Thinking Anglicans

Church Growth

Today’s issue of Church Times has a special series of feature articles (ten pages long in the paper edition): “planned, measured – or wild? getting to grips with church growth”. All are available online, including these which do not need a subscription for access.

Grace Davie Not fade away: the challenge for the Church

Leader: A work of the Spirit

David Goodhew Numbers have always mattered

My tips: Pete Broadbent
Linda Woodhead
Philip North and Dan Tyndall

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Pluralist
Guest

Grace Davie wrote a fairly conservative sociological book (I have it) in terms of ‘still believing’ if not belonging, and that seems to be shifting in position. She’s still the same, though, because, as for Europe being exceptional, well, the United States is now following suit, as observed institutional religion is in clear decline there, and the religion of other places can be seen as part of a transition to modernisation via a middle class Protestantism, a consumer charismatic faith. Regarding the Church Times, such a focus on growth indicates decline must be deep. She’s right about the decline of… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
Guest
Laurence Cunnington

Gay couple in Pete Broadbent’s diocese: “Mmm – that coffee smells good – and look at the quality floor-coverings! It all feels so centrifugal. Can we get married here?”
Vicar: “No – but after you get married somewhere else and I’ve explained to you how you’ve departed from the church’s teachings, I can do a service for you as long as I don’t bless you.”

DBD
Guest

“Pete Broadbent’s diocese” is certainly an interesting description, Laurence! I am sure Pete would agree that said diocese is rightly “the people of North London’s diocese”.

Peter K+
Guest
Peter K+

Great to see church growth coming on to the radar of the church at large. Of course there’s a chance of the tail wagging the dog, but it’s time to stop being sniffy and start taking practical steps – a lot of it isn’t rocket science when there’s a genuine will in the church to make it happen.

John
Guest
John

Of course David Goodhew is right, even though the church he attends (St Nick’s) isn’t to my taste (which doesn’t matter at all). Interesting also to read the various ‘tips’: illuminating both differences of philosophy and of character.

To be really crude: the single biggest reason for decline is lack of will. Say what you like about churches like St Nick’s (and I do), they are highly organised, they do try and they never give up. Compare and contrast, as academics say.

Jeremy Pemberton
Guest
Jeremy Pemberton

I’m interested by the use of the word “will” in these comments. Whose will? People inside the churches can will all they like for people to come to their churches, and it is not as if there haven’t been serious strategies worked out and followed through in church after church over the last forty years. But decline has been continuous and now seems set to accelerate. The reasons are multiple and complex – but somewhere in there is the uncomfortable truth that Christians simply willing to grow their churches is not cutting it. Even the ones that are full and… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Let’s learn from the experts at growth, charismatic evangelicals.

They make their churches accessible, with stripped down liturgy, modern music, and welcome teams. This is followed up by small groups in the week. They tap emotions, have sermons that reference pop culture, and incorporate audio visual. They avoid theological jargon, and describe their beliefs in straightforward language. Accessibility, enthusiasm, and social support. It’s a simple formula, and it works.

All this could be imported to liberal churches, without evangelical theology. When it is, liberal churches will grow too, and liberalism will finally be taken seriously by the powers that be.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

On our side, we’re reading articles about how young people do not want a church that is “dumbed down” and how they like the ancient ritual. Go figure. Our young families in our growing church are pleased to be able to raise their children in a church that isn’t “bigoted.” We’ve had two female rectors leading the parish for the last two decades+, and we’ve been gay friendly forever. I suspect that there is no “one size fits all,” but it certainly makes sense to listen to good ideas from wherever they come, and decide what is authentic for the… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Cynthia, I don’t think ‘stripped down liturgy’ equals ‘no liturgy’, and I’m pretty sure ‘avoiding theological jargon’ doesn’t equal ‘dumbed down’.

I find it interesting, though (this is a general comment, not related only to what Cynthia said), that whenever we think about church growth we immediately start talking as if that means ‘more people coming to church on Sundays’. As I read the Book of Acts, church growth meant ‘more people coming to faith in Christ and joining the community of disciples – ONE of whose activities was weekly worship’.

