Ten things ‘big’ churches can do that ‘small’ churches can’t

By Geoff Griffiths

Have you ever wondered why Spiritualism has never made the progress it should have done? For one of the major reasons, look to our culture of small churches and our failure to outgrow and rationalise them.

Small churches are often run by dedicated people, doing it, doing it, doing it, week after week, year on year, yet making no real progress, with little vision or idea of how to break out of the cycle.

They are often too close to each other, splitting a potentially effective large congregation into two ineffective ones and presenting a fractured face of Spiritualism to the world – if the world ever cared to notice!

They have no effect whatever on their local communities, no vision and no direction. But large congregations, led with vigour and vision, are the ones on which Spiritualism can build its future and break through to the mainstream community.

The bigger your congregation, the greater your influence in your community. Here are ten things that big churches can do but small churches cannot:

1. Larger churches can give their members a wider programme of activities.

A large congregation has many needs, so can hold many events through the week, confident that they will be supported. In addition to circles and healing, etc, women’s groups, men’s groups, afternoon groups for the elderly, weekly coffee mornings, adult lyceums, family Sunday morning services with concurrent children’s lyceums – the possibilities would only be limited by the imagination, rather than by lack of people.

There is no reason, with the right visionary leadership (and the right strategies) that such churches couldn’t open seven days a week.  Smaller ones could only dream of this.

2. Larger churches are better able to revive and promote Spiritualist philosophy.

In an age where we have marginalised our philosophy and trivialised or sensationalised our mediumship, this is so important to our progress. Yet, in any size of congregation, interest in learning the philosophy is confined to a minority – perhaps just ten per cent. In which case a thirty-strong congregation might produce three, whilst a hundred-strong congregation might yield ten. So, in a small church, philosophy groups tend not to happen.

Also, the smaller the church, the less likely there is to be anyone capable of teaching the philosophy. Even if there is a person of such ability, his or her gifts would be badly under-used in a small group. But bring two small congregations together and the chances of a good teacher and a worthwhile body of students are doubled.

3. Larger churches can offer more opportunities for service.

Many members have a strong desire to serve their church, but unless they can get onto the committee, the opportunity to contribute their talents is denied them. This can cause tensions and many good people leave our churches because there is so little opportunity to participate. (In some cases, such people get marginalised by insecure committees who fear the ‘threat’ of able people.)

Yet, in a fully-functioning church, there are many leadership roles to be filled without having to be on the committee. Lay ministries for visiting the sick, mending the fabric, running the healing team, writing the newsletter, keeping in touch with local press, children’s ministry, philosophy ministry, organising the website – the list is endless – all based on the many talents to be found in a large congregation.

Lay ministries – long a feature of the church growth movement – could productively use much of the spare energy in large congregations, which might otherwise spill over into discontent and mischief; again, small churches cannot cater for this.

4. Larger churches can engage in community service.

The great guide Silver Birch stressed that “Service is the coin of the spirit,” but even when we took our philosophy seriously, we were never known for our “good works” in the community. Not that we lack the compassion; it’s just another consequence of our small church culture. A large church has the membership, capacity and energy to do good in the world and enhance its reputation locally. A small one hasn’t.

5. Larger churches are better-financed.

The average SNU church has 43(1) members and income of around £10,000, expenditure of around £8,500, giving a surplus of just £1,500(2). Even an average church is too small and should be aiming at congregations of at least 100. It costs little more to run a large church than to run a small one – but the income can double following a merger, whilst one set of expenses disappears, so the surplus sky-rockets to around £11,000.

This will produce a church that is viable – able to engage in a wider ministry and promote itself – rather than merely solvent, just keeping its head above water. Of course, that increased surplus will not remain. It will be used in the promotion of Spiritualism in the area, making the church effective! The key to financial success is not constant events which merely feed the message culture – but more people! The churches that our predecessors built are simply too small to be profitable in the modern world.

6. Larger churches are better able to attract families.

Young families are our future, yet we just don’t reach them. It is possible, by smart multi-media marketing, to attract them to our churches. An hour-long Sunday morning family service – monthly to begin with – with a Lyceum session run in a separate hall, fits in well with the average young family. (The orthodox have discovered this and we should not ignore it.)

