The full agenda is here, and most of the Saturday is going to be spent in small groups trying to thrash out the women bishops issue (again). The day closes with a 90 minute debate on GS1895. Stay awake at the back there! This is a half-time review of the Church of Englands 3 priorities for the current 5 year cycle. They are:
- contributing as the national Church to the common good;
- facilitating the growth of the Church;
- re-imagining the Church’s ministry.
Each of these will be the subject of a major General Synod debate in the next 12 months, with church growth kicking this off in November.
The paper makes it quite clear which of the 3 is considered to be top priority:
The opportunities for contributing to the common good at a time of considerable social and economic distress are enormous. But the Church of England’s capacity will be less than it would wish unless it can also make progress in reversing the long term decline in numbers and increase in the age profile of its membership. (p2)
(there is a) ‘mistaken conflation of evangelism and evangelicalism…growth is an authentic priority for all the strands within Anglicansim and should be a practical priority for all’
from the conclusion: it is, rightly, the challenge of growth that is increasingly at the centre of the church’s agendas. As in New Testament days there is a sharp awareness of the challenge posed by an abundance of fields white to harvest and a relatively limited supply of labourers (p10)
Hidden away are some radical thoughts: in a section on vocations there is a growing sense that the current stress on the individual’s sense of vocation needs to be redressed to a greater extent by reference to the kind of clergy who are suited to the present mission challenge and especially to meet the need for greater diversity. I.e. the CofE is looking at rewriting the criteria for leadership selection to put mission leadership as a much higher priority.
The paper outlines some of the work being done under each of the 3 headings, and adds in a paper by Steve Croft, bishop of Sheffield. It's worth a read, outlining some of the reasons why we don't talk about church growth in the CofE:
"The agendas of bishops meetings and other meetings are dominated by questions of gender and ministry and human sexuality leaving little quality space for deeper engagement with evangelization"...
and suggests '7 disciplines of evangelisation', which is a really interesting section: watch this space on this one. It's classic Croft: take some practices and ideas which have been beyond the pale in Anglican circles and describe them in terms and ways which bring them into the fold. Thus 'ecclesial formation' (church growth) 'forming new ecclesial communities' (church planting). You may see a lot more of this quoted in the months and years to come.
The Croft paper is also here, on his blog as Bishop of Sheffield.
Finally, there is GS Misc 1054. Otherwise known as "Making new disciples: the Growth of the Church of England" I almost feel I need to repeat that title, just in case you thought you'd misread it first time round. It's a companion paper to the Quinquennium review above, and makes the theological and practical case for prioritising church growth in the CofE. It recognises that decline can't go on for much longer without the parish system ceasing to function, and that traditional Anglican outreach to the 'church fringe' is no longer enough. It's the kind of honest appraisal of where we're at as a church that I've been wittering on about for some time.
Some outlines of a national and diocesan church growth strategy are proposed, down to very basic stuff such as actually talking about it. I've just received the Bath and Wells annual review for 2012, there is not a single mention anywhere of diocesan membership or attendance. Amid all the lists of achievements and met targets, you'd be forgiven for thinking we were growing and thriving and didn't need to do much differently. We aren't, and we do.
There is some key stuff in the paper - e.g. on recruiting and equipping clergy who in turn can train their lay members as evangelists and agents of outreach, on mission action planning as a growth tool, on benchmarks of good practice in basic things like welcoming newcomers, and identifying the 'levers for growth' available to diocesan and national structures. It's well worth a read.
A few short extracts:
these quinquennial goals give us a clear framework of spiritual growth - numerical growth - kingdom growth; all of which need to be held inextricably together. A vibrant Church which grows new disciples will have more energy to transform the world through the power of God’s love. This holistic vision of growth is focused on the Kingdom of God, not just on church attendance. Yet without a regular flow of new disciples, the Church will be less and less able to fulfil its calling to be an agent of God’s transformation in the world.
There will be great danger, however, if our motivation for making new disciples is a desire to preserve the Church of England, or ‘to keep the show on the road’
The urgent missionary task facing the Church is to make new disciples for Jesus Christ who will seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. The priority of growing the number of new believers is not for the sake of the Church itself, but to enable the Church to fulfil God’s mission to be a sign, agent and foretaste of his Kingdom, where ultimately every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Turning around the decline in the number of new disciples is a massive task for the Church: far too big a task to be delegated to a small task group; way beyond what the National Church Institutions can achieve; more profound than a General Synod debate or two can fix. It will only happen if people at every level in the Church are enabled to catch the vision, pray passionately and work together.