Friday, May 24, 2013

Church Growth and the CofE: the role of the national church.

Ok, last post in the series from the Diocesan Church Growth Strategies conference last week, see all the rest here, including case studies from several dioceses, research on church planting and church growth, Justin Welby and more. 

Paul Bayes (PB: bishop of Hertford) and Rachel Jordan (RJ, national mission and evangelism adviser) talked us through how the national CofE is engaging (or not) with the church growth agenda

1. The National Picture
Rachel took us on a tour of lots of encouraging things that are happening within the national CofE to promote mission, evangelism and church growth. A few snippets:

“We have all that we need within (the church) but it’s often that we don’t put the jigsaw puzzle together. We often reinvent wheels that don’t need to be reinvented” (RJ) Is there another Messy Church out there, that isn’t spreading so fast because it’s pioneers aren’t as well connected as Lucy Moore?

Messy Church combines network and neighbourhood, and is repaying the long term investment in mother and toddler groups. Of 30,000 such groups in the country, 27,000 are run by local churches (amazing stat!).

Partnership with other denominations gives leverage: e.g. Jubilee Bible for last year was done with other national churches and agencies, it sold 750k copies, which was 5x the initial estimate, and was really easy for people to give away and share. It wouldn't have happened without national partnerships. 

World War 1 will be a big thing in 2014, how can churches help councils and schools with this?

We have a lot of retraining and recruitment to do: “we have a missionary task, we need to reach 90% of the population. We have a workforce that’s very good at looking after 2% of the population.” (RJ) A study of the priorities and time use of 700 clergy discovered that mission was 2nd bottom of clergy time use, and of what they felt called to do. They also didn’t feel equipped for it: “if the task is now a missionary task, re-imaging ministry is utterly key”

Comms department spends most of its time dealing with difficult stories, e.g. child abuse etc. “don’t rely on national church communications to preach the gospel for you, that’s your job.” (PB)

2. Theology of Church Growth – PB
“No-ones got a problem with spiritual growth, it is numerical growth that causes headaches… we do not know as a whole church whether we should be up for this.....there is no agreed narrative in the church about what counts as growth. you can have as many strategies as you like but until the theological heavy lifting is done (to convince people that growth is a good thing) then we are stuffed”

George Lings – wants reproduction to be an agreed mark of the church alongside one holy catholic and apostolic. (I wonder if we need a better and more dynamic definition of 'apostolic' - is it static and based on bishops, or dynamic and based on mission. Is it about being sent, or being sat?)

Anglican mood music is that “God wants to grow the church accidentally, and if you do it on purpose then you’re not reading the Bible properly”

In Lichfield, the large churches who worked with Bob Jackson grew, those that chose not to declined.

“we are moving forward, but the risk is that we’re moving forward because we’re desperate”

We need a robust theology of church growth and the kingdom, so that mission is taken as seriously on our agendas as pastoral care and finance. All too often the mission people are given time on the agenda just to entertain the troops after a long and depressing finance item. 

The stated national priority is 'to take forward the numerical and spiritual growth of the Church of England'. Spiritual growth isn't contested, numerical growth is. Instead of finding an agreed way to talk about growth, we have gone for a variety of practical strategies and plans. "at every stage our corporate conversations are hindered because the theological groundwork has not been done." (PB) 

 - I'm aware that this kind of conversation must look simply incredible to people from New Frontiers, 
Vineyard or one of the newer church planting movements. 
 - I completely understand where Paul Bayes is coming from on. There seems to be a lack of theological and spiritual respectability in talking about church growth - or 'bums on pews' as the common derogatory term has it. 
 - But we also need a better case than pure pragmatism: yes a larger church will be more effective and more able to achieve it's goals, but mission and making disciples are not a means to an end, they are the end in themselves. The church seems to think that Jesus departing instructions were too simple and straightforward, and we've done a great Pharisee job on them of turning them into a hefty system of law and structure which almost completely loses the point of the original mission.

3. Young people and the church (RJ)

Most younger people are ‘no religion'. 50% of the old are CofE, 5% of the young.

“We have tried to educate people in the faith but we have not given them an experience of God” (on education). We’ve failed to do this for generations of children, even though we had the chance. There are tiny numbers of children who believe in God, and the idea that ‘they will show up when they grow up’ is a myth. The longer we leave it, the less chance they’ve got of coming to faith.