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Tim, I’m Anglo-Catholic and our parish is growing. If you ask people why they come, as we do in surveys, it’s the high church liturgy, high quality music, and social justice ministry. “Strip down” our liturgy, and it would not be the ancient ritual that resonates with some young people. As for eliminating the jargon, I need examples, the liturgy is the liturgy. But how one talks about it can certainly be clear and accessible. I was trying to advocate for solutions that are not “one size fits all.” It’s good to have a variety of worship styles and musical… Read more »

Sheila Rosenthal
Guest
Sheila Rosenthal

“Get rid of the dynasty of people who have run the church for the last 40 years. Persuade them to stand down. Honour their contribution. They stop being part of the solution and become part of the problem when they block everything.”

Would this include those clergy who have also blocked progress and brought on the Anglican decline?

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

I’m not a fan of asking people why they come. I have long agreed with Jeremy Pemberton that the real question is to find out why they leave and why they don’t come. Does anyone know of a church that follows up those who have drifted away after a while and asks them why they left? Whether they go somewhere else instead or what they doing now? What, if anything, could tempt them to give church (another) go? That’s the kind of information we need to collect, not just numbers on the Electoral Roll. And then we need competent analysis… Read more »

Peter K+
Guest
Peter K+

I’m enjoying Cynthia’s take on this – I don’t think there is an easy off the peg solution, and every church is different. I’m convinced that ‘good’ liturgy can be a helpful discipling tool. I’d add that a lot of evangelical Christians and churches are also involved in social justice issues in different ways – Stop the Traffick is one that springs to mind, but there are plenty of others on local and wider arenas. I’m less convinced by James, not least because I don’t think there’s anything like the same sort of liberal contemporary music from which you can… Read more »

Peter K+
Guest
Peter K+

Sheila, yes.

Thankfully, though, vicars have to retire at 70.

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Cynthia’s right to say that other styles of worship can be a success, but they require talent and resources, and the right audience. The evangelical model is easiest to implement, and has the widest appeal. Peter K+, plenty workship songs are free of references to PSA; and, of course, any moderately talented songwriter can be hired to bash a few out. If the will is there, this is a non-issue. It boils down to a simple question: do we want justice in the church, or not? If we do, we need numbers and money, and you get those by making… Read more »

Turbulent Priest
Guest
Turbulent Priest

The author of the suggestion that we should “get rid” of people was born on 31 July 1952. A long way from 70.

andy gr
Guest
andy gr

In answer to Erica’s question (“Does anyone know of a church that follows up those who have drifted away after a while and asks them why they left? Whether they go somewhere else instead or what they doing now?”) a colleague and I did just such a survey a little while ago. No, we didn’t find, unfortunately, that “leavers” went to other churches – with the exception of those that had already been “churched” for some years beforehand. We found there were three top reasons people cited: – 1. Although we are a friendly church – they all said so!… Read more »

Laurence Cunnington
Guest
Laurence Cunnington

“Thankfully, though, vicars have to retire at 70.”

With a spirited disregard for age discrimination legislation, it would seem. Or perhaps that’s another CofE exemption.

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘if you decided to use Matt Redman, Stuart Townend etc you’d have to do an awful lot of filleting to get rid of references to substitutionary atonement etc.’ And let’s not forget that in at least one famous incidence, Stuart Townend has been asked several times for permission to change one line in one of his songs, and he has refused every time – which, as a living songwriter and owner of the copyright, he has the perfect right to do. So churches which change that lyric are breaking the law. (as a songwriter I’ve had this happen to me,… Read more »

Jean Mayland (Revd)
Guest
Jean Mayland (Revd)

The Church condemns gay marriage and is still’iffy’ about the place of women – making huge concessions to those who oppose their being made priest and bishop.Then it wonders why people vote with their feet and levee and will not be tempted back!

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Jean, institutional homophobia undoubtedly drives some away from the church, but most people are either indifferent, or rank it as a low priority. Mainstream evangelicals have, as ever, deftly gauged the popular mood: they take a traditional line on sexuality, but downplay it, and emphasize pastoral support. By this juggling act, Willow Creek in America, and HTB in England, continue to thrive. Evangelical skill at handling and defusing a hot-button issue is something to learn from. I hate the effect it has on LGBT people, but can’t deny the ability it takes to pull it off. Evangelicals got game. If… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Andy,
thank you, that’s really interesting! It does confirm my own suspicion – people are far less interested in our pet divides and pet solutions than we think.

