How to save a diocese

maxresdefaultJulian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn, one year in post and after having got to know the lie of the land, has warned that unless the Church reinvents itself in his own diocese, it would disappear like the region’s textile industry.

I am convinced that we need to embark on radical change. We need to reinvent ourselves for the 21st century. Anything less will leave us to wither away rather like the once mighty Lancashire cotton industry. A few tweaks and adjustments will not suffice.

His concern is certainly no empty rhetoric; other denominations appear to be rapidly disappearing from the area.

Next month St Mark’s Church in Higher Witton Road, Blackburn, is set to close after 175 years, while earlier this month the 200-year-old United Reformed Church in Haslingden closed its doors for the last time after its congregation fell away.

And the Anglican diocese has seen the kind of decline reflected elsewhere in the country.

The number of people attending services on a Sunday has halved to about 800,000 since the late 1960s, according to the latest national statistics published by the Church of England. But equally concerning is that the average age of churchgoers is 62, with churches struggling to attract young people. The latest figures for the Blackburn diocese showed the average weekly attendances declined from 31,100 in 2008, to 26,600 in 2012.

In response, Henderson proposes a 12-year plan with some very specific goals:

Bishop Henderson has summarised his initial vision in a document titled ‘Where are we heading?’, which calls for heavy investment in youth groups, flexible patterns of worship and plans to grow new congregations. It also suggests the diocese should ‘unashamedly seek to bring others to faith in Christ’ and foster closer integration between different churches.

Henderson’s appointment to the diocese was unusual, since he is a conservative evangelical, and the diocese is largely ‘catholic’ (sacramental) in its spirituality and church tradition. His plan has clear marks of his own spirituality, so it will be interesting to see how it is received in the diocese as a whole.

But one thing which is not mentioned in the press reports is the question of clergy and the numbers in stipendiary ministry. As I have argued elsewhere, I am not sure there are many examples in history where churches sustain growth without stipendiary ministry. This is not because I believe in clericalism, but simply because setting people aside for ministry is essential to create the support and investment which sees individuals and congregations flourish and grow. It is the principle which was at work in Corinth, when Paul was able to devote himself fully to his apostolic ministry when he received the gift from the Macdeonian Christians in Acts 18.5.

This means that the decision some years ago to raise the average age of those entering training by 10 years over about 10 years was catastrophic for ministry and church growth in the long term, because it has led to the prospect of a whole cohort of clergy retiring at the same time, and a rapid drop in the number of stipendiary clergy in post. It is perhaps the single most devastating self-inflicted wound of the C of E. But it also means that dioceses which are encouraging vocations and generating ordinands are likely to be ones with the best chance of turning around decline and seeing numerical growth.

When I was responsible for admissions in the theological college I was part of, I did an analysis of where ordinands were coming from, so we could partner with them. But I also did some analysis that I have not seen elsewhere, but which seems pertinent. Dioceses vary in size, so you would expect larger dioceses to have more people in training for ministry. But the really interesting question is, which dioceses are generating more ordinands for their size? This is relatively easy to find out, since figures on Usual Sunday Attendance (USA) and the number of ordinands in training per diocese are available from different sources. They tell a striking story:

The Diocese of London had twice as many ordinands per church attender as the second most ‘productive’ diocese.

Why should that be? It could be that dioceses vary widely in the extent to which they encourage vocations and challenge people to consider whether God is calling them into ordained ministry. There was one year where Chelmsford Diocese had 105 people either exploration ordination, going through selection or in training at a college or on a course, whilst my former diocese, Salisbury, had not a single ordinand entering training, and I think this reflected different approaches to the question. There are certainly some exciting things happening in London, and a good number of churches challenging people about God’s call on their lives.

But I suspect there is another, more significant factor. Many, especially young people, in London are in a stage of transition. They might be in their first jobs, or considering buying a first home, and are at a stage of life when questions about the future are alive and up in the air. This social factor is, I think at least as important as other factors. In other words, London has a surplus of ministry resource through demographic good fortune.

CofE_Infographic_730width_v4This is surely significant for Blackburn Diocese, and other northern dioceses struggling to resource ministry. In email discussion about this, one friend commented that their needed to be a national strategy to get those coming from and training in the south to move north, whilst another commented that northern dioceses needed to generate their own ordinands. If I am right about the reasons for London being so ‘productive’, then the first of these responses is nearer the mark. The lack of movement from south to north is not just because ordained ministers are a bunch of ‘southern softies’; there are often good reasons for them to stay where they are, to do with family commitments. Any encouragement to move will have to be deliberate and intentional.

I would strongly suggest that diocese who are struggling to grow need to get into strategic partnerships with dioceses who have more resources, so that they can share insights and ministry.

In fact, this is already beginning to happen on a small scale. I understand that the Bishop of Lincoln has invited the HTB network to help with church planting in the City of Lincoln, and the same is also happening in Bournemouth, in Winchester Diocese. This is not about an exercise of power, or one diocese taking over from another. It is simply, in Paul’s word’s, that ‘there might be equality’:

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little”. (2 Cor 8.13–15)

Without such partnerships, it is going to be much harder for dioceses to turn around decline. Why should there be a spiritual north-south divide to match the economic one?

