Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Justin Welby's Most Important Job?

Yet another Church of England bishop has announced his retirement today, with the Bishop of Guildford taking a well-earned rest in September. I was trying to work out how many Diocesan posts are now due to be filled in the next 12 months or so. By my reckoning it includes:

Bath and Wells
Manchester (probably decided but not announced - see comments)
with Blackburn recently decided, and 7 other Bishops aged 65 or over, who will have to retire in the next 4-5 years. There may well be others who decide to retire at 65 (a further 6 are aged 61-64).

The full list of bishops, along with the CNC schedule for appointments, is here.

There's a fairly clear explanation of the appointment process here - for each appointment, the local diocese (via its Vacancy in See committee, a group of around 24 people based on positions held and clergy and lay elections) draws up a diocesan profile and person spec, and sends 6 reps to the Crown Nominations Commission. The CNC also includes 6 reps from General Synod, and the 2 Archbishops. That's where shortlisting, interviewing and the final appointment is made, with names submitted to the Prime Minister for the formality of approval.

Justin Welby, as Archbishop of Canterbury, has a massive strategic opportunity here. The CofE has committed itself to 3 'Quinquennium Goals' (makes the pulse quicken, doesn't it?), the first of which is 'to take forward the numerical and spiritual growth of the Church of England.' That gives the Archbishop, as chair of the CNC, a pretty solid starting point for making the appointments above (plus any I've missed). If this is our top priority, then the top line of any person spec for these appointments is someone who can lead a diocese into numerical and spiritual growth.

It was pretty clear at the church growth strategies conference the other week that a massive amount depends on the leadership of the Diocesan bishops. Without that leadership, it's very hard to get the resources and energy of the church behind any agreed strategy. With that leadership, a diocese can change direction in significant ways, and see decline reversed and turned into growth. Justin Welby may have only the power of persuasion as 'first among equals', but with the chance to shape the leadership of 1/3 of CofE dioceses in the next 5 years, there is a great opportunity here to bring quality leaders into place.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies - Pulling it All Together

The blog has gone a bit ballistic with material from the Diocesan Church Growth Strategies conference last week, so here's a list of what's on here:

Specialist Input
Fresh Expressions of Church and Church Planting - George Lings
Priorities for the Church of England - Archbishop Justin Welby
Leadership development - James Lawrence
Mission Action Planning & Analysis of recent national stats- Mike Chew & Bob Jackson
Research into church growth - David Goodhew
The role of the national church - Paul Bayes & Rachel Jordan

Case Studies by Diocese
Birmingham - focus on Mission Action Planning
Coventry - focus on Natural Church Development
Exeter - focus on financial investment in mission projects
London - focus on church planting
St. Albans - focus on Mission Action Planning
some quotes from a diocesan setting where there isn't any kind of strategic approach (yet)

quite a diverse bunch of strategies in a fairly small sample! This isn't an exhaustive list of what happened at the conference, I've done a bit of editing...

There was a final session trying to pull together all the threads, looking at what were the common ingredients for a diocesan growth strategy (and the implications for the national and local church). If something public becomes available on that, there'll be a post linked here.

and finally, we had an inspiring 3 minutes from an 'ordinary' CofE member who was attending the conference, and here's my summary of that:

“There are thousands and thousands of us out there, ordinary lay Anglicans, who are really willing to get involved.”  lay people have mixed levels of capability, but high levels of willingness.

how do we enable lay people to live out their Christian faith to the best of their ability
-          help us to develop our private and corporate prayer lives
-          help us to be able to tell our own Christian story with confidence
-          help us to be able to talk confidently about our faith.
we can get into places where clergy can’t…give us a prayer life, an ability to tell our story, and an ability to communicate our faith.” 

what an exciting challenge...

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?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies: Case Study - St. Albans

Paul Bayes, bishop of Hertford, talked us through what St. Albans are up to:

Under Alan Smiths leadership, the diocese has introduced Mission Action Planning. There’s been a lot of attention paid to the process of introduction: a year by the bishop listening to people, a working party studying MAPs and leading the discussion through various diocesan bodies over the course of a year. The result is a high level of buy-in, 85% of parishes have sent in MAPs for their first year -  “the time spent on getting ownership was enormously well spent.”

Have tied together vision and strategy in creative taglines: ‘a way of looking’ is the vision (transforming communities, making disciples, going deeper into God) MAPs are ‘a way of seeing’ – a review tool for parishes.

The diocese has consciously made room and created a role for stronger and larger churches: “if a church is growing it should not be taxed, if a church is doing something well they should be learned from, if a church is succeeding they should be respected.” I liked the term ‘cascading strength’ – helping the larger churches to find a way to bless the rest of the diocese, rather than feeling marginalised or treated as a cash cow.

Each benefice now has a ‘parish dashboard’ with key stats – membership, occasional offices, finance etc. It puts the facts in the public domain, and the Diocese has one as well. The challenge is to “look at the brutal facts without losing faith.”

There’s been hard work on the data, to work out what’s actually happening. Over 10 years, 1/3 of churches have grown and 2/3 have declined. In the past, diocesan resources would go into the difficult parishes, which would absorb most of the energy. The diocese is now working with failing churches mainly at the point of a vacancy, but the rest of the time is focusing on the churches that are growing, to support and help them. 

Comment: there's an excellent Bill Hybels talk on vision where he talks about how people 'buy in' to an inspiring vision of the future, and he spends a lot of time talking about 'process' - i.e. how important it is to take time with people, to listen, explain, reason and work things through. Simply delivering a presentation doesn't work. It looks like St. Albans have paid attention to this. I also like the way they've carved out a role for key churches in the Diocese, and want to be honest about what's going on as the starting point for changing it. 

click here for other posts from the conference

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies; Case Study - Birmingham

We heard from Andrew Watson, Bishop of Aston, on the ‘TransformingChurch’ process in Birmingham. The model is Barnabas: ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith’ who comes alongside people and churches in Acts to encourage and build them up, and to bring the blessings of an outsiders perspective: “it was always the newcomers that I would sit down with and say ‘what’s your view of this church’?”

Transforming Church "starts from a place of vision…if you get too quickly into strategy without being clear what the vision is, it becomes quite stodgy and unexciting...any diocesan initiative that starts with strategy is staring in the wrong place". Moses paints a picture of a land of milk and honey, rather than detailing the route through the desert.