Because the attraction to parents would lie in having their children taught some values, it would not be necessary to offer clairvoyance at the service itself, which could focus on philosophy. This, in turn, would slowly educate a generation of maturing people in our deeper literature – something for which we have no strategy at the moment – which can form our speakers and teachers of the fairly near future.

No doubt most parents would have an interest in mediumship and would find their way to an evening service. Again, small congregations cannot offer this and tend to have elderly congregations, which have less to offer to the future, although much to offer the present. A small church cannot even offer that.

7. Larger – but fewer – churches would improve standards of mediumship.

Experienced Spiritualists are well aware that we are poorly resourced in good mediumship. There are simply too many – mainly small – churches and the supply of competent mediums is spread too thinly.

The 343 churches of the SNU, served by no more than 100 competent mediums, can only translate to a poor general standard, which will not persuade many intelligent seekers to join us. Small churches create too many openings each week for our competent mediums to fill.

So most churches have to use sub-standard mediums – worthy toilers in the vineyard, whose often subtle gifts we have learned to appreciate, but who do not cut the mustard with today’s demanding public. Add in the non-SNU churches and the picture is even bleaker. So we need either to cut the number of churches or wave a magic wand and make all our mediums brilliant! Only one of these is do-able.

8. Larger churches produce better leaders.

Without wishing to offend, if a church is small, the pool of members from whom it can draw its committee is small and the result can be a poor standard of leadership.

This is not an opinion – it’s a stone-cold fact. Skilled secretaries and treasurers pose particular problems. Strong-minded but inexperienced presidents have often emerged prematurely in small churches, due to the shortage of genuine leadership material.

Good leaders may well emerge in small churches, in which case the congregation will grow. But there is little evidence of this happening. Statistically – and in practice – large congregations provide more people capable of good leadership.

9. Larger churches can better meet the challenge of TV mediumship.

There is no doubt that TV mediumship is sending newcomers to our churches with higher expectations of mediumship than we can deliver. Putting the average medium head to head with a TV medium is only going to produce one winner in their eyes. Such people visit us once.

A large church, however, has much more to offer, with its array of activities and participation. Small churches have little to offer beyond the message culture, plus some level of healing ministry. Increasingly, in our fractured society, beyond the search for evidence, seekers are looking for belonging and acceptance. All churches can offer this to a point, but large churches have the resources, varied age groups and scope to do it better.

10. Larger churches can support a credible national body.

Many people take pride in the fact that we have survived for 120 years with just a volunteer parent body, and no professional church leaders. But look how little we have achieved – less than six people in 10,000(3) in England and Wales are Spiritualists!

Is this the best we can do? We have never shown any appetite for properly financing an effective parent body, which is a prerequisite for a world religion. For example, the £5 per member per year that churches pay to the SNU is an insult to our mission and purpose. As I have previously written, even the Boy Scouts – another volunteer-based organisation – pay £25 per member to their association, five times SNU members’ commitment.

That £5 is geared to what our smallest and most impecunious church can afford – which, sadly, is the majority of them. However, the cost of equalling the Boy Scout commitment of £25 per church to the national body would be just £1,720.(4) Impossible for our current average church, but quite affordable from the (say) £11,000 surpluses of a unified church. To those with no vested interest in their status within a small church, this is obvious. Others try not to understand what they do not like.

Of course, the merging of churches is not the only way forward – it is just the most rational and poses many challenges, which are mainly ego-based. The other is to grow organically. There are well-tried ways of doing this but, again, delivering the training to church leaders – and creating relevant courses – takes money and probably more time than volunteers can give. But if a professionalised national body can deliver leadership such as this, it will be worth the capitation fees that larger churches could easily afford. And, incidentally, a unified church would also have to go through this ‘organic’ process.

We have always wanted Spiritualism on the cheap and have been quite satisfied with mere survival, rather than being hungry for real success as a flourishing world movement. But we can change our future.

