Gradualness is about starting on a realistic scale. It involves starting the fresh expression on a scale that will be sustainable early on, and encouraging it to grow step by step so that each stage remains sustainable.
This applies particularly to finance. It is natural that many ventures should rely on outside funds in the early stages. But if the budget is too large, the project may struggle to become financially independent. When one source of funding dries up, will another be available?
Asking the right questions in the planning stage
This may well determine whether your fresh expression becomes financially self-sustaining. You may want to ask:
- what are the financial resources of the people we are called to serve?
- what sized venture could they realistically sustain?
- how long will the initial funding be available for?
- is replacement funding from outside likely?
- are we thinking on too large a scale?
To employ or not to employ
Your answers might influence your approach to employing staff. For instance, in some circumstances (but by no means all), instead of appointing a full-time paid pioneer to start a fresh expression, a church, or group of local churches or a denomination, might choose someone in full or part-time employment. This might:
- enable the pioneer to develop a track record. A church or denomination might say to someone who feels called to pioneer ministry, 'Show us first what you can do in your spare time. Let's see evidence of your gifts.' Later they might conclude, 'She's clearly got a gift for this. If she can do this among her friends and colleagues in her spare time, how much more might she accomplish if she did it half time! Let's give her a half-salary.' If the expression grew so that it could cover that half, the church or denomination might think about paying her to go full time.
- provide a discipline against launching over-elaborate ventures that rely on the input of a single leader. 'I've got limited time,' a part-time leader might think. 'I can't do it all. So I must make sure others share the load.'
- avoid starting in a dependency mode. The pioneer would not be dependent on Christians outside the fresh expression for a salary. The principle of self-sustainability would be given concrete expression at the start.
Size is key
The key is developing a size of venture that fits the context. People often sign up to the principle of contextual thinking but don't apply it across the board. A fresh expression has to be contextual in every respect - in its size and funding as well as in everything else.
Taking 'gradualness' seriously could well force you back to the drawing board. You may think your vision is wonderful and it seems to be getting support from those who would be involved. But then you realise it fails the 'gradualness' test: the funding required wouldn't fit the context. You may have to pray for a new vision.
Sometimes a vision has to 'fall into the ground and die' before it can bear fruit. This can be a painful process for the originator of the vision. But it cleans the vision of personal possessiveness, and of ego-centricity, and it leads to it being owned by the full group.
Sue Hope, Priest in charge St Paul's Shipley and Adviser in Evangelism for the Bradford Diocese
This may feel very discouraging. But it is much better to have reached that conclusion now than in two or three years' time. You have saved yourself several years of hard slog on a venture that was never going to last. You may also have saved considerable sums of money. When church is often short of cash, we have a duty to spend what is available as wisely as we can.