Birmingham is near the bottom of deprivation tables, but 2nd in terms of generosity. The average Birmingham church is small, poor and generous.

 “your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams but nothing will happen because the middle aged will still run the church.’

Church councils are encouraged to look at 7 key areas, identify things they can grow and develop, and write down a simple list of priorities, ‘what is God calling you to do in the year ahead?’ putting it at the top  of the church’s agenda until everything is ticked off. 

The Diocese is working to a number of key goals, and several things were highlighted:
1. Training up 80 consultants, most of them part of the local church, to work as a ‘Barnabas’ to churches in Birmingham. 
2. Central training is now organised around the stated needs of the parishes in their summary action plans. There have been central days on children, growing leaders, community initiatives etc., which draw large numbers because they meet an identified need.
3. Churches are put together with other churches of similar sizes, to learn from each other. Churches of 100+, 70-100 and under-70, groups of 5 or 6 from each church including the vicar. These consultations are helping churches identify common issues and work on them.
4. Diocesan money is being put into strategic things – e.g. support for parish websites, a ‘noticeboard project’ – fairly simple but helpful to churches on the ground.

They are 3 years in, and are reviewing strengths and weaknesses. Strengths include:
-          a focus for the life of the diocese, which guides appointments at diocesan and parish level
-          higher profile for mission thinking
-          encouraging experience to be at the conferences
-          a sense of parishes and diocese working in partnership “the idea that we are all in the same team is incredibly counter-cultural in the Church of England.”

Weaknesses include a mixed quality of data from parishes, so it’s hard to track improvements or trends; patchy take up; a need for people who will stick with the detail of the process as well as visionaries.

for other post from the Diocesan Church Growth Strategies conference, go here.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies: Case Studies - Coventry

1 London - posted earlier

2. Coventry 
"The way I deliver strategy across the Diocese is eyeball to eyeball". 

The 'Archdeacon Missioner' (explanation below) of Coventry talked us through their Diocesan strategy, honestly titled 'No Quick Fix'. "we're not expecting to see growth for 5 years". Many people take years to come to faith, and churches take years to change. 

The strategy is based around the findings of Natural Church Development, probably the most thorough bit of international church growth research and reflection on the planet. It's an excellent framework, based on the simple idea that healthy things grow, and identifying 8 things which make for a healthy church:

. Empowering Leadership
· Gift-based Ministry
· Passionate Spirituality
· Effective Structures
· Inspiring Worship Services
· Holistic Small Groups
· Need-orientated Evangelism
· Loving Relationships

These function like slats in a barrel: the barrel can only be filled up to the level of the shortest slat, no matter how long the other ones are. Churches can use their strengths to improve on their weaknesses. 

One examples is the diocese itself, where the leadership (no.1) has reformed the structures (4), to release people into their gifts and passions (2 & 3). The diocese has restructured its 'middle management' - giving more responsibilities and powers to Area Deans (who oversee local groups of parishes), and having 2 Archdeacons who cover the whole Diocese, one who deals with pastoral matters (the traditional firefighting role!) and one who deals with mission and strategy. This Archdeacon Missioner is currently going round all the parishes of the diocese, talking through the strategy, explaining natural church development, and helping churches get started with it.  Each church is given a mentor to help them over a period of 4-5 years to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to improve on the weakest areas. I liked the way the diocese is making its structures serve its priorities. 

The NCD stuff has other good insights: for example, that a growing church needs to have all 8 key ingredients in place, and that being strong in one thing doesn't make up for being rubbish elsewhere "focusing primarily on what was a strength for too long will kill off the church." Yes, that's your 'great choral tradition' I'm talking about, or the community project that was based around the extraordinary gifts of people who died 10 years ago but that we're propping up out of a sense of duty to their memory. 

some quotes
"you cannot make Christian disciples on Sundays"
"put some names on a sheet of paper of people you are personally investing in on a regular basis, helping them on a journey to faith or a journey in faith. If you can't identify any names, then pray that God will put you in touch with some people who you can do this for."
"don't expect to grow numerically or spiritually while you are holding on to nests of resentment"
"we're not going to invest stipendiary priests into churches that just want to stay the same" - during every vacancy, churches get the presentation on NCD and healthy churches, and parish profiles are put together on the basis of the '8 quality characteristics'. 

Actually taking time to identify strengths and weaknesses has made for a culture where it's more ok to talk about your weaknesses honestly. Clergy training now also focuses on these, which of the areas (e.g. leadership, worship, teaching, small groups, evangelism) are they strongest or weakest in. The 8 areas also provide a good framework for discipleship. 

Parishes are now asked each year how many people came to faith through their church - that's a good question! 

Having a clear focus also means that they opt out of many national initiatives, "we are saying no to a lot of things...I don't want to flood vicars inboxes with lots of things, they need to be focused."

"we think people are going to get stuff by reading about it (but they aren't).... people are going to get infected by an enthusiasm and a passion and we're not going to get that across by putting it on a piece of paper." Diocesan communications about the strategy are deliberately simple, visual, and with as few words as possible.

 - This is the kind of thing that can only happen with clear and courageous diocesan leadership, both in the overall vision, and in reorganising things to release resources into the areas you want to prioritise.
 - I liked how well this was worked out around the needs and capabilities of the local church. There's not a lot of rocket science here, and levels of buy-in are high. There's been a lot of thought given to how change happens, and the best way both to motivate and to accompany people in that journey. 
 - It's a helpful reminder that church growth doesn't have to be complex, and that there's a lot of good research already out there. Sometimes we can confuse ourselves with lots of paperwork (Bishops Mission Orders anyone?) and forget that whatever tools we use have make sense to the folk who make the tea, mop the floor and never had 3 years at theological college or a blog. 

other posts in this series from the Diocesan Church Growth Strategies conference last week.

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies - Case Study: London

Last weeks Diocesan church growth strategies conference mixed input on particular streams & topics (leadership, research, Fresh Expressions of church) with case studies and presentations from particular Dioceses. 3 case studies going up today, London first, Birmingham and Coventry later.

1. London

For a long time London has been the exception to the rule of Church of England decline, owing a great deal to the leadership of David Hope, and Richard Chartres (worth noting that neither of these could be described as an evangelical, church growth is not the property of 1 section of the church only)

The Diocese is about to launch Capital Vision 2020. Ric Thorp, the Bishop of Londons' church planting advisor (how many Bishops have one of those?) talked us through their vision of planting 100 churches across the diocese. Having a bishop who is pro- church planting, not just allowing it "is a game changer".

