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Church growth: people- or location-based strategies?

Church growth: people- or location-based strategies?

The website Governing has a post by prominent economic development and urban planner theorist Aaron Renn exploring whether governments should pursue place-based or people-based development strategies to spur economic growth.

There’s a raging debate about whether the focus of our economic development efforts should be on people or on places. That is, should we make investments in people, hoping to see them succeed regardless of where they end up? Or should we focus on investments in particular cities, towns and rural areas in order to bring jobs and growth, thus helping the people who live there?

Renn himself tends to favor people-based strategies but explains why local governments often choose place-based ones, even though these don’t always offer the best outcomes for the citizens;

Given their fundamental territoriality, however, cities can never really be people-based entities in that sense. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, an advocate for policies that are first about people, is realistic about the choices facing local policymakers. As he put it in an article for City Journal, “No mayor ever got re-elected by making it easy for his citizens to move to Atlanta, of course, even when that might be a pretty good outcome for the movers themselves.”

This got me to thinking about how the church allocates its resources – do we follow people-based or location-based strategies?  Much like cities, I think, we tend to favor locations, that is existing institutions.  We see it in the propping up of struggling parishes, seminaries or even whole dioceses.  Unlike cities, we don’t often engage in speculative development like building new stadiums, but we will spend to fix up facilities or prolong an institution even when it has experienced long-term decline.  Bi-vocationality and multi-point parishes also seem to me to be a kind of location-based strategy that seeks to perpetuate the paradigm of the village parish church.

Reflecting on Jesus’ own ministry though, I see a people-based strategy of traveling light, taking the Holy into the world and not setting up a tent somewhere and waiting for the world to come and visit the Holy.  Anglicanism has a long history of location-based religiosity (ala George Herbert); it is part of our DNA.  So, is it possible to create a more-people based Anglicanism, and what would that look like?  Where is it occurring already and where has it been tried and faltered?  What incentives keep us going down the location-based path and how might we change them to allow for, at least, a hybrid approach to sharing the Word of God and the treasure of our tradition?



image from St Isidore, the Woodlands, TX


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Paul Woodrum

How does one help people without institutions? The Gospels tell of even Jesus commissioning the disciples to build his church. Maybe the question is which institutions are the most people oriented. For the most part I would include the church in that category. Oddly, though, when reading clergy obituaries, I note very few ask that memorial gifts be made to the church. Most favor medical or educational institutions, perhaps suggesting we may have a problem here if even its clergy think the church is less people oriented than those other institutions.

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