John
Guest
John

James,

I have two problems with your recommendation:

(1) I don’t personally like it at all and I wouldn’t attend such churches. I might well end up in a FiF church or something similar because apart from the women issue they are identical to the church we currently attend. This is not just a matter of ‘taste’ or ‘stylistic preference’: it’s a matter of a whole way of doing things, of a whole way of – if you like – ‘accessing the divine’.

(2) I’m pretty sure that many/most ‘liberals’ think like me. Paradoxically, traditional liturgies give the most space.

Peter K+
Guest
Peter K+

Laurence, maybe the Housing Commitees are worried about the cost of installing stairlifts! Actually I guess given the unusual employment status of parish priest there’s a concern that a bishop can’t give a declining incumbent a ‘tap on the shoulder’ in the same way one might in a secular job – and some incumbents can find it VERY difficult to let go. More widely I’m not convinced that views on same-sex marriage/ women bishops keep too many people away. I’m sure there are some, but women tend to be in the majority in churches of all stripes, and overall it… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

I would point out to Jean that the Episcopal Church, which was one of the first to ordain women and has had a female primate for the past nine years, and is seen as very gay friendly, has been declining in membership overall over the past few years at the same rate, or even faster, as other denominations that are seen as less progressive. Ordaining women and approving gay marriage may or may not be the right things to do (it’s no mystery that I’m on board with one but not the other). But it won’t make your church grow.… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

“overall it tends to be the more conservative churches doing better in the growth stakes.”

Is there any actual evidence for this?
I know it’s an often repeated statement but I have never seen any statistical evidence for it, and I have heard several people stating that it is not true.

Do we have reliable nationwide data for numbers on the Electoral Roll over, say, the last 5 years? Linked conclusively to churchmanship? Linked conclusively to inclusivity (women priests, proper provision for disabled people, lgbt friendly)?

Has anyone actually analysed this properly?

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

John, I’m no great fan of happy-clappy worship either, but if that’s what it takes to increase liberal power enough to end the church’s discrimination against LGBT people, so be it. Grim as some of it is, not an unbearable sacrifice to make.

I am, of course, open to alternatives, but whatever they are, they’ll have to counteract a style of worship that demonstrably puts a majority off attending. If that style is truly indispensable, what would you suggest?

Daniel Berry, NYC
Guest
Daniel Berry, NYC

James Byron, I take your remarks about the success Evangelicals have at selling their brand. The problem I see with it is that the Evangelical brand is easily couched in easy-to-digest, formulaic sound-bytes. They deliberately avoid ethical and theological complexities instead simplistically referring the troubled or questioning believer to what “scripture says.” While what “scripture says” certainly has place in the discourse, I seldom find simple reading of the bible a satisfactory source for solutions to complicated issues. Rather than working out their salvation with fear and trembling, Evangelicals strike me as believing all the answers are in a magic… Read more »

Will Richards
Guest
Will Richards

The church I attend is growing. We don’t do Alpha courses and we don’t sing Stuart Townend’s choruses (in fact, we use the New English Hymnal and not much else). Nor are we what +Pete Broadbent (on another thread) would describe as “generously orthodox” (although I think we are – but not as +Pete would recognise it). How come? First, we offer a quality act of worship on Sundays, lasting no more than an hour. People are drawn by the choral music, the distinctive space, the well ordered liturgy and the intelligent and engaging approach to faith in the preaching.… Read more »

Fr Andrew
Guest
Fr Andrew

‘”overall it tends to be the more conservative churches doing better in the growth stakes.” Is there any actual evidence for this?’ No. The ‘conservative growth’ shibboleth is something of an illusion. Having a while back spent a few years in a FiF church, what happens is these sorts of churches grow almost exclusively from people moving from other churches to a place where their extreme views can be welcomed. I would call that grabbing a few more deck chairs on your piece of the Titanic deck, not growth. As the institution declines it is those at the extremes who… Read more »

John
Guest
John

James, Thanks. I wouldn’t personally go to such churches, ever. On your issue (also mine, but obviously less acutely), I think the present leadership will be discredited within 5 years and within some future there will be full inclusion. If Jeremy wins, there will be huge consequences. Societal pressures are pressurising the church. More Evangelicals are coming over. Lots of people who attend ‘homophobic’ churches don’t agree with that particular aspect. Etc. I don’t understand the claim made by some that what matters is why we’re losing people, rather than why we’re not bringing them in. A sizeable proportion of… Read more »