There are currently 30 church plants in the diocese from the Holy Trinity Brompton family alone, mostly grafting new people into an existing, but struggling, congregation "we have managed to keep nearly 100% of the existing congregation in the parish on board... they are seeing something happen that they have only ever dreamt about", and we heard several stories of small churches growing from 10-20 members to over 100 in a very short space of time. Some of this may be made easier by the large turnover of population - Ric spoke of areas where 30-40% of the population changes each year. On one level, that means simply to stand still you have to replace 1/3 of the congregation, but it may also make it easier to do outreach than in a more stable and fixed community.

The Diocese is pretty well resourced for this, with St. Mellitus college offering training, a church planting advisor, the track record and resources of HTB and its various plants, and over £2m set aside over the period. They also have a very clear but distinctive Anglican church planting policy. There are 4 main areas targeted: regeneration areas (e.g. Olympic Park, where the developers are building a new church), parishes needing a new start, new communities within parishes (e.g. a new congregation within an existing church "the fastest and easiest way to grow your church") and mission communities (e.g. in networks, schools, among certain social groups). There's some creative thinking about funding going on too, including a lending scheme to enable the diocese to buy housing for pioneer ministers in strategic places.

There are targets for each type of plant, and each year, which seemed a bit over-planned, but "if we don't plan it at all, it won't happen". The result of talking through the plans in details is that people now think it's manageable, in fact, 100 is seen as a conservative estimate of what's possible.

The diocese is deliberately looking at partnership working - e.g. with Scripture Union to plant into schools, with Vineyard and Eden in neighbourhoods. It makes a lot of sense, and cuts across the standard 'go it alone' mentality which often means that Anglicans end up doing nothing, because it's beyond our capacity.

Identifying where to plant is done within Deaneries, and there's a diocesan team headed up by a deputy bishop keeping a steer on the whole thing. One interesting development is that they've started asking grant making bodies to fund several projects, rather than 1, which actually excites more interest because it's seen as something more significant. Aiming high is releasing more resources.

Planted churches are themselves expected to plant, Ric talked about planting 'pregnant' churches. Churches are also being asked to put 2% of their income into a church planting fund to back future growth. That makes a lot of sense - I'd much rather invest in a growing concern than prop up a declining one, and there's a good theology of giving underlying that too.

There's also work going on with a group of Anglo-Catholic clergy "who are all fantastic at growing churches" to explore what Anglo-Catholic church planting looks like.

Finally, the diocese is using 'learning communities' to share expertise, a facilitated group with teams from several planting churches. With key decision makers (usually 3-5) from each church, those teams can make plans during the session, and are then accountable to the other groups for following them through, as well as being able to learn from the other groups in the process. That sounded fascinating, and again is something made possible by aiming high. My experience is generally of parishes being left to get on with it, with little central co-ordination, encouragement or resourcing.

a couple of quotes
"church planting is not dependent on resources, it's dependent on leader-readiness...if you want to plant a church, if you see an opportunity of need, then you can do it."
"we've got to focus as parish priests on raising up leaders for mission."

It was breathtaking stuff, though at times a bit overwhelming. One or two thoughts:

 - Consistent diocesan leadership in the same direction is key: Richard Chartres has continued what David Hope started, not dismantled it and started again.

 - The model is much more clearly planned, costed and strategised than just about anything else I've seen in the CofE. That may be  because we've become too used to amateurism - whilst our schools have rigorous school improvement plans, inspection mechanisms, targets and clear leadership, somehow we think that mission, worship and discipleship will just happen if we keep the building open and the liturgy handle cranked up. We are in an incense-induced stupor when it comes to good practice.

 - There are only a few places in Bath and Wells where we could think of something similar on a small scale, with an urban area where struggling churches and  growing churches exist side by side. But it's worth remembering that the resources and expertise built up in London are part of a 20 year journey, church growth is long term and hard work, and it doesn't look the same everywhere.

For other posts from the conference (7 so far, more to come) go here.

update 25/5:
a couple of London policy papers, which give a bit more background:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Diocesan church growth strategies 7: church growth research

David Goodhew from the Centre for Church Growth research took us through some of the strands of research work currently going on. A few headlines and comments:

 - The bulk of people who become Christians - 80% - have done so by the age of 25.

 - Tracking affiliation to the Christian faith as declared in the census, for each age cohort the line is basically flat - i.e. there's very little change from age 20 to age 80 as people age. But with each new age cohort, affiliation is lower. Once people reach adulthood, their views are basically set for life.

 - 54% of immigrants to the UK are Christians, and black and minority churches are one of the fastest growing sections of the UK church, with over 1/2m members, and 1m black and ethnic minority members in all churches. In the borough of Newham, population 300,000, over 200 new churches have been started up in the last 20 years.

 - 2950 new churches were opened in England in 1989-2005, 2680 opened in 2005-10.

 - There's some interesting clustering of new churches/ church plants in certain areas, e.g. along 'trade routes' (e.g. more going on in York than in Hull). Mapping church plants within Dioceses shows clusters in certain areas, as though having local examples of new initiatives and fresh expressions of church triggers other people to have a go.

 - The CofE doesn't have much of a theology of church growth, there's a challenge to make the case that "numerically growing the church is theologically respectable". We're good at quarrying the tradition for spirituality and liturgy, but how about for mission practice and evangelism?

 - Being a fully sacramental church means taking baptism as seriously as communion. "a church that is eucharistic but not baptismal is semi-sacramental."

 - our definition of mission is probably too broad. We're happier to talk of Fair Trade as mission than evangelism. Within the '5 marks of mission', it feels like some are more equal than others "we need to jack up the church growth end, as it just gets swamped by the rest...we need some positive discrimination."

Overall it was just encouraging to hear stories of growing churches in the UK context, the CofE can get fatalistic, or so used to decline (after 100 years of consistently experiencing it!) that we cease to believe in the gospel and give up. I could relate to what he said about evangelism/church growth not feeling theologically respectable, that echoes conversations I've been involved in within this Diocese, that people would rather talk about growth in 'depth' than growth in numbers, as if one were superior to the other. Jesus called us to do both: making disciples involves people becoming disciples and growing as disciples. There's nothing theologically superior about closing a church in a generation with great pastoral care whilst everyone else in the parish went untouched by the gospel.

