to want to work in teams.
“We will also be encouraging ‘empowering leadership’ which means that it is not all about the minister, but the minister recognising what others can offer.”
Rev Duffin said his church had already made use of the skills of pastoral assistants and that its success had given him confidence that the model could be adopted by other congregations.
The pilot scheme, with participating churches still to be selected, will run for up to three years and will be closely monitored by researchers at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh.
Invitations have gone out to presbyteries asking them to nominate up to 50 congregations to take part – with the total being reduced down to 20 following discussions on suitability.
Those taking part in the pilot scheme will participate in an overnight conference every three to six months to “help them develop key leadership skills and strategies” as well as attending annual regional day conferences.
There will also be training from senior figures in the church who have had experience in team management and guidance on the most effective methods of managing organisations undergoing structural change.
The Kirk’s panel on review and reform, which has conducted a series of consultations with presbyteries over the past year, has stated that its goal was to move from a “maintenance” model, whereby the current structure of church life remained largely unchanged, to a “missional” approach in the community which made use of team work to achieve its aims.
The core element of the Natural Church Development is a diagnostic tool involving a survey, carried out annually, which gives a “snapshot” of each individual congregation which can be used to identify strengths and weaknesses.
Yesterday the panel also discussed how it had been examining how to improve dialogue within the Kirk. One technique which had been used was to use the services of Professor Charlie Irvine, an expert in conflict resolution.