Peter K+
Guest
Peter K+

Daniel, I wonder whether you’ve read any Andrew Goddard articles on the Fulcrum website, or perhaps Tim Keller on your side of the pond. People may disagree with their analyses but a shortage of brainpower or complexity is not an issue! I sympathise to an extent, but I’m not sure that church services are always the right place to explore complex subjects in great depth – if the Good News is for all people then in a diverse congregation there’s an onus on leaders to communicate in straightforward language – stick to the ‘main and the plain’ is a popular… Read more »

Alastair Newman
Guest

“overall it tends to be the more conservative churches doing better in the growth stakes.” I agree with Erika in that no evidence has been put forward to support this oft-repeated mantra. In fact, in their report “From Anecdote to Evidence” the Church Growth Research Programme found no significant correlation between churchmanship or place on the theological spectrum and growth/decline, concluding “Style of worship and where a church places itself in terms of its theological tradition appear to have no significant link with growth, so long as there is consistency and clarity and the chosen style and tradition are wholeheartedly… Read more »

John Waldsax
Guest
John Waldsax

While it is a little out-of-date, Philip Richter’s book “Gone but not forgotten; church leaving and returning” remains very helpful in answering Erika’s (first) good question. Philip has recently participated in some pioneer ministry research in which one successful and growing cell church targets precisely people who have left existing churches of all denominations and flavours. I, and doubtless the Church Commissioners who helped fund it, look forward to an informative publication.

Gareth P
Guest
Gareth P

I’m hardly the president of @Tim Chesterton’s Fan Club, but his diagnosis of American Episcopalianism is an almost perfect reflection of what has been happening here in Wales. We haven’t had a woman primate, but one who has campaigned for female ordination, promoted (not always very gifted) women clergy, with rank and file clergy who are predominantly female, who publicly campaigns on behalf of same-sex relationships (even if his dealings with gay clergy behind the scenes don’t always match his words), and the latest figures (due to be published in September) will show that the Church in Wales is in… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Daniel, I couldn’t agree more about fortune cookie Christianity and Bible worship, & wouldn’t want any liberal, Anglo-Catholic, or moderate church to adopt them.

All the changes I suggested involved style and pastoral support. Sermons should absolutely put across non-evangelical theology in clear, concise language, and non-evangelical elements like robes and a focus on the Eucharist could be retained.

It’s not a question of cloning evangelicalism, but of selectively learning from its most successful and theologically unproblematic elements.

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

Will Richardson, your church sounds lovely, just like my own, in fact. Could I please ask you to “bang on about the issues” a little bit? Because there are a lot of welcome churches who really mean it when they say “All are welcome”. But people don’t know this. We see “all are welcome” signs on every church in the country and for most it isn’t actually true. Churches who really mean it and who want people to know about it, who want partnered lgbt people to feel free to attend, who want parents of gay children to feel free… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

I think Peter K+ is bang on about mainline Christianity struggling to reach moderates (or the middle 80 percent as he, I suspect accurately, puts it). It’s become issue-led. Important issues, yes, but divisive ones. Not just sexuality, but the environment, race relations, welfare, and so on. It’s hard to escape the impression of progressive Democrats at prayer. Churches like Chicago’s Willow Creek, by contrast, offer a distilled, accessible Christianity with a strong self-help ethos, balanced with the cell groups Tim rightly highlights. It’s populist, accessible, and could absolutely be combined with liberal theology and a sacramental focus (although evangelicals… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Alistair said, ‘In fact, in their report “From Anecdote to Evidence” the Church Growth Research Programme found no significant correlation between churchmanship or place on the theological spectrum and growth/decline’

Note that this report was confined to Church of England churches. It would be interesting to see the difference in growth statistics between the C of E and denominations that identify as more conservative.