In the meantime, let’s pray for Julian Henderson and the whole diocese, as they tackle the challenge before them by the grace of God and in the power of the Spirit.

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64 thoughts on “How to save a diocese”

  1. Why does London produce twice as many ordinands per church attender than the next most productive diocese?

    I think you’re right. It is demographics. But not necessarily in the way you imagine.

    Seems to me that London has an enormous immigrant population, which is pretty much the only source of growth in every church, let alone the Church of England.

    If Ukip ever gets to wave its magic wand and remove all the Eastern European immigrants from the UK in one fell swoop, Catholic congregations will fall off a cliff. Take African and Afro-Caribbean populations away and the same thing will happen to the CofE and many other independent evangelical churches too.

    I don’t know the North of England very well and I’ve certainly never been to Blackburn. But if there’s a dramatic decline in church attendance, you can be sure the immigrant population (from those countries where Christianity is practiced, of course) must be very small.

    The ethnic English are abandoning the Church. Most under the age of 60 have already relegated Christianity to the background of their lives, a bit like religious wallpaper. All they require of it are the ceremonies that mark key moments in their lives. The younger you are, the less likely it is that you’ll ever go to church. That’s the real demographic problem the Church must solve. If it can’t, the problems in Blackburn will be repeated up and down the country. (We all know they already are, but let’s be generous here…)

    A quick squizz at a few Internet pages on the subject tells me that most immigrants in Blackburn are from the Indian subcontinent, although I haven’t checked my sources so I wouldn’t want to swear to it. If that is the case however, I wonder how the mosques and the temples are doing?

    It may also be relevant that the kind of demographic traditionally productive of Anglican ordinands is also concentrated in London. Not to rely too heavily on stereotypes, but middle class families with bookish sons (and daughters too now, I suppose) abound in places like Finchley and Wimbledon. So the incongruity of an All Gas and Gaiters vicar (or vicarina) standing up in front of a largely ethnic congregation isn’t hard to explain. Old habits of Empire die hard, so we’ll be seeing double-barreled nameplates on many vicarage letterboxes for some time to come, I think. The rise in ordinands from immigrant communities won’t drive Giles and Jemima out of the choicest freeholds just yet…

    • That’s an interesting hypothesis but I don’t think it’s backed up by the evidence.

      I’ve just finished three years at a theological college in North London (as an ordinand). Quite a few of my fellow ordinands came from London diocese. Most of them were British, not immigrants, and not the stereotype you mention.

      The church scene in London is vibrant – there are people from all backgrounds and walks of life flocking to churches, and new churches are being planted all over the place.

      I’ve also been a member of growing churches in various different contexts inside and outside London, and I can say that none of them were populated mostly by immigrants or the like. The gospel is what draws people, and churches which preach it are generally the ones which are growing.

      • Phil,

        The claim is not that growing churches are mostly populated by immigrants. Immigrants remain firmly in the minority. However, if you look at statistics, the proportion that ethnic minorities comprise of the population, a disproportionately higher proportion of ethnic minorities attend church.

        I should re-iterate that attracting higher church attendance is only one measure of growth. Its no proof that any particular ethnicity is more accepting of the gospel. Surely, the parable of the sower is an apt illustration of how the seed of the gospel develops into spiritual fruitfulness.

        • Hi David,

          I thought that Etienne’s point was that the growth in churches was largely due to a rise in immigrant numbers, and all I meant to say was that is not my experience (i.e. the growth I have seen has been all across the board, not just migrants).

          I’m sure there are a higher proportion of immigrants who go to church, although perhaps that might be something which would affect Catholic churches more?

          I didn’t mean to draw any implications about different ethnicities being more or less accepting of the gospel, I’m sorry if it came across that way.

          • Clive,

            It didn’t come across that way and I understand your point. I just thought it was important to clarify exactly what the statistics mean.

            There will always be a moment when many will be offended by the Word, saying ‘This is a hard saying. Who can hear it?’ In that hour, may we all discover the power to say with St.Peter: ‘Lord, to whom shall we turn. Thou hast the words of eternal life.’

            Kindest regards,

    • Yes, Phill is right. One of the things the C of E has never got its head round is ordaining people from non-white ethnic groups.

      Leadership and membership of black-led churches is significant in the growth of Christianity in the UK at the moment, but it has had little impact on the leadership of the C of E.

    • Just a small point in these conversations…a lot of talk has been made in these comments of a north-south divide. Actually it would be better to talk of a divide between London and the Home Counties and the rest. We really struggle in Devon and Cornwall to fill vacant clergy posts, and there are significant parts of the peninsula which lack an effective gospel witness. We need the rising number of ordinands in London not just to head north, but also to go to some pretty obscure places where there are few resources but a great mission field.

    • That’s an interesting post…impressed by your exhaustive/ing collation of info. I wonder how easy it is to do an analysis?

      I am not sure Salisbury’s looks very inspiring. The previous bishop filleted the word ‘mission’ from diocesan terminology.

      But the main question is: why 43 different statements? Why not go with the national one? Seems odd to me.