So, how long are we going to work ourselves to death – to no real purpose – in these success-starved and cash-strapped churches? When are we going to stop playing ‘church’ the way children play ‘house’?  And when are we going to start creating large, vibrant, ambitious and effective churches that can transform this movement into something that will be more rewarding, more satisfying, more enjoyable, more effective – and more fun – for all of us?  And that can change the world!

Through big churches and change in the areas shown above, we can start to realise, at local level, Spiritualism’s potential to be what Arthur Findlay called “The coming world religion”. Through small churches – and no change – we can only extend the continuous decline of the past twenty years, which most of our number had not even realised was happening.

Statistical notes:

1. SNU Agenda for 2010.
Full members (14,629) divided by 343 churches = 42.65, rounded to 43.

2. Number of people in 2001 England and Wales census (58,789,194),
divided by those who called themselves Spiritualists (32,404).
Percentage 0.0550 = 6 in 10,000 (rounded up).

3. Latest published figures (2005) from SNU website, uprated by 11.7% inflation to end of 2009 and averaged over 350 churches.
Actual figures:  Average income – £9,978;
Expenditure – £8,395;  Surplus – £1,583.

4. Current cost of average capitation fee————-(43 x £5)    =    £215
Current cost for two unified churches—————–(86 x £5)     =    £430
Cost for unified church at Boy Scout rates———-(£25 x 86)   =   £2,150
—————————————————————————Difference   =   £1,720

 

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16 responses to “Ten things ‘big’ churches can do that ‘small’ churches can’t

  1. Mr. Griffiths, thanks for your interesting article. I’m from the Netherlands, and things are looking even more bleak in our Spiritualist community. We once had a prosperous movement, but now the larger organisation is on the verge of collapsing due to lack of people (yes, secretary and treasurer!) who want to step in now that the sitting commitee is leaving. When that happens, we are stuck with a shattered bunch of incapable committees in a few cities, with ever dwindling membership. There is no vision, no philosophy, no urge to make something more important happen, just the ever repeated ‘proving that there is life after death’ , as if that has not been proven already. In fact, we are not so different from the conventional churchgoing people who nod that ‘the minister has preached nicely’ , before going back to their respective lives.
    Something is holding Spiritualism back. Broader visions and idealism come with knowledge. Since I edit the magazine of Harmonia, our ‘since 1888′ organisation, I am at liberty to write articles about the past, and, which is important too, I think, about other cultures and their more integrated visions of the spirit world. Not that that helps very much. Maybe deep at heart many people see themselves as freaks, believing in something most people don’t. I don’t know about the UK, but here there’s a reluctance to be an ‘open’ Spiritualist, for the prejudiced label of ‘spiritists are calling up ghosts’ is still firmly in place.
    I have no solution. Help from above would be very welcome, in your place and ours. Spiritualism has a wonderful past with remarkable and courageous people as examples. I just hope we can reinvent ourselves one day, before it is too late.

  2. An interesting point of view, to be sure. Geoff seems to be advocating the closure of (all) SNU churches which are held in rented premises, have a small membership etc? He makes no mention of churches in rented premises in his article but churches in rented premises do, by and large, have a smaller membership. He suggests churches amalgamating, to boost its influence within its community and whilst I agree that a church with its own premises is at an advantage, it does not mean that a small church in rented premises does not ‘spread the word’ or encourage development or have the personnel to teach and lead.
    In our small church here in Bodmin — the only SNU church in Cornwall — with the nearest SNU Church nearly 40 miles away, we have amongst us a Minister, who is also a AFC registered/trained tutor and award holder, a past secretary of the local District Council (DC), and who currently sits on the Ministers Administration Committee as Secretary. We also have an Officiant who until last year was Healing Representative on the DC for 12 years. Our church also had the annual award for most class B applicants in the South West for 2010. I refute the suggestion that small churches cannot have those who can lead. We are as up to date as any of our bigger churches except that we do not have the finances to expand as we would wish.
    Despite having to use rented rooms, we offer a weekly divine service (Tuesday), a weekly healing service (Thursday), a weekly closed circle (Wednesday), a weekly awareness group (Friday) and two ‘all day’ closed circles held monthly (Saturday & Sunday); this simply because we do not have the physical time to put on any more evening events.
    And Geoff would like us to join with another church because small churches do not have a lot to offer its community? I think not.
    Please visit out website: http://www.bodminsc.org.uk.