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘John, I’m no great fan of happy-clappy worship either, but if that’s what it takes to increase liberal power enough to end the church’s discrimination against LGBT people, so be it. Grim as some of it is, not an unbearable sacrifice to make.’ Well, I guess if the gospel is being proclaimed we should be happy, but it does seem to me that there’s something a bit lacking in an approach to church growth that says ‘Let’s grow our liberal churches so we can have more power in our denomination’. I’m sure that’s not all you meant, James, but to… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

One more thing and then I’m done for the day! Bob Young (not an Anglican, and in fact (horror of horrors) an American evangelical, identifies four ways churches can grow. 1. Numerically (which he identifies with welcoming new members and making new disciples, not just increase in Sunday attendance). 2. In maturity, as members grow as disciples and into the ministries to which God is calling them. 3. In service, as we understand more clearly what we are doing together (collective ministry), how we are accomplishing it (individual ministries), where God is allowing us work (our context, both community and… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

“I would point out to Jean that the Episcopal Church, which was one of the first to ordain women and has had a female primate for the past nine years, and is seen as very gay friendly, has been declining in membership overall over the past few years at the same rate, or even faster, as other denominations that are seen as less progressive.” Actually Tim, we are declining less fast than our peer, mainline Protestant churches here in the US. Surveys show that our growing churches and growing dioceses are overwhelming the liberal ones. I’m not sure that churchmanship… Read more »

James Byron
Guest
James Byron

Tim, it’s blunt to be sure, but at times, you need to be. Power isn’t the whole of it, not at all, but it is a factor. Not for its own sake, but to get the principles you support a hearing, and to ensure that all are equally welcome in the Body of Christ. Growth is good in and of itself. If you believe that you have something good, you want to share it. I believe the church has good news, and that the way of Jesus is life-changing, a change we should promote. I just want it shared in… Read more »

Cynthia
Guest
Cynthia

Finally, I’ll say that +Pete is spot on about the coffee! I do worship in England when I’m there and have gotten around a bit, but not as extensively as in the US and Haiti. Whatever happens in church has to be an authentic expression. Thus I reject any one-size-fits-all solution, even as I appreciate peoples stories of what is working for them. A friend of mine (English) says that her father stopped going to church when they introduced “the Peace” and shaking hands. He thought it was too touchy feely and an imported innovation from America, likely California! I… Read more »

Erika Baker
Guest
Erika Baker

I don’t often agree with James but I have to agree that we need churches with a more liberal theology, or at least an lgbt inclusive theology, that mirror many of the positive aspects of evangelical churches. I am not aware of a single lgbt affirming evangelical church in the CoE. Young people in Diverse Church love their churches, they love the fellowship, the music, the way church is part of every aspect of life. All the things many liberal churches specifically reject is what these people adore about their churches. And yet, the places they’ve grown up in, the… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
Guest

‘Actually Tim, we are declining less fast than our peer, mainline Protestant churches here in the US. Surveys show that our growing churches and growing dioceses are overwhelming the liberal ones. ‘

Cynthia, I’d be glad if you could point me in the direction of those surveys. I’ve been looking for them online and I can’t find them.

Richard Franklin
Guest
Richard Franklin

Much of this blog seems to be focussing on ways to promote church growth or reasons why some churches grow while others don’t. I want to question the fundamental premise of the kind of argument that David Goodhew puts forward, that church growth needs defending theologically against those who question it. For me the decline of Christianity in Europe is a social, cultural and psychological process which has been occurring for a long period of time and which is ongoing. The kind of tampering that many refer to will not hold back this development. Some find this difficult to cope… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Guest

Above all, what people who make the effort to get up and go to church on Sunday want is… to meet with God. A sense of community also attracts, and human friendship. But the heart of the matter is the prospect or possibility that our hearts may feel the touch and love of Jesus Christ. As someone else said, it’s not all the words, the learnedness… it’s the possibility of the actual encounter with God in the places where people hurt, or where people seek joy. I’ve found two kinds of church service which afford me that privilege. One had… Read more »

Anthony Archer
Guest
Anthony Archer

I’m late joining this thread. Erika’s question is a really important one. John Wimber once said, ‘People come to church for many reasons but they only stay for one –relationship.’ If everyone who came to a main service at every church showed up regularly thereafter all churches would have a problem. I recently talked with a couple who came to our church, who knows why, and I regret that the welcome was not good. We have not seen them since, despite the cafetière coffee. The growth issue is important and church leaders duck it at their peril. Too many are… Read more »

Simon R
Guest
Simon R

Interestingly, back in the mid 1990s, Affirming Catholicism (remember them…?) produced an excellent booklet on church growth. Alongside a Catholic-Anglican theological rationale for church growth, it provided a great deal of practical and achievable ideas (which combined the tips of Philip North, Pete Broadbent & co from last week’s Church Times – and much, much more). Its stance was unquestionably ‘generously orthodox.’ The author? Jeffrey John.