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.
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?