      • Ta Ian – the only subjective “analysis” I’ve done is some other posts (linked to in the original post) on what I found in the various strategies in terms of: – Strategy Headline Statements – a summary of key words each diocese uses; – Strategy Subject Checklist – a summary of key subjects covered by diocese strategy; – Strategy Measures – a summary of those used by the various diocese strategy; – Strategy Best Practice – 10 thoughts to ponder; – Strategy Graphics & analogies – a selection of those used.

        I’m with you on the why do things 43 different ways thought – but I guess its just a consequence of the independence each diocese has in governance terms.

        I suspect it would save a lot of money if each diocese took the lead nationally on a few subjects and others just used what they produced – rather than each approaching similar subjects in slightly different ways (child protection or clergy assessments or websites being the classics)

  2. As a London incumbent in the Kensington Area I can say that the Diocese actively encourages young leaders and vocations. In 2012 1000 young ambassadors were enlisted This mission challege was then followed by at least one enquiry weekend for those considering ordination. There have been events specifically younger women too. The diocesan strategy for 2020 is to increase by 50% the number of ordinands.

    There is undoubtedly a demographic element in the number of younger ordinands. But I don’t think it is related at all to ethnicity. Sadly I cannot see many non-white people in the photograph of the Petertide ordination.

    • Derek that’s really interesting and encouraging to hear. I am not aware of any other diocese which has as a goal to increase the number of ordinands—which seems odd to me given that this is the biggest issue in church growth right now.

      I am still not aware of any proper national policy on this…groan.

  3. The demographics mentioned may have some effect but the big difference is that some of the Christians who are in London have actually shared their faith with people who are not in church or been sufficiently motivated to invite them to meet someone who will.

    Where the faith is not shared outside the church the church will continue the downward trend. Attempts to “build the church” are quite likely to end in the same place as attempts to be happy. Happiness comes as a side benefit to a fulfilled life in the same way that building the church (which is the work of Christ and not men) comes as a side benefit of “preaching the gospel” and “seeking (first) God’s kingdom”. If you do these you will inevitably find churches emerging as a result of lives changed but if you seek to build the church you can moderately easily (by human means eg paid workers) build a community which looks superficially like church but which probably won’t be if the focus is on “church” rather than the kingdom of God.

    The bishop is right there needs to be change. How about having paid evangelists and leaving church leadership to those who are self funding instead of the current (reversed) position.

    • Doesn’t that all depend on what you mean by ‘church’? In the NT, the word ekklesia means the gathered people of God, and I think that that is worth building up.

      Inevitably, over time, groups of groups of Christians need structures and processes to work together, which (imho) is where the diocese comes in.

      Interesting idea about funding ministry though…

  4. Lincoln Diocese is indeed going for it – appointing 50 new and 50 replacement F/T clergy over the next five years. Creative use of historic resources means we have money to spend both on front-line parish clergy and central officers to resource change and growth. if your Dio has money saved up for a rainy day, how much wetter can it get than now? We are also working on a policy to appoint clergy with a proven track record in church growth, and appointing them to places where the soil is most fruitful and they have the maximum possible chance to thrive. we have a duty of care not to put clergy into places where they will be abused, bullied, or ground down by resistance. Early days, but the mood is definitely changing … Watch this space!

  5. Interesting responses. My own experience of Anglican churches in London was that I noticed a high proportion of ethnic minorities in the congregations. They seemed to be very involved and actually doing things rather than just sitting there and passively mumbling their prayers.

    Thinking about it though, perhaps I was just seeing movement and color against a static and monochrome background.

    It would be interesting to know how the Anglican experience stacks up against what’s happening in the US. As Episcopal Church membership continues to decline, I wonder if numbers are holding up better in places like New York City. Does anyone know?

    • I don’t know about the US, but the congregations in British Columbia which moved from the liberal Anglican Church to ACNA had a very strong Chinese (mainly Hong Kong descent) element.

  6. Interesting article Ian thank you.

    I am a southern softie, having worked there in churches most of my adult life – but began my first incumbency in a large town in West Yorkshire last year. I felt a calling to come here. I remember my college principal saying that if you are passionate about mission go to the north, and that stuck with me through curacy.

    It is VERY different from the church down south. It is a very demanding role to take on, seeking to change the culture of the church, especially to focus intentionally on mission.

    Our Bishop, Nick Baines of the newly formed Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales recently said a similar message at a clergy gathering to the Bishop of Blackburn, which was provocative and challenging to many of the clergy listening to him. Thank you for raising the issue again.

  7. They could try the really unthinkable thing of returning to Christianity.

    Everywhere else in the world the Church that believes in Christianity is actually growing.

      • Dear Ian

        I am back from work.

        I am just aware that some clergy say the 39 Articles with their fingers crossed!

