Creating a culture of Pioneers and pioneering
If we are serious about wanting to dramatically increase the reach of our churches into the vast areas of our nation, where we have little meaningful contact, then the role of Pioneers and pioneering is vital. The skills they bring are vital for our missionary times and need to be fully utilized. Recent research commissioned by Ministry Division highlights that Pioneers are particularly gifted as entrepreneurial leaders and agents of change and feel a high calling to intentional outreach.
But the present danger is that Pioneers can be viewed as exotic extras, misunderstood as mavericks or re-deployed in existing pastoral roles. Some dioceses, deaneries and parishes struggle to identify, train and deploy Pioneers, lay and ordained because they do not understand who they are and what they do.
Yet we don’t need a few more Pioneers but thousands more if we are to fulfil our calling as a church for the whole nation and not just the few. Across our churches there are huge gaps in terms of those we are connecting with from a diversity of social, ethnic and age related backgrounds. As someone said to me recently, ‘We need to put the pedal to the floor!’
Our challenge is to move from pockets of pioneers and pioneering to a culture of pioneering and pioneers across the whole church at all levels. And there are great signs of hope. Research on Fresh Expressions by the Sheffield Centre suggests that around 1500 lay pioneers have started fresh expressions with an estimated 28,000 lay people involved in the start-up teams of these fresh expressions. Leicester Diocese is aiming for 640 pioneers by 2030 and most of these will be lay.
There is an amazing movement of people which has often gone under the radar and which we need to build on. God is on the move and people are responding to him in many places and ways. My hope and prayer is that Pioneers and pioneering will become more and more key elements to the thriving and flourishing of the Church of England across all of our nation.