Thinking Anglicans

Church Times reports criticism of church growth document

Updated Tuesday afternoon

This week’s Church Times carries a detailed report of the analysis by Mark Hart which was reported on here earlier this week. See Cleric says report on church growth belies the research which also includes a very helpful summary of his criticisms (scroll down to read the bold print part).

There is also a Church Times leader on the subject: Lost in translation but this is available only to subscribers.


The Church Times has now published a further article related to this. See

Madeleine Davies Church growth: Bishop Broadbent rounds on the critics of Reform and Renewal. The entire article should be read, but here’s a snippet:

…Several strands of criticism were addressed, including that put forward by the Revd Dr Hart, Rector of Plemstall and Guilden Sutton, last week (News, 17 April). Dr Hart’s paper, From Delusion to Reality looks critically at From Anecdote to Evidence, the 2014 report that examines evidence for which factors cause churches to grow ( News, 17 January 2014). The Reform and Renewal programme was based on this report. His paper questions self-reported growth figures and a confusion between cause and effect in the list of characteristics associated with growth.

Whether the research basis was reliable was “obviously an important question to ask”, Bishop Broadbent said. “But actually those characteristics are things that come back time and again in both English and German and American research on church growth, and which can be reiterated.”

Mr Hart had admitted that the Church was in decline, Bishop Broadbent said, but “he doesn’t therefore say what you do about the decline, merely that he thinks the analysis might be wrong.”

Dr Paul, who has a degree in mathematics, said that Mr Hart had suggested that “statistically, there is not clear evidence that changing all the levers that we can change is going to reverse the decline in the way we need to do it.

“Well we haven’t got any other levers, so let’s pull the ones we have…”


  • Jeremy says:

    The Davies article quotes Bishop Pete Broadbent thus:

    Synod was “very out of date”, he said. “It’s based on a 1980s or 1970s representative democracy thing, which really doesn’t work.”

  • Pete Broadbent says:

    Slightly misquoted – and I think it can be justified. Let me try. (And don’t forget I believe in Synod and have been on it since the 198Os)

    1. The electorate for laity stinks. Deanery Synods, which are self-selected and mostly people who aren’t exactly representative of the laity in their parishes, are the electorate.

    2. Synods meet when working people can’t get there.

    3. 1980s style democracy was endless talk and committees – I was a councillor in the 1980s – we took hours to get stuff done.

    4. Most Councils now have Mayoral or cabinet government. Synod is still stuck in that 1980s model.

    5. There is a Synodical mentality that is about preventing change (of all sorts) – and all campaigning groups for all kinds of causes (whether women bishops, LGBTI, or church bureaucracy innovators) find it impossible to get movement.

    We need a better model. This one doesn’t work.

  • Jeremy says:

    “The electorate for laity stinks.”

    If that’s a concern, Bishop Pete, then rather than throwing the baby (democracy) out with the bath water, perhaps the CofE should take more, or more effective, steps to increase the quality of the laity electorate.

    What have you done lately to encourage people to stand for Deanery Synod? What more could you do?

  • Pete Broadbent says:

    Lots, of course. But it’s too big a problem to solve by just getting a few good candidates for deanery synod. It needs a major reform and renewal programme. Ah, hang on, wait a minute..

  • David Richards says:

    Pete Broadbent has given us the best pretext yet for an unaccountable episcopal Curia – and all in the name of Reform. Luther, Knox and Calvin must be turning in their graves!

  • Martyn Percy says:

    Tony Benn used to make a point of asking all public office holders two questions:

    1. How did you get this job?

    2. How can we get rid of you?

    Of course we all believe in an Episcopally-led Church. But leadership and governance are separate-but-related here, and the only system we have of governance is through democratic bodies such as Synods. Yes, they are flawed – no question. But we can’t get rid of Bishops; they don’t get elected, and you can’t sack them. That’s why they have to be good listeners. So our Synods, which call Bishops to account, are all that stands between us and having a kind of quasi-curia.

    Thus, the real problems with two recent pieces of work – the Green Report and Resourcing Ministerial Education (RME) – are:

    a. The lack of proper consultation with the wider church – simply not listening.

    b. The lack of proper consultation with recognised academics/expertise/voices that would have challenged and ultimately strengthened the work.

    c. The lack of proper consultation with Synod – especially on Green, where debate was simply not allowed.