        Article II affirms that Jesus is God’s word. It says:
        II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
        The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father…

        Article VI defines Scripture, in the Bible, as sufficient in all respects:
        VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
        Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

        Article XIX has the Bible preached to everyone:
        XIX. Of the Church.
        The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached,…

        Article XX puts authority in the Church only so far as Scripture allows:
        XX. Of the Authority of the Church.
        The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written,…

        The danger for any Church is that you simply become an extension of social services/

      • There are some parts of the visible church which are seeking the kingdom of heaven and the authority of God but many parts of it are primarily running an institutionalised religion, which is the very thing which rejected the ministry of and arranged for the death of Jesus. Unfortunately these 2 strands are mixed up like the wheat and the tares.

        • Well said paintingman.

          I understand the discussion about demography but it is almost saying that only ethnic minorities believe the Bible.

          I have a copy of Critica Sacra here. The original is dated 1639 contemporary with the King James Authorised Version. My print is dated 1651. I will probably never handle an older book. The AV is stunningly accurate as a translation. I am not saying that the AV is perfect but it is stunningly accurate and it is amazing to discover about what ambiguities in the Koine greek the Jacobites / Elizabethans were aware of.

          The Bible is accurate as a translation. The issue is what you do with it.
          So the issue is not really about demographics, it is about what you do with the Bible.

          • Clive,

            I don’t think that’s what’s being said. It’s about the success of the church as a community engagement nexus for ethnic minorities. This is a pre-cursor to Christian commitment.

            The statistics aren’t necessarily demonstrating that only ethnic minorities believe the Bible. They are showing that, under its current strategy, the CofE has been more successful at attracting involvement from the young and middle-aged of the black community, than the young and middle-aged of the white community.

            The fact is that average church attendance in Africa and the Caribbean is significantly higher. Some might even call it religiosity. All that happens is that we establish the same patterns of behavior when we immigrate to England.

            Numerical growth is just one aspect of church growth. It is no barometer of growth in Christian maturity. That depends on how receptive people are to rely and act upon biblical insight. In turn, that can only be evaluated by the devotion of Christian lives to God realized in the commitment to the good of others.

      • Well in my church, which is supposed to be an Anglo-Catholic church, the worldview preached from the pulpit and announced on its web-site is that of “Progressive Christianity”. This was not always the case. Whatever “Progressive Christianity” is, it is certainly, to my mind, neither “Progressive” nor Christian. If you look at the Eight Points of Progressive Christianity you will find no mention of God – a serious ommision for a Church which claims to be Christian don’t you think? Now I’m confident that Progressive Christianity will wither on the vine; I just hope that the Church does not wither along with it.

        • I have serious issues too with PCN, however in the eight points, 1, 2, 3 and 7 mention God, 8 mentions Jesus. Get your facts right!

          • Dear Jayhawk,

            I’m always willing to be corrected where I am in error and since you have instructed me to get my facts right I have just this minute checked the Eight Points of Progressive Christianity as listed on Progressive and they are:

            1. Believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life;

            2. Affirm that the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;

            3. Seek community that is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to:

            Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics,

            Believers and agnostics,

            Women and men,

            Those of all sexual orientations and gender identities,

            Those of all classes and abilities;

            4. Know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;

            5. Find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;

            6. Strive for peace and justice among all people;

            7. Strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;

            8. Commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

            Now as you can see from the above and as I previously stated, none of the eight points mentions God. Points 1 and 2 do mention Jesus, but if you have ever attended the “Living ing the Question” course you will know that Progressive Christianity’s understanding of Jesus is much the same as that of the Jesus Seminar i.e. that Jesus is not God. So I stand by my previous statement that none of the Eight Points mentions God.

          • Hi Jayhawk,

            I have had a look at the version on the link you provided and it would appear to be the 2003 version that the PCN have on their web-site, not the 2011 version that I quoted. NB The 2003 version is not the original version.

            When I attended the Living the Question course I got the impression that the teachings of the Buddha were highly regarded and so I’m sure it won’t be long before the Eight Points become indistiinguishable from the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Let’s wait and see.

          • So either the UK are dragging their heels or they don’t want to go as far as the US? My sister is involved here – I will ask her. From what she says they have a fairly wide range of opinion even within PCN and it may be difficult to define what they do actually agree on.

  8. Not just 1000 young ambassadors, Derek, 2012! (And we got a few more.) Packing St Paul’s with Anglicans under 35 was a sight to behold!

    Some of these London-Elsewhere partnerships have already begun, for example the new “St Mellitus North” bible college in Liverpool, planted from the one begun in London. Using web-streaming of lectures from one college to the other, and twitter to interact directly with a remote lecturer, the two communities are learning together, but in their own contexts. With many younger ordinands and teaching on pioneer ministry, flexible learning and three-year church placements during study, ordinands will become rooted in Northern communities during training. Those family reasons which cause resistance to being uprooted will hold them in commuting distance to Liverpool, rather than London.

    Significant, I think, is the move for more church growth conferences in the North, rather than the default expectation that all would travel to London to learn. The next Church Growth R&D conference, in Sheffield, is a prime example.

    The Diocese of London is successful, and learning is shared proactively between diocesan secretaries and strategic teams across dioceses. But the London context, where a fresh influx of ambitious young graduates joins our city each year, parishes are tightly packed to serve a densely-packed population, and partnerships between City and East End parishes provoke growth and mutual understanding, is just not replicable elsewhere. Many strategies that have worked for London may not help in dioceses that aren’t made up of a just chunk of the capital city.