  3. Small Churches have always been the backbone of the Spiritualist movement. Here you find dedicated, spiritual people, filled with the “gifts” of Spirit , working to help others. Giving of their time without thought of payment.
    Spirit loves these people and will always help and support them. Meanwhile it denies to others the power and influence that they crave.

    Keep the politics of greed and envy out of Spiritualism.

  4. May the spirit preserve us from mathmaticians, and accountants. Why a large church? We are a small church among other small churches, and yes we may not be able to do the things a large church can do, but answer this, our small church outstrips the larger churches around us with regards to a congregation. I can tell you, it is because we are small, local and friendly. One of the benefits of a small local church is that those spiritualists that have served spiritualism for many years can get to the small local churches for a service. Families without transport, (yes they do exist), can get to us. Those who are disabled can get to us. Or perhaps in your grandiose scheme of closing small churches you can afford to pay for transport to run around and pick people up to take them to your big church. If the big churches are not attracting a large enough congregation, then it is better if they adapt and encourage a larger congregation. Believe me, if no one attended our small church I would be happy to give it up and have a rest. But our small church is often full in preference to some of the larger churches around us. Better to ask the question why, instead of trying to destroy something that is growing.
    What about upcoming mediums, where are they supposed to work? With fewer churches, even though they may be larger, there would be less oppurtunity for new mediums to practise and improve resulting in an overall loss of mediumship.
    If the local larger churches are suffering because a smaller church is more popular, better to learn from the smaller church. Removing the smaller churches is purely damaging to spiritualism, Leave them alone!

  5. We are a small organisation however we do great things I suppose some of you will be advocateing to drop home groups to join large and vast organisations with no heart or soul . I do not think so.
    Open Awarness Class Thursdays at 7pm prompt non-members & visitors welcome ( over 16 yrs old) and is with Kerry McLeod (DASK T)
    Thursday 17th March at 7pm prompt
    Kerry will be in Sweden conducting a course on platform medium-ship and a divine Service which will be a first for Stockholm. Ingrid Berndtson has a small developement group and with Kerrys help they mean to expand it to a Spiritualist Church
    Hazel Archibald our Healing group Tutor will be looking after our developement group in Kerrys absence. Hazel is an accomplished Tutor and every-one is welcome to attend, there is no need to be a member
    Trance healing etc is available by appointment only at 8-30pm.
    http://www.dunfermlineask.co.uk

    http://www.facebook.com/profile….php?id=100000373221287#!/profile.php?id=100000373221287.

  6. Geoff Griffiths

    Firstly, thanks for your contributions to the article. That’s the beauty of this format – readers can answer back. And so can writers.

    I am a little surprised that David, Ray and Richard took the message that I was trying to close down small churches. In my article, my underlying message was ‘merge or grow’. In the fourth para from the end, I wrote:

    “Of course, the merging of churches is not the only way . . . the other is to grow them organically.”

    No mention of closing. If you can’t grow on your own, grow together with a church in a similar position. Most of them are, or have once been, stymied by the 80% rule, of which more later.

    If you run a healthy church, it will grow automatically. If it is not growing, you need to see where you are going wrong. The reasons may be within the church, like the 80% rule, or they can be external.

    One external reason may be that your church is too close to another one – probably the result of some ego-clash of decades ago, which is being perpetuated by the current leaders. Or it may be because no-one had motor cars in those days. That time has largely passed and such churches, if they haven’t grown, need to merge to create a more viable church instead of continuing in what can only be called a tribal fashion. If we were a business, this rational act would be done in a trice – a no-brainer – since money would be the driver. In Spiritualism, personal egos get in the way, so such a waste of money is ignored by ‘leaders’ with more ego than ability. It isn’t greed or envy to stop such criminal waste and want to use that money to promote Spiritualism’s message instead of propping up ‘expensive little empires’.

    Ray makes a virtue of our limitations when he glorifies the small church as ‘the backbone of the Spiritualist movement’. Well, even a mouse has a backbone, but a mouse doesn’t amount to much. And we ought to do better than this mouse of a movement we have created, which claims only six people in ten thousand.

