There are a flurry of blog posts I’ve seen today after a couple of articles over the weekend about growth in the Church of England and the disquiet from some about the Reform and Renewal programme.
First, there was an article about the plans to reverse the decline in congregations from an opponent of the Reform and Renewal – Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford : Here “Top cleric says Church of England risks becoming a ‘suburban sect’”
Then we have, written by the same journalist, “As Traditional Believers turn away, is this a new crisis of Faith?” – which is an odd title, given the content of the article which focuses on a number of growing churches (mostly HTB church plants).
I’ve written a fair bit about what I think might see the church grow and, I’m going to keep riffing on the same thoughts. Thinking particularly about the HTB phenomenon, which seems to be driving a fair amount of thinking around growth, what a minster model of church might look like . . . I can see the potential for transformational growth – albeit, 15 years away from having decent evidence (I use the term transformational as distinct from simply having growing numbers of people attending because a church is offering an oasis in the middle of a spiritual desert).
So, my “IFs”
1. IF those in their 20s and 30s at the vibrant evangelical churches mentioned in the article above have children and raise children who then themselves grow up in faith and remain. i.e. will this be a generation who, as they become parents, are able to pass on faith to the next generation more effectively than previous generations? (At least, those of the last 50 years . . . ) This is the critical IF. “If” this doesn’t happen then the rest is just window dressing for a closing down sale.
2. IF the very best of all that is happening is generously shared. There is a particular “model” that feels very homogenous (HTB church plant = A middle class white couple (always a couple, always presented as a couple leading a church . . . with the bloke being the actual priest. I’ve hunted through the HTB church plants, I have found just one with a female priest – the others have men as the ordained half of the “leading couple” and, It would be great to see the development of a minster model where the wealth of resources – in terms of people particularly, ordained or otherwise was shared widely. It is one thing having these plants and associated network churches networking with each other, is another to see them generously resourcing the whole church whether in their network or not.
3. IF one large regional church was not seen as a panacea for growth. Brighton is a great example – one church like this is not enough to serve the whole of Sussex. I live 14 miles away in a town of 35,000 (and growing) . . . I am in that part of the “Rural world” which is NOT about remote villages in the middle of Norfolk serving 3 sheep and a donkey . . . but small to medium sized towns where the Church of England needs support and encouragement : Worthing, Eastbourne, Chichester, Crawley, Horsham . . . these are all towns in need of revitalised ministry. Hastings now has a church plant from St Peters, Brighton so will be interesting to see how that develops.
4. IF statements like this don’t become the accepted terms for our current trajectory :
“Where the population is denser, there are fewer clergy around to reach those people. If we are an outward-facing church we need to position people where they’re most needed: 83% of people live in urban areas, but 83% of [church] finance doesn’t go there. But it should.”
– two problems with this statement from, Ric Thorpe Firstly, “there are fewer clergy around to reach those people”, it might be semantics but with the Reform and Renewal programme emphasising a fresh impetus around developing the laity the continued default to clergy “do” it and clergy this and clergy that doesn’t help . . . yes, clergy often lead by casting vision and lead by example by getting stuck in to evangelism . . . but, it is an old vision of mission being cast here.
Clergy – just how do they reach people in their work place? It is their congregation, in their workplaces, homes and communities best placed to reach people – clergy need to be equipping people for this work, not thinking they need to be the main people doing it.
Secondly, messing about with stats. Here is a thing – 300,000 people live in Brighton . . . good place for a church plant, ok then. But across Sussex there are something like 1.7million people (most of those in rural / semi rural / small towns . . . ) London is 8 million, the whole of Scotland is 5 million . . . you just can’t lob out these stats and say here is our proof for re-directing investment and support for growth. Huge towns surrounded by a large spread out county or an area of the country with many smaller population centres massively skews the focus – yes there needs to be re-balancing, but it needs to be better articulated and more nuanced than this blunt 83%, because you can’t divide up the country, counties or diocese like that!
Those are my IFs. Of those, if in 15 years we see children and young people from these HTB church plants and others remaining in the church then this will be the most thrilling marker of genuine growth.
We will have made disciples who can in turn nurture the next generation and make them disciples. The reason we are so excited about churches with 20s and 30s in them is we have failed to keep young adults in to their 20s and 30s in the past apart from with a very few . . . It might be that this very few are now filling these HTB churches around the country . . .
We need 10s of thousands more children and young people to be retained in to adulthood, fired up, discipled and sent out if we are to see growth in the church that lasts.