    I’m excited to see what strategies the Bishop of Bradford generates, how he listens to his people, and how revival happens there. Where a diocese of cities, towns and countryside can thrive, we will see the future.

  9. I’ve checked back to 2003 and there has been both a making of deacons and ordination of priests at Salisbury Cathedral every year since then. It’s difficult to square that with your contention that there have been years were Salisbury didn’t have any ordinands in training. (Setting aside, for the present, that your comparison was apples and oranges to begin with…)

    I appreciate we can all get a little caught up in our own hyperbole in online discussion but if you have, in fact, made a claim that doesn’t tally with the facts, I think you owe your old Diocese an apology.

    It’s a pity you felt the need to add that throwaway jibe because I agree with you on the importance of stipendiary clergy to church growth.

    • Gerry, thanks for the comment…but ordaining priests and deacons is not the same as sending people into training.

      Glad to hear we agree on the importance of stipendiary ministry. If you have the figures for people entering training in the years since 1994, I am very happy to correct my comment.

      Good to hear also of the increase in vocations since then.

  10. I wonder where the “home” diocese is for London ordinands? Perhaps some grew up in Blackburn diocese, went to university in the south (perhaps were converted at university?), got a job in London, and then went forward for ordination? In those cases, it would make a lot of sense to partner with Blackburn diocese.

    Or is it the case that relatively few people who originally come from the north end up being ordained?

  11. So, I’m going to take a stab at the statistics. As a black man, I am especially interested in the interplay between ethnic demography and religion.

    Globally, North America, Latin America, Asia and Africa are all experiencing significant growth in church affiliation. (source: Brierley)

    Again, worldwide, the Independent, Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations have all been on the rise. As far as world Anglicanism is concerned, the Global South represents approximately 80 per cent of its membership (approx. 50 million).

    They dwarf the 1.7 million people take part in a Church of England service each month (source: CofE website). Add to this the fact that the religious and racial demographics of towns, like Blackburn, have changed considerably. According to the 2011 Census, within Lancashire. 20 per cent were black or minority ethnic.

    We may debate whether the term ‘white flight’ (which was coined to describe the migration of white families away from those areas characterized by an influx of ethnic minorities) accurately describes the changes in these areas. Some might simply attribute them to differences in population growth among the various races.

    What is clear is that the religious affiliations of major ethnic groups do not particularly converge. Pentecostal growth has been fuelled by black affiliation. Most of us are in no rush to attend CofE services. If we do, we are in no mood to absorb white cultural norms, when we know and love our own.

    Considering Christian denominations, the English Church Census 2005 (Christian Research) showed that non-white church attendance increased by 19% from 2001. By comparison, white churchgoing community decreased by 19%.

    The same survey showed that, as a proportion of national figures, black church attendance was at least three times our proportion of the population, moving from 2.6% to 3.8%.

    Any one can see the significance of these trends. It’s very much the same as the spread of Christianity among the Gentiles. The main agents of any religion’s growth are its resonance (often native) with specific ethnicities, migration, and relative population growth.

    If the Cof E is to halt its decline, it must allow mission to be reversed, whereby it formally supports and recognizes ethnic minority-led church plants that will abide by its doctrine to invigorate and spearhead genuine church diversity.

    While Bishop’s Mission Orders could be implemented to work around the objections of ‘difficult’ incumbents of selected parishes, the real issue is whether these initiatives develop established status within the National Church structure. The eventual abandonment of official support for Christchurch Fulwood comes to mind.

    Reversing the decline requires a strategy that fast-tracks the process for diversifying Anglican church leadership to retain both a respect for Anglican traditions and engender the trust that minorities will be treated as equals. If not, the bishops can continue to hold their hands to an increasing disaffected white majority of which their youth are statistically the most likely to reject their overtures. It’s King Canute all over again.

    I’m reminded of how St. Peter averted disquiet among Christianity’s early Gentile following: ‘Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’

    The bishops would do well to follow his example, but unfortunately, I’m not holding my breath.

  12. Ian,

    The scriptural basis for financial support of ministry is a bit more complex.

    The general rule for a well-established congregation, like Ephesus, is ‘The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,”a and “The worker deserves his wages.” (1 Tim. 5:17, 18)

    However, to the Thessalonians, Paul was keen to demonstrate the sincerity of his motives:
    ‘Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you’ (?1 Thessalonians? ?2?:?9? NIV)

    The early church certainly had the flexibility to revert to self-supporting mode, or rely upon the missionary support of more established churches, rather than treat the stipend as an unalterable entitlement.

    For instance, the church in Philippi supported St. Paul’s onward missionary endeavours in Corinth: ‘I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.’ (?2 Corinthians? ?11?:?8-9? NIV)

    ‘Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.’ (?2 Corinthians? ?12?:?14? NIV)

    If anything, for missionary credibility, the Anglican Church needs stipendiary flexibility. It must judge where a church effort is predominantly missionary and more dependent, as the Corinthian church was, on diocesan or national church funding, or on help larger, more established churches (as Corinth depended on Macedonia).

