After my last blog post I have had more traffic than ever before to my blog page. I don’t feel able to simply move on and blog about something else. [see “The Key to Church Growth” for what I said].
Getting the focus right as we think about what will grow the church seems too important to just move on.
Part of the challenge of communicating the crisis, the problem, the challenge is, well – to be frank – the positive spin – common in the last few years, and the continued focus (so it seems) on turning Bishops in to CEOs.
“The church is growing again!” Or, “The church has stopped shrinking!” or, “Not ALL parts of the church are declining . . . look at cathedrals!” or, “If our Bishops just had MBAs they could lead!”
I am honestly not a doom monger BUT the scale of the challenge the church faces seems to continually be minimised AND what appear to be the priorities for the Church of England are missing the point.
The challenge for the Church of England :
We have failed to pass faith on from one generation to another.
I know. If you have read the blog post prior to this one I am repeating myself. This post is much shorter. I just want to emphasise the sheer scale of what we face and have to do if genuine growth is to happen.
Two pictures. Two charts with stats. Both used to illustrate very different perspectives. The first picture is alright, (with some shocking stuff glossed over – look at the decline in Lincoln Diocese over just three years!)
This graph was used in the recent Economist piece “Resurrection” which seemed to me an odd choice (odd choice of article title and odd choice of graph) as the article as a whole isn’t particularly positive . . .
It’s the growth bit in the article that gets me. Gazing at just a decade in recent church history, we can see that London particularly is on the up. However, it is a bit like a Government saying “The Economy is Growing” after successive recessions.
Lets get that “growth” into perspective.
In 2001, “usual” Sunday attendance in London Diocese was 55,100 whilst in 2013 “average” Sunday attendance was 49,600 (It will come as no surprise that the Church slightly changed how it calculates figures hence “usual” in one stat and “average” in the other). So, it might be a Diocese trying to reverse the fall – but even London, the fastest of the fastest growing is not yet back to where it was just 15 years ago.
It is hard to get an accurate picture of “trend” over such a short time period.
The Catholic Church, when the previous Pope was stepping down (unheard of!) faced turmoil and unprecedented coverage. The media was all over it . . . yet, I loved the response from an unperturbed Catholic Church spokesperson. When asked if the Catholic Church was in trouble he responded along these lines,
You (in the media) think about what is happening now or in the immediate future. The Church thinks in centuries.
Basically, he was saying “When whatever news agency or media outlet you work for has ceased to exist – the Church will still be here.”
I really like that sentiment.
Ultimately, we need to know that God is sovereign and the Church that Jesus sees is not Anglican, Methodist, Baptist or Catholic . . . this isn’t seven brides for seven brothers! There is ONE Lord, one faith and one baptism . . . I pray we get with that programme and re-discover a unity in Christ that transcends our denominational structures as to make them obsolete.
Much as I long for unity, I don’t wish to see the Church of England simply disappear though. That is the threat if we take a long view of some stats.
This illustrates why the Roman Catholic church has the confidence it does. Ok, it hasn’t grown – but, over a good century it hasn’t shrunk either.
Um, not so with the Church of England.
This is the statistic that matters if we consider what we are (and are not) doing. This stat was used in the Church of England’s Church Growth Research programme which I highlighted in my last blog post.
Here is the great challenge.
Among the old in this country 1 out of ever 2 is Church of England.
Among the young it is 1 in 20.
If someone has NOT come to faith by the time they are in their early twenties, the chances are they NEVER WILL.
That is our abiding problem. WILL we tell the next Generation? WILL we commit the kind of investment needed to reach the young?
Look at that graph again, that huge swathe of orange is “No Religion” – we have sent missionaries around the world to reach people groups who have never heard the gospel. We need to re-eavangelise the nation (with a focus on the young).
No little blip in figures over the last few years inspired by HTB church plants or growth in attendance at Cathedrals is going to sort this out.
We need wholesale and fundamental change in how we go about doing and being the church if we are to reach, connect and disciple this generation of young people.
Unlike the Catholic Church – if we don’t do this – we are unlikely to be gently mocking the media of the day in 2115.