There are various strands of research currently going on within the CofE, with an anticipated report at the end of this year. These include in-depth profiling of 4000 churches to identify the key features of growing churches, material on cathedrals, church planting, multi-parish benefices and team ministries. The FX research is being published diocese by diocese already - see my report on George Lings for some of the data from this.

Here's other posts from the Diocesan church growth strategies conference, including Justin Welby, James Lawrence & Bob Jackson.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pentecost, the Sequel

It's quite striking to compare Peters Pentecost sermon with the one he preaches a few days later in Acts 3. There's a lot of common features:

 - Peter deals with misconeptions: this time of the beggar. He is clear about what he can offer, and what he can't. What he can offer is healing in the name of Jesus. The apostles are not to be one in another long line of benefactors, they have something different, something better.

 - Peter explains what's going on: Jesus has made him walk

 - Peter keeps the focus on Jesus - he recounts pretty much the same as he did in Acts 2, how God had set Jesus apart, God's people had killed him, and God has raised him to life, and the apostles are witnesses of the fact

 - Peter gives them a clear way to respond: again, pretty much the same as Acts 2 'repent and turn to God' for forgiveness, and for 'times of refreshing' (a way of talking about the gift of the Holy Spirit?). Interestingly, he doesn't call for people to be baptised, as he does in Acts 2. Is that purely pragmatic (2000 extra men, and only 2 apostles, it might have taken some time)? Or do we take it as read?

It's looks very much as though Peter has rehearsed and clarified what he is going to say before he goes into these situations, he has the same focus on Jesus, the same clear and concise story of Jesus special status, death and resurrection, the same call for a response of repentance and commitment and the gift of divine grace.

At the Diocesan church growth strategies conference last week, I heard of a group of 18 ordinands (potential vicars) who were asked what they'd do if someone came to them and said 'how do I become a Christian?' Only 2 gave a remotely adequate answer. This is criminal. We need a church where every member can do what Peter does - know the story, know it well, and be able to tell it and show people how to respond. That means that for church leaders, we need to take time and effort to train ourselves, and others, so that this comes as naturally as us as it did to Peter.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Explaining Pentecost

Peters Pentecost speech struck lots of chords with me this year. He does 4 things, all of which resonate very strongly with the present day:

 - Deals with misconceptions ('these people are not drunk'). Often that's the starting point, there is stuff that needs to be dealt with before people will even give the Christian message a hearing.

 - Explains what is going on in terms people can understand ('this is what was spoken about through the prophet Joel'). As fewer and fewer people are familiar with God or the work of the Spirit, we have to do more explaining, not less. 'Preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary' is a dangerous nonsense, preaching the gospel always involves words, because if people are encountering God and seeing him at work they will not often realise what's going on. And most folk are a lot further back than the Pentecost crowd, who knew who the 'prophet Joel' was, the Holy Spirit is an utterly foreign language to them. I've had several recent experiences of seeing God touch the lives of non-Christians or people who are exploring the Christian faith, and actually pointing out to them that perhaps this is God they are experiencing. Otherwise it's just put down as a 'strange peaceful feeling' or a coincidence, or not noticed at all.

 - Puts the focus on Jesus - 'God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ'. Peter could have stayed with the phenomena, the amazing gift of languages which enabled dozens of nations to hear Gods' praise in their own local dialect. That in itself would have been enough for most people. But he knows why this has happened - the whole point is that the church should bear witness to Jesus, and that the disciples should make disciples. So he makes it clear that this is all about Jesus.

 - Explains how to respond  - 'repent and be baptised'. No messing around, no Alpha course, no invitation to join us at our next family service. They are ready there and then if they're willing to say yes to Jesus. Do we have a clear explanation of who Jesus is, and how people can respond to him? I heard during the week of a small group of soon-to-be-vicars who were asked as part of their preparation how they would lead someone to faith in Christ. A depressingly small number had anything approaching a decent and immediate answer to the question. If people can't find the door then they can't get in.

Justin Welby said during the week that evangelism is "emphatically not just a clergy thing, it's a Christian thing." It's bad enough that many clergy can't go through the 4 stages above, it's that we're not equipping our church members to do it either. And here, like many preachers, I'm preaching to myself.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies 6 - Mission Action Planning & Growth

Mike Chew on Mission Action Planning:
Experience in management at Philips electronics was very similar to his experience of the Diocese of Blackburn: a culture resistant to change, internal conflict, suspicion of top-down initiatives, intuitive rather than strategic leadership, falling performance, losing customers and best employees.

Change in both Philips and in the Diocese involved finding a common strategy process (not a strategy but a strategy process - Mission Action Planning is a process for discerning strategy, which looks different at each local level)

“the most important element of any strategy is actually desire…if someone doesn’t want to do it, it’s not going to happen, or it’s going to be done very poorly.” How do we generate the desire for change and growth within the church?

Training leaders and training them to train others "was probably the most powerful thing we did"

2 reviews, in 2007 (after 2 years) and 2010. On both occasions, showed that churches which had engaged most fully with MAPping had grown, those which didn't shrank. 

Of the 20 Diocese registering growth 2010-11, 15 are using Mission Action Planning in some form (the national total was 19 at the time, so of the 23 which were flat or declined, only 4 were using MAPs)

Bob Jackson on the national stats:
'it's a little bit early to relax and rejoice' - there's a 100 year long downward trend before the latest minor levelling out. 2000-10 is better than the 1990s, but it's still all negative numbers. 

CofE is looking at new membership measures: "church is not an attendance event, its an ongoing community" so things which measure belonging to the community, rather than attendance at events, are closer to the heart of what it is to be the church. 

Trialled in Lichfield: usual Sunday attendance of 26,000, worshipping participants 47,000 - on the new measure the Diocese is 75% bigger than the Sunday snapshot would suggest.

Joiners and leavers data: parishes in Lichfield asked to register membership, numbers joining (and why) and leaving (and why). This showed a net increase of 1300-1400 per year, with 50% of the joiners (roughly 4,000 in total) having no previous church background. Also helped the diocese to see how many were joining/leaving through transfers, births & deaths etc. 'Much more useful, richer statistics.'

There are now 1800 registered Messy Churches as of Feb 2013, the number is almost doubling every year, and there are many unregistered Messy Churches too, Jackson estimated 2 for every registered congregation. Average attendance is 55. That's 100,000 people in the registered ones, but membership will be more than attendance because people don't come every week. So there could be up to 400,000 people involved across the UK. 