    It is the job of church leaders to reach the maximum number of people with the Spiritualist message. That means growing your church. There is no other way you can fulfil that role.

    Which neatly brings us to Richard’s aversion to money and figures. Mathematicians and accountants have not created the situation we find ourselves in, but only reflect its reality. And reality is not always a welcome commodity. If we sweep numbers under the carpet – as we have done – the result is complacency. My purpose in writing these articles is to get people to focus on the ‘big picture’ rather than what is happening in their own little churches. This big picture should inform the way we run our churches and remind us of our progress – or lack of it. But no-one tells us. Not our district, or national councils. Bad news doesn’t get you elected, so a wilful blindness pertains.

    After all, until I pointed out that our national membership was only fourteen more than its lowest figure in 60 years, did anyone know? I write my articles as a ‘wake-up’call, but I harbour no illusions that they will have much effect. So I am grateful at least for your noticing them – and moreso for putting pen to paper (metaphorically speaking).

    Richard’s attitude confuses me slightly. He argues for small churches, yet tells me that his church is often bursting at the seams. (For a small-churchist, this must give him a huge sense of failure!) Then he accuses me of attempting to destroy something that is growing. Growing our churches is exactly what I am advocating – whether by merger or organic growth, the latter of which I have yet to cover.

    This aside, he may be that other character I mentioned, the example of a good leader arising in a small church. But he is now faced with a test which most leaders of growing churches fail. His church – which is a people, not a building – now needs a bigger building. He has come up against the ‘80% rule’, discovered by US evangelicals in the seventies, but equally relevant to us.

    This is that a church never gets a regular congregation beyond 80% of its capacity. Their committees reason that there are still vacant seats every week, hence no need for larger premises. But visitors find it a bit cramped beyond 80% and stop coming. Numbers then plateau and no growth will take place above 80% of seating capacity. Those 20% extra seats will never be filled on a regular basis. So the committee never acts, the church never grows – so the movement never grows. Simples!

    Which way the Richard’s church will go depends on his leadership. I suspect, from what he says above, he may back down as I suspect many of his predecessors have. They have, if I read their history right, been in that same building since 1924. Somebody has got to take that church into a more successful future and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be Richard. But I worry that he worries about money. With the number of people he seems to be attracting, he shouldn’t.

    ‘The size of the shoe should not tell the foot how big it should grow’. Nor should a building tell a church how big it can grow. It looks as if – in his church – the shoe has been doing all the talking for too long. Time to answer back, Richard? Falling in love with our church buildings is another church growth ‘crime’.

    I have seen his church website and Richard is clearly one of our younger and more entrepreneurial presidents. So what is stopping him doubling the size of his congregation within five years? That is a good question for every church to ask itself. For most, one answer will be – the size of the church. Our pioneers built most of our churches too soon and too small. We, the succeeding generations, have done little to take their work an inch further. Richard’s church seems extendable with the land it has.

    An exception to our small church culture is Stourbridge on the western outskirts of Birmingham. Extended several times, it has a Sunday congregation of 150-200. Anyone who thinks big churches are unfriendly and impersonal will find their ideas changed by a visit there. It is a template for the Spiritualist church of the future – and I recommend a visit there for all church leaders.

    Isn’t it time we stopped running our churches as cosy little inward-looking clubs and really pushed the boat out for Spiritualism’s true mission by growing our churches?

  7. Do not dismiss the mouse. Mice survived the event that exterminated the much larger dinosaurs.
    It seems to me, that you view aquiring money as the sole purpose of Spiritualism.
    Bigger is better? The Titanic was big. the Hindenburg was big and the U.S.S.R. was big. Where are they now?
    Spirit decides how this movement works. I for one have no interest in what you have to offer.

  8. Geoff Griffiths

    Ray, thanks for your second contribution. Detractors like you are what makes this format all the more interesting. And people like me need to be challenged to bring out the best (or worst, depending on your standpoint) in us.