    In the case of our church building, a nearby larger congregation helped considerably in our efforts to raise funds.

    The issue is that growing churches face disproportionately higher Parish Share increases that limit the level of missionary support that they could offer to struggling congregations nearby.

    Instead, a significant part of the Parish Share funds diocesan advisers (for everything from stewardship to community engagement to evangelism).

    I find it unconscionable that the growing churches, like the one to which I belong, are taxed on growth, largely expected to self-fund evangelistic ministry (but not mission development) with diocesan support being rendered in the form of the odd visioning and mission planning sessions run by these ‘advisers’.

    • Thanks David. But in theory higher share for bigger churches is supposed to be precisely the support that struggling churches need—the diocese should be the mechanism by which this happens.

      I agree that often it is not, and that is why some larger evangelical churches don’t pay their share in full, but put the money into things where they have direct control.

  13. David – speaking as one of the ‘advisers’ you refer to. I wholeheartedly agree that the church needs to be flexible and imaginative in the way it supports ministry and mission. However I do take issue with the ‘significant part’ of share going towards support from people such as me – around 10% of share goes on such support, whereas 75% goes on stipend – both sums are in my opinion an absolute bargain when you consider what parishes receive for that contribution.

    I would of course say this (turkeys tend not to vote for Christmas) but in fact most of the advisors I know are essential to the strategic approach you are advocating as, if deployed and used properly, we can act as support to overstretched clergy and bring in valuable outside expertise – in my case especially around the growing ‘joys’ of running a small to medium sized charity and all the governance bureaucracy which goes with that and which, frankly, most PCC’s tend to not have the time or inclination to keep up with.

    ‘So called advisors’ may in your opinion be a waste of resource but, unless and until we are ordaining superhumans who know everything that needs to be known and have infinite resources to keep up to date I think that 10p in the pound isn’t a bad investment.

    I would also add that I often wish I was less necessary. I long for the day I can walk into the majority of congregations and speak about Christian Stewardship and have it received with knowledge and understanding, with my role being simply to offer guidance to the PCC/priest on effective approaches and sources of information. Sadly in a worryingly large number of cases I talk about stewardship and it is received as a wholly alien concept, the relationship between discipleship,gifts, surrender of ourselves (including our material possessions) and spiritual growth having clearly not been taught in many parishes for decades if ever. I love my job, I love how a good theology of stewardship is transformative and what it has to say to a consumerist society obsessed with ‘because I’m worth it’, but sadly most clergy do not share my enthusiasm and find the whole subject just too hot to handle. And as long as that persists I’m afraid my calling will continue to drain diocesan resources.

    • Jo,

      What I wrote was not intended as a blanket condemnation of any funding for diocesan support. I would even accept that the bulk of diocesan funds are spent on ministry costs (for Guildford, this is 78p in the pound),

      However, I’ve looked at my diocese and in 2013, staff costs for the 51 staff involved in diocesan support amounted to £1.664M. When compared to the overall diocesan budget for last year (£10.77M), this works out to 15p in the pound.

      This covers:
      The Schools, Colleges and Universities team;
      The Parish Development and Evangelism team;
      The Communities Engagement team;
      Admin and communications.

      In our diocese, the role of Stewardship adviser is subsumed within the Parish Development and Evangelism adviser’s job.

      Nevertheless, in the midst of all of this, I’ve seen how the majority of Mission Development funding goes to what are ostensibly Communities Engagement projects. A craft for the old, or visual arts class for the young will get funding. In Oxford diocese, £1900 went to a church wanting to hire a film maker to record Alpha course testimonies on Youtube (while the rest of us would probably use a smartphone)!

      And guess what? It’s a diocesan adviser that approves these for mission funding.

      All of this while (by comparison with other denominations) many of our churchgoers have neither the experience of a personal transformational encounter with the Risen Christ , nor the memory of scripture to be able to witness effectively to non-Christians.

      Yet, good works and holy lives are supposed to adorn the gospel, not replace it (Titus 2:10)

      Even the apostles realized that ‘waiting on tables’ would distract them from the ministry of the word.(Acts 6:2,3)

      Right now, for the CofE, the daily stewardship of personal witness to the apostolic gospel (of repentance and faith in Christ) is only the explicit duty of the clergy and LLMs. When that personal witness is taught as the paramount duty of every single church member, the concomitant financial commitment will follow.

      I’ve seen it in countless other denominations where personal witness is expected and their churches have no lack of means.

  14. Many thanks for this piece. I have attended services at about 2,000 or so churches between the Dorset/Devon border and the Wash, including several hundred in the ‘metropolitan’ area.

    As to the participation of minorities, I have noted that participation in worship by first generation west Africans can be quite considerable. However (as some clergy have noted to me), it is much less common for the children and grandchildren of immigrants of African (or Caribbean) descent to attend church, as they become assimilated, both emotionally and socially, by a predominant host culture which is largely indifferent towards Christianity. It is possible that the regular attendance of first generation migrants has much to do with a need to establish an emotional and social stake with the host culture.

