Comments: Opinion - 27 September 2017

Ive often thought re people like Andy Hills we would have done better to have had a decade of pre evangelism before we launched into anything else.

Posted by Perry Butler at Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 1:10pm BST

Perry, I have a very close friend who moved a few years ago from being an atheist to being an agnostic. He never darkens the doors of a church, but he has told me several times that all his best friends are Christians and they are the best people he knows. I think that definitely counts as 'pre-evangelism'.

Posted by Tim Chesterton at Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 10:55pm BST

I went to the 'Lost Church' conference at St Paul's Chichester last Saturday and have just started to read the book by the main speaker Alan Billings. His theme is exactly that of the article by Andy Hill in Metro: that we ignore those who have a relationship with church but who don't necessarily 'believe' at our peril.

The Church of England is in danger of abandoning its role serving the whole community through the parish system, substituting for it gathered congregations of the likeminded, planted from elsewhere. These congregations by their very nature are exclusive and excluding. They appeal to the young but you won't find anyone over 45 in them. They demand acceptance of a whole range of beliefs which many if not most would find it difficult to accept and they demand a loyalty which the English by and large are reluctant to give. This emphasis on managerial solutions to church decline, where success isn't measured only by bums on seats, risks throwing the baby out with the bath water, undermines the parish by draining resources away and cannot have an effect of the total numbers on those who go to church.

What research has been done into the long term future worship and attendance patterns of those who grew up in church plants and other gathered congregations? If their ethos and culture only attract the young who will not only mature but will also find the certainties offered simple and increasingly unsatisfying, where do they go next? Or do they, as I suspect, become ex attenders to be replaced by the next intake, all giving an impression of a succes which in fact doesn't do anything for the long term spiritual health of the participants or for the health of the Church?

Posted by Richard Ashby at Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 11:35pm BST

'If their ethos and culture only attract the young who will not only mature but will also find the certainties offered simple and increasingly unsatisfying, where do they go next? '

Richard, you ask some thoughtful questions. I was a curate at St. Michael-le-Belfrey when the two services became three, aimed at different age groups. The area groups, which had catered for everyone within a particular geographical area of York, were broken up and new ones formed which were linked to the three congregations. Result: singles, young professionals and older people (9.15 service) missed out on contact with families and felt the lack. Singles especially often felt lonelier, as many had been 'adopted' by families. Families (Family Service) missed out on the supply of babysitters they'd previously enjoyed, and couples either had to take turns attending the group, or one consistently missed out. Those groups suffered from a lack of continuity and the opportunity to build close relationships within the group. The evening service was aimed at students and young adults, and had a high turnover, so again continuity within the groups was a problem, and young adults lost the benefit of having older people available to advise and support.

It raised the question, in my mind at least, how any of these groups was going to continue as time went on and its demographic became out of synch with the service attended (in the case of the Family and Evening services). If these people began to attend the 9.15 instead, they had a big shift of timetable and a new set of people to get to know, both in home groups and at worship. In addition the 9.15, which was supposed to be reflective, had to compete with the Minster bells and had a time slot of 45 minutes. A longer sermon was impossible, as were times of silence, and Holy Communion was a race - we had 150 people to administer to. We did have All Age Learning (teaching sessions on a selection of topics for different age groups) between the two morning services, and that was a success for those who attended. I also gained from the experience of doing extended teaching on Bible and other topics, and afterwards discussion often continued in local coffee shops.

This was a long time ago - ca. 1990 - and I don't know how, or if, they resolved the problem of age-related demographic targeting. I do know that a number of people left St. Mike's and joined other churches in York, often their parish church. So at least there was some gain from the experiment!

Posted by Marcella at Thursday, 28 September 2017 at 9:10am BST

Apologies, there's a mistake in the penultimate line of the middle paragraph. It should read '...where success is measured...'
Thanks
Richard

Posted by Richard Ashby at Thursday, 28 September 2017 at 9:26am BST
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