Comment: it's a mixed picture. Part of the energy for growth is coming from a dread of decline, rather than a positive theology of growth as the normal business of the church. Will more positive stats and good news lull us back into complacency? Can we find an engine for growth and change that isn't the prospect of imminent death (not a great motivator) but that is more to do with the love of God and the gospel of Jesus?

On a personal level, this thing about being trained to train others well keeps coming up. I'm not, and I know I need to be. 

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies 5 - James Lawrence on Leadership Development

James Lawrence from CPAS on leadership, growth and the Church of England. Excellent input, here's some direct quotes, summaries of key bits, and comments:

"leadership is never about the leaders, it's always about serving the King, and the priorities of the Kingdom."

Why is leadership development important?
 - Jesus modelled it
 - Research suggests it (clear link between good leadership and church growth)
 - Situation requires it: we are in a mission setting, most clergy are not in a ministry they were ever trained for ("anyone trained more than 10 years ago is now finding the church is constantly asking then to do things they weren't trained for"), and there are the financial realities of decline too. However, it is mission which must drive the growth strategy, not clergy or finance.

What sort of leaders?
- licensed leaders in churches
- unlicensed leaders in churches (i.e. everybody! a lot of Fresh Expressions of Church are led by people with no formal training or accreditation)
 - leaders in the scattered church - 7 days a week at work and in the community.

What CPAS has learned about leadership development:
 - Needs to be creative "leaders are best developed in context, with others, over time, through multiple layers, by leaders" take any one of these factors out and you massively diminish the effectiveness of the development.

 - Think theologically: "the Judeo-Christian tradition provides the longest continuous source of reflection on the question of leadership in the whole of human history" (Steve Croft).

We can pick up tips from secular business and leadership thinking, but our root thinking must be theological, there are many seams below ground which we can mine: e.g. that a good Christian leader is not someone with lots of followers, but someone who is following Jesus; that leadership is based on call & covenant, not contract; that vision comes from God, not from human preferred futures. "if we don't go down the mine we will end up with something that is less than Christian leadership."

 - Start young:
a) Research on tweenagers shows that the single biggest reason they leave the church is that they weren't asked to contribute anything significant. (my kids both want to operate the powerpoints in church, and my 10 year old is learning how to construct a presentation). Are we teaching our children to consume or contribute? It's a lesson they'll learn for life.

b) Generation Y are a 'different breed' from Gen X, and need to be engaged in leadership in a different way. "it would be a terrible thing if the way we do leadership development only engages with people who are over 35."

CPAS now working with 23 dioceses on leadership development. Also tailoring a set of new resources:
 - Lead on e-bulletin (well worth getting, sign up here)
 - 'Growing Through a Vacancy' resource for churches currently being piloted and refined, aiming for autumn publication. "A lot of the things that help churches have good vacancies are not rocket science."
 - Multi parish benefice work - pilot with 3 dioceses to get clergy learning together about this. Clergy simply aren't trained for this, most of it based on a 1 vicar 1 church 1 parish model (and a lot of ordinands come from this background) "this has to be one of the biggest issues the Church of England currently faces" (note to non-Anglicans: in trying to maintain the parish system and not close any churches, the CofE requires its decreasing numbers of clergy to take on ever higher numbers of churches, grouped in a 'benefice'. Near me in Dorset is one grouping of 13 churches.)
 - Resource for Church Councils (PCCs) to think through their local leadership, due in 2014. "we want to change the culture of PCCs in the Church of England."

Lots to think about, I was particularly led to think about my own developing of other leaders. To do it properly, I actually need to spend more time with people as they are actually leading, rather than in 1-to-1s on a separate occasion. It's not just that we need to develop leaders, we need to develop leaders who can themselves develop leaders. "For the sake of many, invest in a few".

And how do we develop our clergy leaders? If development in context is important, the time they spend as curates will probably be more formative than the time in theological study. Do training vicars get ongoing coaching in how they develop their curates? Shouldn't the diocese be approaching growing, well-led parishes with a track record of leadership development to ask them to take on curates, rather than having a bidding process and sharing things out by churchmanship? It should be a basic minimum that every vicar in the CofE has been part of a growing church, and the only way to guarantee that is to make it a basic requirement of every curacy.

I'm more painfully aware than ever that I'm trying to do leadership development without very much idea of what I'm doing or how best to go about it........

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies 4: Case Study - Exeter

Part of the Church Growth Strategies conference is an invitation to participating dioceses to talk about what is and isn't going on in their county. Here's a bit about Exeter, which was really encouraging:

Very rural diocese, had first round of Diocesan strategy in 2003, trying to draw 500 parishes & 613 buildings (!) into 150 'mission communities' - clusters of local churches with a mission priority and plan.

2008 set a target of 25% growth in weekly attendance by 2013. There was quite a bit of harrumphing around the Diocese at the time. In the end growth 2008-12 has been 11%, which is short of the target (but, Exeter are the 2nd fastest growing diocese in recent years. Setting a target may have poked the diocesan culture with a sharp stick, but it seems to have been a catalyst for growth)

A Million for Mission: the diocese chose to give away £1m of its historic reserves to churches to use in mission. Grants from £1,000 - £100,000 were offered, in two waves over the course of 9 months in 2011-12. Nearly 200 bids came in, and 87 grants to mission projects were made. "there's nothing like throwing some money at Anglicans to arouse interest"

The projects are currently being reviewed, 12 months in. The first 26 have been looked at: these are engaging with 2,146 brand new people, as a direct result of the projects the money has enabled, that the church had no contact with before. Half of these are children (the majority of the projects were aiming at children or all ages) with roughly 500 youth and 500 adults. Already 60 have made a clear profession of faith (e.g. confirmation, a decision to follow Christ following a course) - considering the time that the process of coming to faith takes, that's a very encouraging start.

Giving money away from the Diocese was a "hugely impacting p.r. exercise". Parishes are so used to the  diocese taking money away from them, the idea that they were being offered money and asked to come up with ideas was a real novelty, and communicated powerfully that the Diocese was on their side. It also got churches thinking about mission that had previously been asleep.

"being cautious with money is not something the Bible exhorts us to do" (Chair of Finance at Exeter. That's the spirit!)

The biggest impact is with families. The Diocese now has 63 Messy Churches.