    I do not agree that the failure to ordain large numbers of young people has been a disaster. However, I do agree that the ratio between clergy over the age of 50 and those below has become unhealthy, and there are vanishingly small numbers of clergy under the age of 30. However, we need to understand why some dioceses have placed such a premium on the ordination of older people.

    1. They will often come to ministry with a greater degree of life experience, and it grates less among many laypeople to be told how to live their lives by people who actually have that experience.

    2. Older candidates for ordination may actually have some capital behind them – meaning that they might not need access to clergy housing (which might then be divested or used to house retirees acting as SSMs). This is more likely to be an actual or implicit policy within rural dioceses.

    3. Dioceses are being crushed by pension and stipend liabilities, especially since the Commissioners abdicated their responsibility for future pensions after 1998 (with the backing of Synod). Latecomers to ministry will thus be less of a charge to the pension fund, or they will be no charge at all if SSMs. They will also be less of a charge to the wage bill. If we want younger clergy, then Synod might wish to revisit its fateful decision from 1998. It is also worth mentioning that the parish share is the pension and wage bill for what is, essentially, a pay as you go system; the parish share is strangling many churches (and I can almost hear some readers, with a tendency to religious Darwinism saying ‘good riddance’) – but it is not a paradox that a number of churches must die so that the clergy who have served them might live? Most people would rather retain their church than their clergy.

    4. The impact of younger clergy is sometimes exaggerated. A dynamic young parson can indeed make a difference, but so can a dynamic retiree. What matters most of all is that there is a combination of dynamism and affability, which is by no means assured.

    5. Most parishes can probably carry on perfectly well without clergy, except perhaps as periodic visitors for the purpose of administering communion. I have been struck by how often readers can lead worship or preach as well, or better, than some clergy – and how some parishes can perform quite creditably with one or two dynamic individuals who might have little or no formal role, but who lead house groups, messy church, etc. A greater degree of emphasis on the priesthood of all believers is no bad thing. I have also been struck by how certain clergy can either be stand-offish, or indifferent preachers, or simply poor pastors – do clergy always provide added value?

    The real killer for the Church has been the fact that most people now have other (better?) things to do on Sundays. Sunday mornings, especially, are now given over to a variety of activities, which have led to the desertion of almost all young people. The Church has made little attempt to alter its timetable, caught as it is between the indifference of the young/middle aged and the well-established routines of its largely elderly adherents. However, I have been to family (not necessarily messy) services in a number of parishes held in the slot between 4 PM and 6 PM on Sundays – the dead time after the closure of the supermarkets/return from pub lunch or relatives and before getting ready for supper and the week ahead. A good proportion of these services have been lively and well attended. Is success not often attributable to something as mundane as changing the timetable to fit the routine of the majority of people today?

    • Thanks ‘J Drever’ that’s interesting, and I would agree with many of your points.

      However, whilst you say that ‘ordaining young people has not been a disaster’ you highlight the problem with pensions. Even if the pension burden for those ordained later might be less, a key problem here is that many are going to retire at the same time. Consistently ordaining a steady stream of younger people would have spread the load, rather than having the impact all at once.

      What is more shocking is that no-one appeared to have done the sums at the time.

      I am glad you are impressed with the quality of lay leadership. And of course anyone who says churches need clergy can be heard to be dismissing such qualities. But to my knowledge, the universal observation is that churches without stipendiary ministry shrink.

      So we might have lovely services, but many fewer people attending them.

      Btw, most churches I know of target their Sunday evening services for young people, not the mornings.

  15. I grew up in Southern England and was ordained in the C of E aged 34 in 1978. I trained in Durham (Cranmer Hall/St John’s College) and found that people in the South would say of Durham, “Durham – isn’t that somewhere in the North?” After a curacy in North London I was a vicar in the Yorkshire Dales only a stone’s throw from where I had worked before training for ordination. There followed several years of very demanding ministry in both Cornwall and Devon. During my years in the far South West peninsula I frequently came across people from London and the South East who simply could not understand why I pursued my vocation so far from the what they considered to be the real centre of life. The inference was that in making my choice to serve God in the South West I had opted out of “real” ministry. I can assure all those who have listening ears that both the North and the far South West are areas much in need of committed mission.

  16. The Diocese of London had twice as many ordinands per church attender as the second most ‘productive’ diocese.

    Why should that be?

    Could it be that the only form of ministry valued in the traditionally Anglo-Catholic Diocese of London involves wearing your collar back to front?

    Here writes an embittered ex-Reader (now also ex-Church), who saw the Diocese of Gloucester recruit fifteen readers into training the year he began. Within seven years, ten of them had become clergy – because that was the only way they could feel their ministry was valued. The writer knew that he was called to be a Reader, but the Church regarded that as not real ministry (and it appears that people here still do).

    • Actually, I don’t think it has much to do with that, as a good number of these ordinands are evangelicals, not catholics.

      I agree with you about the clergy/lay divide, and that it is unhealthy. It is very difficult when a cohort of readers is full of people who really wanted to be ordained.

  17. James,

    It’s not just Anglo-Catholic dioceses. The problem is that Readers are relegated to a subsidiary role in relation to the clergy.