    I have given you a ‘thumbs us’ because you make a good point about the Dinosaurs, Titanic, Hindenburg and the USSR. These were fundamentally flawed creations. And so would a merged church be if it didn’t operate in a different way than we have fallen into the habit of operating. Mice outlasted the dinosaurs by hiding away – like many of our churches do – but they still came out as mice.

    However, I think the idea that spirit decides how this movement works is an excuse for avoiding change as well as being bizarrely misconceived. Rather like saying the world is the way it is because God wants it that way. As with the world, so with our movement – the responsibility is ours.

    Didn’t Emma HB say: ‘Spiritualism is divine, but Spiritualists are human’. We are not the puppets of Spirit – nor should we make them the scapegoats for our failures.

    If you read ‘Spirit Teachings’ – the much neglected ‘bible of Spiritualism’ – you will see that when we co-operate with Spirit, remarkable things happen. When we fail to co-operate (with their purpose), they withdraw. In that understanding, the loss of physical phenomena, meaningful trance teachings, trance mediums who can channel our own loved ones, rather than just dubious ‘guides’, etc, might begin to make sense. We might see the withdrawal of these things as a sign that Spirit no longer rates us as the people who are capable of taking their message to the world. If so, I can see their point.

    The statistic that we are only reaching 6 people in 10,000 is a shameful one and we should accept the responsibility. Spirit lit a fire in the mid-1800s and we seem to have turned it into a damp squib. There is still a light among us – but it won’t become a mighty fire by itself. That is our job – not that of Spirit. Only when we get on with that job will Spirit re-join us as a full partner, instead of mirroring our present commitment.

    Spirit provided us with a reformed religion, along with a revelation through mediumship to underline its spiritual origin. The job of our movement is to create the physical infrastructure to convey their message – not ‘messages’ – to the world. That, in my view, is our covenant with Spirit.

    It takes money to do that job on my particular planet. Money is part of OUR job, because we are here on the earth and Spirit can only have any impact on the physical through us.

    You entirely miss my point when you say I am trying to accumulate more money – I am against the current waste of money and want to see this waste channelled into this infrastructure. This is called ‘better stewardship of our resources.’ It is not greed. Greed is when profit goes into the hands of individuals, not when it is fed back into the Cause.

    To repeat what I have said in the article, if two closely neighbouring churches, of average size operate separately, they achieve a surplus between them, after expenses, of £3,000. As a merged entity, one set of expenses disappears and the surplus becomes £11,000 (approx). By continuing as they are, they are throwing away around £8,000 a year for nothing in return, except our continuing failure as a religious movement. Do you really think that such behaviour is somehow virtuous.

    Add to this the sale of one church building and they have the resources to take their mission into the local community, as a major influence – and in ever larger premises. This would be a very wealthy movement if it did not throw away money to prop up the egos of those who are running moribund churches for little visible purpose other than their own. That wealth could then be invested into effectiveness in reaching far more people and therefore co-operating with Spirit’s purpose.

    We need churches that are fully-functioning, with instruction in our science, philosophy and religion, catering for all age groups, with Lyceums, social events and a concern for the poor and deprived that translates into vigorous action. We cannot do this by just scraping along financially, with congregations in the teens and twenties – as many of them are. Such numbers are fine for recently founded growing churches, but when we see churches of 30, 40 and 50 years’ standing attracting such numbers, you have to ask why.

    But – in most cases – we know why, don’t we?

  9. Geoff. In your reference to “Spirit Teachings” you raise an excellent lesson. However, you do not seem to have taken this on board yourself.
    Perhaps it would help if I explain my own understanding. I do not view Spiritualism as a religion, it is not now and never will be.
    Spirit is a manifestation of God that allows us to understand that there is no Death. This Spirit can be found working in all religions, it is not the property of Spiritualism.
    Getting back to the problem of “numbers”. Many people only seek out Spiritualism at times of personal loss . Indeed, belief in the subject grew after each Great War. Why do you not retain them in the churches? Well, people vote with their feet and when presented with poor mediumship and bizarre philosophy they walk away.
    It is my opinion that your vision of a huge money making movement is the proverbial Amazonian Blue.

  10. Geoff Griffiths

    Ray, Thanks again, and my apologies for the delay in responding – many pressing commitments.

