Rural Life and Faith – Barriers to Learning and Training in Rural Churches

‘Rural Life and Faith’ was a major project of the Arthur Rank Centre to develop training and resources to support discipleship, ministry and mission in rural churches. Trust funding enabled initial research into barriers to learning and training.

Case Study for St Peter’s Saltley Trust website

Name of Project: Rural Life & Faith

Your Name: The Arthur Rank Centre (project officer Simon Martin)

1. What was the context or challenge which led to you developing your project?

(a) Long-term experience of working with rural churches and their leaders.
(b) The repeated expressed needs of rural clergy and training/resource providers for help in rural mission & ministry.

2. What did you do, and how did you go about it? How was it doing something new or creative?

(a) Research into: 1. The barriers to adult learning/training in rural churches; 2. The detailed experiences of rural church practitioners (lay & clergy) concerning training & resourcing. This involved GB-wide surveys, interviews & focus groups in West Midlands & North East of England.
(b) Assessed key needs identified by research, designed different approaches to meeting a significant proportion of these key needs for free delivery via the Arthur Rank Centre website.
(c) Working in partnership with different denominations and nationally-recognised organisations and individuals, the following ecumenical materials were amongst those developed to meet the needs identified:
Unique, stand-alone, low-key training course for local churches on rural evangelism
Unique one-stop online directory of everything related to the use, maintenance & development of rural church buildings
Online signposting & evaluation of mission and ministry resources for rural church practitioners
Toolkit & training for small, grouped rural churches to equip them for mission – community auditing, church auditing, partnership working, planning & decision-making
Comprehensive tools to assist lay leadership & design of local worship
Library of detailed rural case studies & examples of good practice
Comprehensive examples & evaluation of rural nurture & discipleship examples and evaluation of local training for rural lay people
(d) These either broke completely new ground or provided unique rural perspectives and content in more generic areas.

3. What difference has the project made or is making? (Both immediate, short term impact, and any longer-term or continuing legacies – particularly where the project was a few years ago)

(a) Since the materials outlined in (2) above started to be made available, they have been accessed or downloaded over 300,000 times from our website. The rate of access remains constant, indicating their continued usefulness.
(b) In nearly all cases these resources are not static – but continue to be added-to and adapted (e.g. new case studies, commissioning new material, updated links).
(c) Denominational leaders, both national & regional have repeatedly affirmed the value of these overall resources.
(d) Local church leaders in large numbers continue to use these materials.
(e) It has led to the discovery & development of new, crucial areas where we can help equip the rural church for effective mission & ministry – especially regarding rural multi-church ministry and the enabling of lay leadership and involvement.

4. What difference did support and/or funding from St Peter’s Saltley Trust make to your project and its impact?

(a) In particular, it enabled us to conduct the detailed initial research – with the West Midlands as one of the two areas of focused study.
(b) It helped us develop an ongoing network of rural church practitioners (e.g. in Hereford & Worcester Dioceses) for developing and piloting new material & training.

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