Within the Reform and Renewal Programme for the Church of England (follow on twitter here : @ReformRenewal) there are some positive things . . . . It is EXCELLENT, for example, that we have a focus on discipleship.
However there are some gaping holes in what is considered important and valuable for the future thriving of the Church. The actual challenge we face dwarfs some of the stark stats related to buildings or giving or clergy numbers . . .
I would just highlight this actual challenge and then what I consider to be our primary need. I write both of these with a sigh, because many I know in ministry go on and on about these two things – but most are laity, most are simply getting on trying to make a difference – despite a lack of value, a lack of support and a lack of encouragement . . .
The Challenge :: In the “Everyone Counts” survey of 600 Church of England churches in 2014, it was discovered that,
“for every 6 adults in church there is just 1 child”.
Whereas, according to John Walker of Canterbury Diocese in “Last Chance Saloon” a paper he wrote in 2011,
“90% of adults attending church had also attended as children.”
Put those two stats together and you see the challenge we have!
The Need :: It is not a panacea, but signifiant and widespread empirical evidence shows (where children have Christian parents) the impact of those parents on the faith development of their children . . . ask any Children’s Work Adviser in any Diocese and they will tell you how much parents matter in terms of faith development . . . and yet, we continue with a situation where the primary responsibility for raising this generation and working with them seems to fall to churches – and – even with the good stuff in the “10 marks of discipleship” there is an emphasis on the work of diocese and deaneries and churches . . . parents aren’t mentioned. If we are going to take seriously the need to “pass on faith” to the next generation we need to get a grip of this as a priority.
We are failing our children. In the “Church Growth Research Programme” from 2014,
“34% of those who said religion was very important in their own lives thought it was especially important for children to learn at home.”
This failure is not new, Peter Brierley carried out research that discovered,
“Of every class of 10 nought to nine year olds in Sunday School in 1985 only 3 were still connected to church in 2005.”
That is a loss of 70%.
We need to re-imagine ministry, but also shift the arena in which we think discipleship happens.
Is it primarily through liturgy? Is it through people turning up at Church and meeting with Christ in the Eucharist? Is it essentially traditional Anglican practice that is needed for us to grow disciples – if it is, it hasn’t been working!
When asking people how they came to faith (and our excitement about “Talking Jesus” and the recent research by Barna does not nullify research from just a few years ago!) the Evangelical Alliance in 2012 discovered that,
“6% sited Alpha or Christianity Explored, or similar course . . . 54% sited growing up in a Christian family or Church environment.”
So, back to the challenging statement I began with, we have been failing the children we have . . . for years, and to SUCH an extent in 2015, that any clergy demographic time bomb in terms of imminent retirement just does not come close to matching the challenge of engaging parents, equipping them to nurture faith in the home and to rediscover what Luther gave up on (his shorter catechism for use in the home)!
Kenda Creasy Dean, writing in “Almost Christian” (2010) says,
“The best way for young people to become more serious about their faith, is for their parents to become more serious about their faith.”
This is the greatest need the Church has if we are to have a future. Let’s invest in the home, lets equip parents, lets see children and young people excited and thriving in their faith journey . . .