This week saw us launch The GRA:CE Project, bringing together over 100 church and charity leaders at Lambeth Palace to hear more about how this strategic piece of work is contributing to a better understanding of how social action, church growth and discipleship relate to one another. The three year research project is a collaboration between Church Urban Fund, the think tank Theos, and the Church of England. GRA:CE, stands for Growth, Relationships and Action in the Church of England. The project aims to spark conversations and fresh thinking about how these fit together.
The Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the evening, emphasising the importance of social action to the Church’s mission, and highlighting its significance in people’s formation as Christian disciples.
Paul Hackwood, CUF’s Executive Director, explained why Church Urban Fund initiated the project, describing the vital role that local churches play in the transformation of people’s lives and relationships, and the need to uphold the agency, dignity, and humanity of individuals in the way we go about mission.
The GRA:CE project has a strong emphasis on gathering stories at the grassroots in local communities across the country, one of which was shared on the launch evening through a short film in which a mum and son describe their journey into Christian faith, the sense of belonging they found in church, and the way they are now making a difference in their community. Click here to view the film.
First Church Estates Commissioner and former CEO of Christian Aid, Loretta Minghella, spoke movingly about the ways in which social action motivated by Christian faith had touched her life, arguing that social action must not be ‘the poor relation’, but integral to the life of the church.
‘For us as Christians, social action can be so much more than a duty’ she said, ‘it becomes an act of thanksgiving, witness and joy … a place of encounter, not just with the person in need, but with God himself.’
The Theos team, who are conducting the research, described the GRA:CE project in more detail. Senior Fellow, Nick Spencer, outlined the methodological approach, which includes interviews and visits at about 100 churches in over 60 parishes across England. Hannah Rich, Theos Researcher on the GRA:CE project shared some emerging stories from field work completed so far, including that of a thriving church on an estate in Blackpool which had grown from 0-50 attendees in under two years. The power of relationships was a strong theme, and it’s influence and significance could be traced through each of the project’s three foci: social action, discipleship, and church growth. You can read more of Hannah’s reflections in the project blog here.
The GRA:CE project is ongoing and there will be plenty of opportunities to hear more about it and get involved over the coming months through Together Network Roadshows, roundtable discussions, blogs and discussions. You can also get involved in the conversation on twitter: #graceproject