    Your first para puzzles me as you don’t explain what you mean by it. However, I have a lot of sympathy with the other views expressed. Particularly that Spirit works through all religions. I am well aware that Spirit did not open for business in 1848. Also, I think in many cases they find better outlets elsewhere that we afford them in our small barely-functioning Spiritualist churches – particularly in the ‘good works’ department. It is a message that I hope comes through in the article.

    Now, as to the old chestnut that Spiritualism is not a religion, I have for most of my 48 years in Spiritualism said that Spiritualism is my philosophy and not my religion. Indeed, I declined many years ago to move towards ministership due to my discomfort regarding Spiritualist churchism, rather than Spiritualism.

    But I have to say that we ‘philosophers’ have never been such successful propagators of Spirit’s message as churches have been – meagre though that success has been. And fully-functioning churches – inevitably large ones – are capable of accommodating philosophy as well as science and religion.

    Churches are very resilient social units. And Spiritualism’s three-fold aspect of science, religion and philosophy is a good combination, each keeping the other two in balance. But a church needs scale to accommodate all these functions.

    As for money, some churches are now so small and so impecunious that they cannot even maintain themselves, nor can they afford to borrow the money. As a result, they go cap in hand to the JV Trust, which has been a financial saviour to around 60 churches in the past 15 years to the tune of £3million. Churches need to have financial integrity – to be viable units rather than merely solvent ones. They are small businesses and businesses (even ‘not for profit’ businesses) require more money to run them properly than is generally realised. As a retired business owner, I am more aware of that than most.

    Our churches might echo the sentiment of one wag, who said: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.”

  11. Geoff. Believe it or not, I do understand your frustrations and aspirations.
    It is my opinion, that what has too often held this Movement back, is man´s nature, greed, self interest, self promotion and egotism.
    Too many celebrity mediums are like the Egyptian priests, who “commanded” the Sun to rise each day.
    Big or small? Well the nicest things always come in small packages.

  12. I am a relative newcomer to spiritualism (2007) and found this blog just today.

    My entry to spiritualism was through a very good medium, whose reading changed my life. She asked me to join her circle and I began my exploration of the Spiritualist Movement at that time. I was looking for something to believe in.

    The Church that I joined was rent with conflict and I left . It was also oddly parochial and a little cultish, Fortunately I had discovered the marvelous literature which is part of the spiritualist tradition and that has been so important to me: the trance mediumship of Ursula Roberts and Ivy Northage, and most recently the work of Arthur Findlay. I also still read read theosophical literature and the works of Catholic mystics. I see commonalities in all of these branches of thought.

    Spiritualism is a wonderful philosophy but the only that distinguished it from other beautiful philosophies is mediumship – the direct connection with spirit. Mediumship is what draws people in and opens the door to belief in life beyond this dimension. Authentic trance mediumship and good evidential mediumship are critical to the survival of churches

    The Churches themselves – well they are just human organisations. Some will be good and some will end up going astray, usually because of human difficulties.

    Like Ray, I think I prefer smaller church communities because they are less institutionalised and people have more chance to contribute and to develop respectful friendships. I now go to a monthly meeting of a small church community where I live. It is run by two very committed and creative people. The music is high quality classical and the lectures and mediumship are generally very good.

    The development circle I attend is outside the spiritualist movement, but our teacher is a lifelong medium who also trained at the Arthur Findlay College in the UK at one stage.

    I guess we each need to seek with genuine intent and trust that spirit will help us along the way. A variety of different approaches is healthy – big churches, small churches, conventional churches = it doesn’t matter really.

  13. Geoff Griffiths

    Well, Lightsnaps, just when I thought Ray and I were the only ones left ‘in the room’ you come along. Ray and I seem to have the same fault – we both like to have the last word! So your late arrival has broken the sequence somewhat. Being 5’4”, I was going to let him get away with his last remark!

    The fact that you prefer smaller communities is not surprising. They’re pretty much all we have and if you have stayed, you must like them. Another reason we stay small is because of the limited management skills of our church leaders. Its not their fault; as a Movement – and as individuals – we leave too many of our own responsibilities to Spirit, so the training of church leaders falls between two stools. It doesn’t happen. Although a draft SNU document I have recently seen, which is misnamed a ‘Business Plan,’ has recognised the need for church leadership training, perhaps I shouldn’t lose heart. Watch this space.