    If the bishops (and the executive managers driving the change) had listened deeply to the body that they serve from the outset, we might be in a different place on these debates. But the method and process of promoting and enforcing these proposed changes has only produced mistrust, demoralisation and festering resentment. It is as though the head was saying to the rest of the body ‘we don’t need you’ (1 Cor. 12). No member of the Green Report group was academically qualified to shape a curriculum, and identify and purchase the right educational providers who might deliver training to our senior leaders. The reason that bishops – as a collective body – should not be left to continue holding the brief and responsibility for our theological education and leadership training is that so few of them now have the necessary academic qualifications – at the right level – that might enable them to make wise and informed decisions.

    That’s why the Bishop of Willesden will continue to meet resistance. It’s just the rest of the body of Christ reminding him that we remain connected, and have a part to play in our collective future – despite what he may think, and how many of the drivers of change are currently acting.

  • Martyn Percy says:

    A final PS on this one. I should have added that what the church needs at present is constructive dissent, not destructive consent. Most of those who hold public office will understand the very real value of loyal dissent from within a rank and file membership. What leaders need to do, often, is listen deeply; to tune into the tone and content of such dissent. It is a spiritual task – one of humility, patience and forbearance. This can be a leadership that knows we are better when we work as one. As the African proverb has it, if you want to travel fast, go alone; if you want to travel far, go together. This is, essentially, the choice for those driving these reforms.

  • Adrian Judd says:

    One of the things that I try to embed in my ‘vicaring’ (for want of a better word to express who I am and what I do as a vicar) is to embrace diversity of opinion. It isn’t always easy, but it is a very positive value from secular education. While admitting the role of bishops in doctrinal orthodoxy, I can’t see what is to be gained by discarding lay opinion and a democratic process, apart from making it easier to get your own way.

  • Charles Read says:

    Yes – again I entirely agree with Martyn Percy’s analysis. Loyal dissent (or even questioning) is currently disliked and unwanted. The Green report is the clearest example of this. It is actually a matter for the whole church how our bishops are trained (and selected).

    RME is, though, a bit different. Initial consultation was pretty poor but there is now to be more extensive consultation with TEIs and others. In addition, we were told that each recommendation will come to General Synod for approval. This means we can shape this report as we wish, in the light of reflection and critique.

    When that happens, I would vote against the devolving of decisions over maintenance grants to dioceses (as that will surely restrict candidates’ options for training) but in favour of Michaelmas ordinations ( because that will give TEIs more time -for more theology!).

    The recruiting of more ordinands needs further thought – not whether but what sort sort. And i would support centralizing / nationalising lay training for e.g. Readers to stop dioceses dumbing down this ministry. But this is just my personal view and I may be outvoted. If so, I will think the church crazy not to agree with my obvious good sense, but I won’t label those who disagree with me as standing in the way of progress!

  • Simon R says:

    Grateful thanks to Martyn Percy for bringing some theological rigour and serious engagement with Scripture to this discussion and, by doing so, cutting to the heart of the matter. If the so-called Reform programme is about renewing the Church, how ironic that the very characteristics which make Anglicans distinctive seem to be the first to go by the board. Pete Broadbent seems to suggest that episcopal ‘leadership’ is above accountability. Wasn’t making bishops accountable beyond their own coterie one of the foundations of the Reformation in England? No wonder talk of an emerging Curia is becoming widespread.

  • James A says:

    Does +Pete Willesden believe that those Catholic clergy in his area who model the “Father knows best” pattern of ministry are more effective in promoting the growth and renewal of the church than, say, those Evangelical parishes where the notion of ‘every member ministry’ is strong, where consultative processes are valued and the gifts and expertise of particularly individuals are identified and deployed appropriately for the benefit of the whole community? Of course he doesn’t! So why is he so passionate about defending a model of episcopacy which prizes the notion of episcopal power (or ‘leadership’ to use his euphemism) which concentrates all decision-making in an unelected body, as well as the bureaucratic elite it gathers around itself (also unelected), and then rubbishes an elected body which speaks for the wider body and ensures accountability? Not only is this deeply un-Anglican ecclesiology; I don’t think it would find much support in +Pete’s life-long political affiliation, either.

    If the Bishop of Willesden was more willing to engage with the current challenges with the kind of rigour we have seen in the work of Martyn Percy, Linda Woodhead and Mark Hart, more of us would take him seriously. But to simply dismiss valid critiques with quasi social media one-liners (whether in blogs or at conferences) simply reinforces the sense that here is another theologically myopic episcopal mouthpiece who has come adrift from the rock from which he was hewn. Would it not be more honest to stop using the word ‘Reform’ which (historically) has deep resonances for the Church of England’s identity, and talk of a pontifical council, for example?

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