What next? A new set of priorities from 2013:
 - "create and develop pathways into deeper discipleship and sacramental membership of the church for all those reached through new missional initiatives" i.e. the whole diocese is now addressing the question of discipleship in fresh expressions of church. There's work being done to find the right resources for people on the fringe of faith, Alpha is too far away from the starting point for many.
 - leadership training, including asking CPAS to run the leadership training programme (great call)
 - developing ministry teams in the mission communities, this can't all be done and run by clergy.

The Million for Mission video is an excellent bit of diocesan communication, and an encouraging 6 minutes viewing!

use the diocesan church growth strategies tag below for other posts from the conference, including the ABofC on evangelism and renewal.

Diocesan church growth strategies 3: Archbishop Justin Welby

A few excerpts and quotes from Justin Welbys address on Weds night to the 'diocesan church growth strategies' conference I'm currently at. It was immensely encouraging to find that the new Archbishop had made space in his diary to be with a group of people looking at church growth in the CofE. Here's a few quotes to give a flavour, and a few paraphrases on some of the other key points. Hopefully you'll be encouraged.....:

“it’s incredibly exciting that in (the stated priorities of the church) is spiritual and numerical growth…that would never have happened a few years back, this is something quite new.”

The Archbishops 3 priorities:
 - prayer and renewal of the church's spiritual life
 - reconciliation, within the church and as an agent in the world
 - evangelism

Spiritual Renewal

“A growing church, an evangelistic church, starts with a church that is not focused on anything other than Jesus Christ … it is in the renewal of our spirituality, in seeing Christ and his love for us, that we overflow into the world.”

In his prayer pilgrimage before taking office, the ABC prayed in 6 cathedrals, expectations were that 3-400 might come to each event, the smallest turnout was 2,000, and in total 12,500 people joined in praying. During the week people came to faith "it was about trying to find a way to make it easy for people to encounter Jesus Christ, and focusing on him and not on us and on the church.”

“If (the people of God living in the discipline of regular prayer) doesn’t happen I don’t think a lot else is going to…if there’s going to be effective evangelism, there needs to be a renewal of spirituality.”

“In my own parish over 7 years we grew a lot, and quite a lot of that started with funerals and weddings and baptisms and just being human and just being reasonably friendly.” His message wasn't complex - if a church does the basics well (worship, welcome, pastoral care, being human and loving, being able to explain and share the faith) then it can grow.

To be an agent of reconciliation, the church has to model it. He commented on the way that Anglicans currently speak to each other, both in correspondence (Lambeth Palace gets 15k+ letters a year) and in the blogosphere. Some of the language we use about each other is 'not just a slight failing', and (my words here) we really do need to get our act together and raise the standards we work to and the standards we expect from one another. The church needs to learn to disagree passionately but lovingly, and with great care for each other. 

Is the church a safe place for the vulnerable? If we don't get safeguarding right, if we don't properly take care of the vulnerable, then that's not good enough "an ethical institution takes safety very seriously". 

Rediscovering the Psalms and their overt highs and lows of lament and praise: “(in the Psalms) there’s not a lot of ‘O God we’re glad things aren’t too bad at the moment and could be worse, all things considered.’ " We need a diet of lament and celebration in worship that isn't driven by circumstance. 

"Evangelism has to be a priority" and the CofE at present has a bit of work to do on this. Is it on the agendas of our meetings, synods, etc.? It must also be seen as normal for everyone  “this is emphatically not a clergy thing, this is a Christian thing.” 

“Dealing with the really hard issues, solidly, is absolutely fundamental.” Churches need to help people with apologetics, dealing with the tough questions, and being able to explain their faith.  

“There is no reason why not, in 15-20 years (that) the church could not be twice the size it is now, and more”  but that will involved hard work. "A church that is growing will find that everyone is working pretty hard"

Overall it was a clear and simple message, powerfully stated - spiritual renewal focusing on Christ not ourselves, reconciliation (and the church has to get its internal house in order on this) and evangelism. Not much rocket science, plenty of hope and confidence, but courage patience and wisdom required. 

On a personal level I was challenged too - can I clearly say what my top priorities are in ministry and leadership, and how I intend to go about them? (I think the answer is yes, but having to identify and clarify them is a helpful process)

see here for other reports from the Diocesan Church Growth Strategies conference. More later.

Diocesan Church Growth Strategies Quotes 2: George Lings on Fresh Expressions and Church Planting

Fresh Expressions research in 6 dioceses, with 6 others in process, gave us a blitz of stats and insights from the Church Army's George Lings in session 2. Here's some of the highlights and quotes:

"representative accurate information will serve the church better than national guesswork"

361 Fresh Expressions identified in the first 6 dioceses studied (Liverpool, Leicester, Derby, Norwich, Canterbury, Chelmsford), total attendance over 14,000. "in all cases the growth from the fresh expressions of church more than reverses he decline in these dioceses in the 5 years of reported figures 2006-10"

Lots of the fresh expressions of church (fxc for short from now on!) start small - about 3/4 begin with a team of 3-12 in size, and most have a membership in the 20-50 range. It's 'many small things, not a few big ones'. Lots of them grow quickly to 30-50 members, then plateau, there seems to be a natural size limit. Finding the natural size is important. 

Over 50% of them meet on a Sunday, big variety in how many meet weekly, from 28% in 1 diocese to 65% in another

About 20 different types identified, Messy Church is the most popular, and most are aimed at all ages, very few really specialised ones (such as skateboarder or surfer church, as featured in the early fxc dvds)

The research excluded a lot of things which claimed to be fxc but werent, in some dioceses 60% were ruled out. Some were existing things rebranded as fxc. "a bicycle could be called a fresh expression of horse, but that wouldn't really help us"

There seems to be a clustering effect "what is veiwable starts to become doable", so if there are some fxc in a locality, other local churches are more likely to have a go. 

There are a significant proportion of members who are either de-churched or non-churched. Only around 25% of the membership are Christians who were already church members, and many of these were from the initial set up teams. For every 1 church members sent to set up a fxc, 2.6 are added to the church. That's an amazing multiplier. For most of us 10% growth over 5 years would be great. Fxc are seeing 250% growth in the same timescale. "There is nothing else like this effect in the whole Church of England"

Fxc are working in a whole range of settings, from UPA to suburban to new town to rural. The majority of people who come are from the immediate area. More and more fxc are being set up to enable the church to reach into cultural diversity (e.g. different age groups) rather than to reach 'unreached' part of the parish or geographical areas: "parish works nearly perfectly with area, but it is not designed to recognise or respond to cultural features" but fxc can.