91% of kids who grow with 2 non-believing parents will stay non-believing
46% of those with 2 believing parents believe. 20% with just 1 believing parent.
how will we address this?

Comment: there is a big elephant in the room here, and it's the CofEs involvement in education. Why are we involved in education? There are lots of big numbers which we can wave about and congratulate ourselves upon, but what difference does it actually make? What would happen if we invested those resources in other ways in childrens discipleship and mission? Do we dare ask that question, or is there a standard presumption that we can't touch this?


  1. David, thanks for all these recent posts and your summaries. They have helped my thinking. I don't want to give up on trying to challenge the present culture.

  2. It is fun to spoil a good argument with facts, but here goes... In two large deaneries in Salisbury Diocese (both growing; three out of our 19 grow)we have related many demographic metrics to our attendance data. We "reach" 9 times as many children through our church schools as through our churches. In many of these schools they enjoy an actual experience of Christian living rather than talks on comparative religion. This is actively supported by a DBE which puts full time trained specialists into schools and churches building discipleship skills for each age group. We have a centralised directed professional resource aimed at this key task for all our schools but no mandated, trained and qualified body of clergy doing this job in churches, for many of whose congregations children are a problem not an opportunity. If you must take mission seriously then ditch the churches and keep the schools, not the other way around.

    John Waldsax
    Canford Magna Church

  3. Anon- the facts don't spoil the argument, I just wonder if we simply look at the numbers in church schools and think 'job done'. If education is integrated into local mission, as it sounds like it's done in Salisbury, then that can only be a good thing. I'm not sure it always is.

  4. It would be interesting to know how Rachel Jordan defined "mission" for the purpose of her survey. If basic tasks like visiting parishioners on spec (i.e., the sort of door knocking that was expected of many clergy, certainly before the last war), count as mission, then the fact that it is second to bottom in their list of priorities is a major scandal and goes to the heart of the collapse of Christianity in this country. Visiting should be right at the very top, on a par, if not before worship.

    Of course, visiting is very difficult in many places. Some clergy who do visiting think it yields little fruit. Perhaps, but then it depends on how it is done. If the parson come across as hail fellow well met, and is simply asking after people, then s/he is he far more likely to bring people within the orbit of the church than if the parson asks why people are not going to church (which most people would think impertinent) or starts evangelising in an aggressive manner (which most people find acutely embarrassing and off-putting).

    Moreover, if the clergy are not visiting then what are they doing exactly? What do they do all day? I do think that a cross section of the clergy need to participate in some sort of time and motion study. I fear that if they did, a good many of them would realise that they do not work nearly as hard as many of them think they do (especially by comparison with many of their employed parishioners), and that a great deal of their work (form filling, committees, etc.), is wasteful or absurd. I mention this because few of them can be engrossed in scholarly activities or - from my experience - in writing good sermons, and a great many parish priests will only take a handful of services a week.

    The clergy need to get out of their clerical kraal, and out and about in their parishes. They must be seen. Naturally, this is much harder in urban areas than in the countryside (where the Church has also collapsed). The clergy must also not expect people to come on Sunday mornings; people's weekend timetables have changed, so the clergy must go to the people. Services might need to be held at different times (e.g., 4 PM on Sundays, after the shops have closed, and with no competing Sunday morning football). People's weekends started to change radically in the 1950s and the clergy at that time really needed to move up a gear or two - but far too many of them didn't and kept up their familiar routines (absent visiting, which many theological colleges disparaged as being "false"). The presumption that the people will come has been exploded, and it is now up to the rising and much diminished generation of Christians to pick up the pieces left by their dilatory and complacent predecessors.

  5. Young people are not believing because society is growing out of it. Nobody believes in Thor or Zeus anymore, Christianity is going the same way. Religion is an outdated concept. With the rise of the internet, young people have had access to a wide range of beliefs and views, it is no longer the case that children grow up believing just because their parents are Christian and they don't know any better. Previously, your beliefs would be totally dependent on where you were born and what your parents believe. Now, children have the freedom to make their own decisions on what they believe in. In the past religion was more important as much of the world was a mystery and as humans, we like questions to be answered. These days, more questions can be answered without religion than with it.