    Sure, they can preach, teach, distribute communion and officiate at funerals. Nevertheless, in an episcopal context, they are not authorised by the bishop’s imposition of hands, they cannot pronounce absolution and can only perform baptisms in an emergency.

    While priest is derived from the word ‘presbyter’ meaning elder, it’s clear that throughout the Anglicsn denomination, the exclusive responsibilities of priests elevate them to the Old Tetament role of mediators between God and man. It’s as if they believe that absolution through a priest has more efficacy than the witness of the scripture by Holy Spirit to the human conscience. The self-promotion of the priestly elite is really no less then we should expect from an episcopate that is drawn from their number. How many church plants have foundered for want of official recognition because the CofE is so insistent on perpetuating the untrammelled power of the Priest to impose his particular church style on a parish.

    I can understand your disillusionment. At a time when lay ministry could provide a better connection between the Church and society, it would appear that the preference expressed in comments here and at diocesan level is for more stipendiary ministry. The stupidity is that ordinary people find it harder to relate to people who just talk about mission being incarnational, while living in a fairly cloistered world of sycophantic admirers. As you say, there’s scant regard for deploying those, like yourself, who could make mission truly incarnational.

    Count yourself lucky. While I’ve been elected to PCC membership and my reputation as a Christian is in good standing, my disagreements with the vicar about her prioritisation of Nepalese community engagement (English classes) above the evangelistic outreach to all sections of the community has ensured that I will never be put forward by her for Licensed Lay Ministry.

    I perfectly understand your decision to become Ex-church. While the CofE is trying to beckon more people in, it has no regard for those leaving through the back door. Membership turnover is still a massive problem.

    Many years ago, I wandered away from a different denomination for similar reasons. While my Chrstian witness lapsed for a while, I eventually discovered a framework of scripture, reasoning and spirituality that was resilient to the hieratic pretensions of church leadership. I hope that you find a way to remain true to Christ’s message of daily dependence on insight from his Word, so your behaviour does not lapse as much as mine did. I pray that you will find strength and eventually find a church family who will love you and recognise your ministry.

    Trust me: the CofE’s discernment of vocations is deeply flawed when from initial selection to eventual deployment, it depends so heavily on the enchantment of the incumbent with a potential candidate.

    They’ve got the Samuel syndrome, often favouring for anointing those whose self-sufficient arrogance God has rejected.

  18. You say that church growth implies stipendiary ministry. Here in Belgium, clergy of 6 denominations are payed by the state (Justice Ministry). Thus, people don’t have to give money away for clergy from their pockets. Nevertheless, I find that state-stipendiary clergy much more idle than the “tent makers”.

    Your quoting of 2 Cor 8:13–15 is anachronistic and an isegesis. The passage doesn’t speak at all about lay people stipending clergy. The Church in Jerusalem, thinking that Jesus would come quickly, put properties together and wasted everything, becoming poor. Paul made collections from the Churches planted by him, for the Church in Jerusalem. (Eventually, this thing pushed Jerusalem to accept the Pauline foundations.)

    When clergy become all non-stipendiary, they will have less or no time for trifles, and will focus on the essential.

  19. Out of the box thinking is required but we don’t do this well at all, we have become to use to thinking that the only creativity there is can come out of church committees, it is the last place we are likely to get it. A few years ago, a clergyman who had grown a church from near closure in SW London, suggested that school leaders and teachers should be given access to theological education. Sadly, the hierarchy stamped on an idea that had strong merit. The clergyman argued that growing churches is difficult in itself, he says he spent hours in the evening introducing intelligent people to the Christian world view. What if young people in our church schools are introduced to the Christian world view by teachers and headteachers who have a strong grasp and preferably a lived experience of the faith? They would be in a position, if they had access to theological education, to offer a balanced and nuanced explanation of the Christian world view, which will allow young people to reject Christianity on the basis of knowledge not of ignorance.

  20. Thoughtful stuff, Ian – I held an equivalent responsibility at Oak Hill (N London) for over ten years, and my back-of-the-envelope research echoes yours. London is a distorting element, and the numbers without it look much bleaker.

    But there is a critical clarification: we must distinguish London as a place, from London as.a Diocese. South of the River Thames is Southwark, with a little bit of Rochester, and some others into the mix. I am not aware that Southwark bucks the national trend anywhere near the way London does, if at all, which makes me suspect that however much weight we give to the attraction of the capital to young graduates, omething else must account for the disproportionate effect of being in London Diocese, rather than living in the capital per se.

    • Thanks Chris. I don’t think I have caught up with what you are doing now.

      I agree with you about London, but would suggest it is the combination of the two factors—social and diocesan-strategic. I think there is a third, which has to do with church tradition. I suspect HTB would find Southwark rather less hospitable than London Diocese…

  21. I’m now the vicar of a church in N London (St James, Muswell Hill). I think HTB’s only flourishing plant south of the river is St Mark’s, Battersea Rise, and they have battled hard with the issue of planting themselves. I was in Southwark myself for a season, and it’s hard to separate out Diocesan strategy from Diocesan tradition and Diocesan structure. There is an argument that the Diocese is still living with the political and structural legacy of Mervyn Stockwood.


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