The vast majority of fxc are doing discipleship in one form or another - courses, mentoring, small groups etc. Those that don't tend to have a higher mortality rate. 

About half take place in church buildings, though it varies - in Liverpool 60% occur in more neutral venues. It's all about what makes for most accesibility.

So far in the 6 dioceses, despite finding quite a few fxc which went across parish boundaries, 'we met no serious conflict over this issue'

The majority are lay led, and this is a growing trend. There are an increasing number which are led by lay people with no kind of formal training/accreditation at all (e.g. Reader, employed church staff). "we are entering the era of the lay-led church" (hooray!!)

Only 48% of the leaders are full time (most of these men!) 33% are leading fxc in their spare time. 

That'll do for now. It was tremendously encouraging to hear, and raised a stack of questions as well - e.g. whether some of the questioning about the nature of church and mission that is put to fxc could be put to our inherited churches as well, and whether the level of experimentation and re-imagining of ministry that's going on can only happen in new forms of church. 

But who would guess, from the headlines and the media narrative, that across the CofE 1 in 10 of our worshippers is a member of a newly planted church, and that over 10% of our churches have been started in the last 20 years? It's an interesting contrast with the rate of closure of church buildings in yesterdays church commissioners report: I question whether we could do more pruning in order to create space for more growth. Or maybe it's better to sidetrack clergy with the care and maintenance of ancient buildings and traditions and let the lay pioneers just get on with it?

Justin Welby next post, use the diocesan church growth strategies tag for others from the conference.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Diocesan Growth Strategies: Quotes 1

High Leigh has wifi, so here's a few quotes from the first session of the Diocesan Church Growth Strategies conference, from a very quotable diocesan missioner:

"sometimes people in the diocese, when you talk about church growth, people respond rather dismissively, as if this was the triumph of shallow marketing over deep theology and rootedness.” (that one got a few nods from our corner)  

“I want to stop evangelism being a dirty word in this diocese.” 

“Making new disciples and growing them in the faith: anything less is not only disobedience to the Lords command, but also guarantees that we are working on a very short time-line.” (speaking in the context of a diocese that had seen a recent sharp decline in membership. i.e. the choice is mission or death, though we shouldn't need it put in such stark terms to concentrate our minds)

“Our (church) culture is probably more powerful than our strategy. Our strategies can be powerful signifiers of cultural norms, but if our strategies and our culture are not aligned, culture wins.” (i.e. you can have as many statements, plans and bits of paper as you want, but a memo is no match for hearts and minds.)

v encouraging to hear a couple of dioceses talking about cathedrals planting new congregations in neighbouring areas. 

(Explanation: the conference has reps from various Dioceses in the south of the UK, hearing from different dioceses about their growth strategies, hearing from various specialists (George Lings from Church Army, James Lawrence from CPAS, Rachel Jordan the CofE's national mission specialist, and the ABofC himself later this evening) to learn from each other and work out best practice for dioceses who are seeking to encourage growing churches. So far so good.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

How is an Anglican Welcome different from a Methodist Welcome? Not a Lot.

It's both encouraging, and slightly discouraging, to find that both the CofE and the Methodist church now have a good set of resources to help church focus on becoming more welcoming: both having a welcoming building, and being a welcoming people.

The Anglican resource is the superb Everybody Welcome course, which has been around for a couple of years. We're using bits of it at our local Deanery Synod (gathering of local CofE church reps, once a term): using a DVD clip to highlight an issue, and sending everyone back to their churches with a couple of the checklists to fill in to help them review an aspect of the life of the church. Then at the next meeting, we'll hear back how they got on, what they're going to do about it, and highlight another issue.

The Methodists now have their own resource, First Impressions Count, which covers a lot of the same ground, using a lot of the same tools - video clips, checklists etc. It's a bit briefer and less in-depth, but looks good and covers a lot of helpful material. It may be easier to use 'off the peg', whereas Everybody Welcome needs more preparation, but also goes into more detail.

Whilst it's good to see both of these national churches recognising a need and filling it with a good resource, I wonder why 2 sets of people needed to do 2 separate projects producing 2 separate resources. There is so much common ground that it would surely have been easier to have adaptable versions of the same thing? We've managed it with Mission Shaped Ministry/Mission Shaped Intro...

Eurokey Cokey

A disharmony in several parts:

Clegg:  You Put Your Whole Self In

Farage: You Put Your Whole Self Out

Cameron: In? Out? In? Out?

Ed: Um

Ed (the other one): That's not fair!

All: You do the Eurokey Cokey and you turn around, barely noticing that voters have lots more important things on their minds.

Cameron: That's what it's all about, well it is today anyway, well when I say today I mean 2017, we're on the side of people who frown hard and want to get re-elected. I mean, work hard and want to get on.

Conservative MPs: Hear hear hear hear hear hear sack him.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mind and Soul

Somewhere there is bound to be a study on the optimum number of e-newsletters it's possible to receive, before the information overload means that you may as well not receive any at all.

At the weekend, an update arrived from Mind and Soul, a superb resource on Christian faith and mental health, bringing together articles, conference presentations, events, online directory etc., an excellent way to gather all the relevant material in one place. What stuck out was one vicars account of his trouble sleeping (which struck a chord) and this extremely helpful series by Adrian Warnock on mental health, including several posts on specific conditions (depression, schizophrenia etc.)

Though a few of us have been plugging away at this for a while now, there seems to be an extra level of interest among Christians in mental health issues, partly propelled by Katherine Welby's courageous admission of her own depression, and the encouraging levels of sympathy and support that resulted.

Next month the chaplain of our local mental health unit, plus one of the nurses, are coming to take a service on Christianity and mental health. It's probably the first time the subject has been overtly addressed in our church. I hope and pray that for those who suffer, it's encouraging and supportive, and for those who don't, it helps us understand and show informed Christian compassion.

Mental health, depression, and related issues probably affects more of us, and in more profound ways, than Europe, immigration, taxation and press regulation. It's something every church, and every Christian, should be clued up on. Not just to spare sufferers the dreadful experience of crass 'prayer ministry', but to aim much higher, that the church can be a place of understanding, support and acceptance.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Punctuating Julian of Norwich: new insights revealed

Deeper research into various ancient mystical writings has revealed a new side to some of our favourite spiritual sayings.