    I don’t know where you are located, but take a look at Stourbridge Church, if you get the chance. Eric Hatton does know how to run an organisation and it shows in the 200-strong congregation the church attracts. People of all kinds go there, are very friendly, so a visitor will have no difficulty in finding compatible friends there. There is less chance of that in the 20-plus congregations we mostly offer, although most are friendly.

    Its not all about money – its about people. Reach the people and the money takes care of itself. Fail to reach many people and you bump along the bottom financially – and tend to have an unhealthy balance of too many ‘message culture’ activities just to keep going. A healthy church grows – and unhealthy one doesn’t, although they can limp along as long as the leaders find personal fulfilment in running it.

    Spiritualist churches rarely outgrow their buildings – which says a lot.

    But to take your point, when a church grows, it can become impersonal unless it also knows how to become small at the same time. It does this by setting up groups catering for minority interests. One for men, one for women, home circles, discussion groups (although smart marketing calls them something less boring – adult lyceums, for example), healing groups, study groups, people who want to connect with social problems in their localities, etc. To do all this, you need people – lots of people. And that’s how you grow without becoming impersonal. Churches are remarkable social units. When run with vision and enterprise they minister to the needs of the whole person.

    We need to reach out and be focused outwardly, not be an inward-looking huddle. Take my word for it. Our churches are way too small and we serve Spirit’s purpose much less well than they could.

    • Geoff, I can see your point of view and know that it comes from good intentions. It is about spreading the message. And I like your suggestions as to how to prevent institutionalization.

      There are some other factors in this as well. I live in Australia and good mediumship is not as common as it is in the UK. The training available to potential mediums in Australia is not nearly as good. Many of our good mediums are English or European. The congregations are generally middle aged or older and not well off. There are some exceptions to this, of course.

      What you propose might be more achievable in the UK. Why not simply try to do it yourself, with supportive friends? I am not sure how English Churches are organised but here they are incorporated bodies with management committees. A recently established Christian Spiritualist church in our western suburbs is led by two quite dynamic and relatively young people and is doing really well. It would have a couple of hundred members now and is a genuine community.

      I would not call myself a member of any church. I attend the one I mentioned because I like the mediumship and the people involved but I would love a more rigorous and giving path to travel. I feel like an occasional dabbler sometimes but am becoming more focused in my learning now.

      I do like people of energy and ideas and I wish you well.

  14. Geoff Griffiths

    Lightsnaps,
    I take it from this that Stourbridge is not really an option :-) But thank you for your comments and for the insights you give re the Australian scene. You must get in touch with the Warwoods, if you are not already.

    You say: “The congregations are generally middle aged or older and not well off. ” This mirrors the UK where Prof G.K. Nelson said in his book, ‘Spiritualism and Society’, that our churches had historically attracted the ‘lower middle class and the intelligent working class.’ Presumably the lower middle class were not required to be intelligent :-)

    Which is why small churches and financially challenged people are always strapped for financial resources and cannot work. We need to gather a lot of our people together to be effective and attractive to seekers – and have the finances to have a quality offering. The congregation of 200 you mention in your neck of the woods looks about right from a numbers point of view and – as you say – you can create a real community from those sort of numbers. Purposeful leadership creates numbers and the numbers create a community. Simples! – as we meerkats say.

    Good luck in your seeking – and keep in touch with SPN!

    By the way, Nelson’s book was written in 1969 and is the only academic book written on Spiritualism. Long out of print, a second hand copy will set you back around £100, but many libraries can get it on request – at least in the UK. Leslie Price – now of this parish, but then a student under Prof Nelson at Birmingham Uni – was one of his researchers.

  15. Hello all, I have the pleasure of knowing Geoff personally – I would even go so far as to say he is a friend of mine. I have great respect for Geoffs views, he talks a lot of sence ! but sadly I think untill the Aquairian age kicks in old friend – you may be hitting your head on a brick wall. all the best

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