Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Church Growth in the CofE - discussion paper

What follows is a paper I'm presenting to local CofE clergy next week, based on the recent General Synod documents relating to church growth. The stuff in italics is all direct quotations. It's a cut and paste from 2 sides of A4 so it should fit onto that if anyone wants to use it as a discussion starter.

I'm hoping it'll raise the issues itself, otherwise I've a few questions up my sleeve!

Church Growth in the CofE?

1.       General Synod 9.7.11:
this Synod
a) recognise the urgent missionary task facing the Church of England to reverse decades of numerical decline and make new disciples for Jesus Christ in every community in our land;
b) welcome the priority given to facilitating church growth in Challenges for the New Quinquennium (GS 1815)….. (translation, 'Challenges for the New Quinquennium was a primer for the priorities of the national CofE for 2011-15) 

2. July 2013 – extracts from GS Misc 1054 ‘Making New Disciples: the Growth of the Church of England’, a report by a task group set up in response to the 2011 motion:

Why does Making New Disciples Matter?

a)   It’s Gods’ mission – God is a missionary and sends us.
the mission of God is not being undertaken in all its fullness unless people are called to become disciples of Jesus Christ.’

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.

b)  It matters to the whole church:
in some circles there is a latent fear that a commitment to evangelism is about advancing Evangelicalism (the name for one tradition of churchmanship in the Church of England). This fear must be acknowledged, since it is real, but challenged robustly. Evangelism/evangelisation is core to the vocation of every Christian and every church community

‘the priority of growth is an authentic core component for all the traditions within the church’.

c)  The pragmatic bit:
 Church membership is declining, and average age is rising. The average age of the church is around 10.5 years older than the general population (49 to 38.5. If you take out children, the average age of adults in the CofE is 61, compared to 47). Decline, and ageing, makes it harder for the church to sustain its’ current presence, both nationally and locally.

Traditional evangelism with those on the fringe is fishing in a shrinking pool. We need new approaches for those who’ve never had any contact with the church. Churches need to “equip lay people to be a little more confident in talking about where God fits into their life

Church is also becoming shallower – people attend less often. How do we disciple people who only attend 20-30 times a year? e.g. online, mentoring etc. How far does attendance at worship facilitate discipleship in the first place?

d) Facilitating Growth
“facilitating growth is a multi-faceted issue”
1.       Prayer ‘the first need in evangelism is for a strengthening and a quickening of spiritual life within the Church’ (William Temple, 1944)
2.       A change of prioritiesbeyond care and nurture to proclamation and service’ (Lambeth 1988), deeper prayer and more outgoing evangelism
3.       keeping growth on the agenda of our meetings. (PCC, deanery?)
4.       mobilising the laity as an agent of mission: The duty of evangelism is laid upon the whole Church.
          By every means possible the clergy must be set free from all hindrances, spiritual as well as material, which prevent them from exercising an evangelistic ministry. More particularly must they be given time to fulfil their primary responsibility of training the laity for evangelism.(Towards the Conversion of England, 1945)
          A key part of the investment in mission must be in the training of the laity and clergy. The goal is to form a laity confident and skilled to make Christ known in their home, work and leisure environments. This in turn requires clergy who – as well as being evangelists themselves – are able to envision, equip and support the laity in their work of outreach.’ (Resourcing Mission Group report to General Synod)

5.      What’s working: Fresh Expression,  grassroots initiatives which have spread (e.g. CAP, Messy Church, Back to Church Sunday)
6.       Mission Action Planning – tool for clarifying mission by listening to God and the community, producing a plan for action, acting, then reflecting on the results. there is a strong correlation between churches whose leadership engage with MAP in a systematic and sustained way and those that are more likely to grow in faith and numbers
7.       Doing the ‘ordinary’ things well: worship, pastoral, community, welcome, intentionally integrating new people into the life of the church, finding out why people are leaving, learning from other churches how to break through ‘glass ceilings’ of numbers.

As part of the exchange of ideas we recommend that the Mission Network is encouraged to invite innovative responses from local churches, deaneries, diocesan secretaries, etc to the question... “What could be done differently at national level that would help you to make new disciples?” (or Diocesan level, or Deanery level?)

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

From GS 1895, quinquennium goals review by the 2 Archbishops, July 2013:
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.

A prayer for the growth of the Church:
God our Creator and Redeemer, help your Church to grow in holiness, unity, effectiveness and numbers.
Draw us closer to you and to those around us.
Give us enthusiasm in our faith, and wisdom in sharing it with young and old.
Open our eyes to new opportunities, our lips to sing and speak of you, and our hearts to welcome the stranger.
Grow your kingdom in us and in the world, through the intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen


  1. David
    Any chance you could email me a copy of your discussion paper to my work address?

  2. done, let me know if it hasn't arrived!