Julian of Norwich, celebrated in various places yesterday, is famous for her visions and words of wisdom. Most quoted, perhaps, is "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

But so much, of course, depends on context. As Julian was illiterate herself, there is the chance that the saying has been wrongly transcribed, especially with regard to punctuation. Instead, Mother Julian is newly revealed as patron saint of the vague and indecisive generalisation, a perfect role model for Anglicans everywhere:

"All manner of things shall be, well.... all manner of things shall be, well...... and all manner of things shall be, well......"

Meanwhile parallel research elsewhere in Europe uncovers more ancient truths. "Preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary" is commonly ascribed to St. Francis. In other words, St. Francis never said it, but an otherwise questionable idea gains specious credibility and profundity by being linked with a dead mystic who can't answer back.

Again, there is suspicion of both a transcription error, and later additions the original text. Source critics, working on the accepted academic premise that modern scholars have a deeper insight into the message of historic figures than the historic figures themselves, suggest that the original saying was:

"Preach the gospel at all times. Use words."

The addition of 'if necessary' and revision of punctuation looks like a later textual addition by universalists and people who've lost confidence in speaking about Jesus, dateable to the late 20th and early 21st century.

Betting shops 'blight on our high streets'

The recent Future of Britain report asked consumers what would constitute their ideal high street. Top ranking were a bank, a chemist/health store, newsagents and family butcher/baker. Bottom of the list came a pawnbroker (3%) and a bookmaker (9%). To quote the report:

The fate of the high street is one of the issues that most concern the British public. The study found that 76% of adults are concerned about the future of our high streets and a significant proportion  would back a limit on the number of pawnbrokers and betting shops allowed to open in local areas....the vast majority of British shoppers regard betting shops and pawnbrokers as a blight on our high streets.

You don't have to look very far for the evidence. A cafe on our estate sadly had to close earlier this year due to lack of trade. The new owners of the unit are

the sign went up a couple of weeks ago, and our first local bookies is opening soon. Earlier this week the outlet right next door, a hairdresser, announced it was closing down. People have already noted that having a bookies next door would put people off using the place. I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes harder to let the unit as well. Sadly the bookies seems to outlast better shops - in a neighbouring estate the current line-up is a fish and chip shop, charity shop, bookies and tattoo parlour. Not so long ago we had a post office and fruit and veg shop.

The betting industry works hard to keep politicians onside, and problem gambling is on the rise, despite the recession (or maybe because of it - the industry seems to target poorer areas). Research suggests that if you increase access to gambling, that has a knock-on increase on problem gambling. But we can't just blame other people, local communities have to use the shops they want to keep: ASDA will keep trundling on, but the small business down the road depends on local people to use it. And if we don't, people like Ladbrokes will move in.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Church of England: Not Levelling Out

If you don't like stats and bad news, look away now.

Yesterday the Church of England published its annual attendance stats for 2011, there were some encouraging signs, though as British Religion in Numbers points out, there were plenty pointing the opposite way too. The headline was that average weekly attendance was broadly flat 2010-11, some indicators (baptisms, Christmas) were pointing upwards, and the Church of England was actually doing ok, thankyou.

Wanting to compare with more than one years data, I used the very handy little Excel sheet that the CofE have made available with all the 2001-10 data. (The other statistical upside of comparing over more than one year is that the 2010 stats appear to have been revised downwards between their first publication last year, and their use as a point of reference this year. If you use the figure currently on the Excel sheet, we're actually looking at a 2.2% decline 2010-11, rather than the reported 0.3% decline, so I'm seeking clarification.)
Here's two tables on Adult Average Weekly Attendance, i.e. the average number of adults attending CofE services across a 7 day week. Firstly, comparing 2011 with 2008. As you can see, the 'levelling out' is fairly minimal even in the short time frame of 3 years:

Adults a.w.a change
 3 yr (08-11)
St. Albans
Ripon & Leeds
Sodor & Man           
Southwell & Nottingham
Bath & Wells
St. Edms & Ipswich
Total Church of England

3 Dioceses are growing, 4 are broadly flat, and the other 37 are shrinking. This is bad.

And here's the same data compared over 10 years, with the change 2001-11
Adults a.w.a
10 yr (01-11)
St. Albans
Ripon & Leeds
St. Edms & Ipswich   
Bath & Wells
Sodor & Man
Southwell &Nottingham
Total Church of England  

This is very nearly as gruesome as the table in Bob Jacksons 'Hope for the Church' looking at Diocesan attendance change in the 1990s. The stats on children and youth are slightly better than this across both 3 and 10 year comparisons, but still heading downwards in most places, and in the Church of England as a whole.

I'm going to a conference organised by Jackson next week, on what makes for an effective Diocesan growth strategies. By the look of the above, we need them, and few more so than my own diocese.


Each year a small decline looks 'manageable'.

But if you take a longer view, we cannot sustain (and in many places we are not sustaining) a model of church, leadership, parochial system, clergy, ordination, sacraments, mission etc. which worked fairly well for several centuries but works no longer.

It may be that this is just the baseline that Justin Welby needs to bring about some radical changes, but the more we console ourselves with the few rising stats, the more we will miss the bigger reality, and the less motivated we will be to do anything about it. The Guardian's Andrew Brown seems to get this better than many Anglicans.

Update Weds lunchtime: the effect of the downwards revision of the 2010 stats means the following:
1. Reported all-age weekly attendance, using original 2010 figures:
2009   1,130,580
2010   1,116,080  (-1.3%)
2011   1,091,484  (-2.2%)  i.e. an accelerated rate of decline, year on year.

2. Reported all-age weekly attendance, using revised 2010 figures as issued yesterday:
2009 1,130 580
2010 1,094,600  (-3.2%)
2011  1,091,484 (-0.3%)

Revising the 2010 figures downwards means that decline 2009-10 was under-reported, and I'm not aware of any reference to this in the data. There are some genuine oddities in the original 2010 figures (e.g. a big jump in Canterbury attendance, which may explain the drop in 2011 reported yesterday), so there probably was some ironing out to do, but that's quite a significant bit of ironing.

Update May 16th: I've spoken to someone involved with the statistics, and yes there's been some double checking of the 2010 stats and ironing out of anomalies (e.g. double counting of some congregations, with Fresh expressions both recorded in the stats of the parish church, and on their own separate stats form). More effort is going in to getting the stats accurate, (and a new membership/joiners/leavers measure is being trialled in a couple of Dioceses), but the revision downwards wasn't reported. We'll simply have to wait and see whether the same level of revision hits the 2011 figures in 12 months time.