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The Missing Issues in Church Times ‘State of the Church’

Here is my letter written to the Church Times this week:

Dear Sir

Thank you for the fascinating and insightful articles on the state of the Church. But two issues hover just under the surface and need more attention.

The first is that the real need is not for greater understanding, but for greater willingness to act. Many of the key observations—that teams inhibit growth, that Common Worship puts up barriers, that we need younger leaders—have been known for a long time, but have led to little or no change. Ten years ago, Bob Jackson highlighted the ‘self-inflicted wound’ of delaying selection to ordination, yet this year a mere 22% of those entering training were in their 20s. It has long been known that men coming to church bring their families, but this key to church growth has been almost totally ignored.

What will it take for the Church to act on what it knows, rather than simply accumulate more knowledge?

The second issue is that of theological tradition. Just 27% of laypeople invite friends to Church—but this varies enormously with theological tradition. As Robert Warner points out, Pentecostals and Anglicans do attract students, but ‘these new Anglicans mostly attend Evangelical and Charismatic churches’. Amongst the sociology, we also need to engage with theology.

Why should Vicky Beeching get out of bed on a Sunday morning? For all sorts of interesting sociological reasons perhaps, but for churches that are growing, the main reason is theological: an encounter with the living God.

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7 Responses to The Missing Issues in Church Times ‘State of the Church’

  1. Steve Pownall February 8, 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    I’ve just enjoyed reading your 3 most recent posts. (Can I get e-mail notifications? – and read them one at a time)

    You note the received wisdom that churches in team parishes don’t grow – can you suggest reading matter to encourage on that topic?!

    Where I am some of the reasons for that sad state of affairs are obvious. Sometimes I miss God-given opportunities and I acknowledge my share of responsibility. Sometimes I’d gladly shoot people who set such store by weird team governance arrangements.

    But isn’t it often the case that team parishes comprise churches that were weak before they were put in teams? And that they often don’t have the best of the recruitment process? (our short-lists have usually been short)

    And how often are team parishes in relatively ‘poor’ areas? Here that fact is accentuated by the surrounding wealth and prevailing inappropriate assumptions about church that add a layer of difficulty … How many teams were set up to stave off completely abandoning a ‘difficult’ estate?

    Is team the problem or is it that our commitment to mission just stops short of being whole-hearted?

    I’ve no reason to love team ministry (in the sense of Anglican organisation of a parish’s ministry), but network? – how our little church might find it’s place in God’s bigger picture, that looks a life-saver.

    Your thoughts about ‘disappointment’ chime in and I rejoice in your conclusion about God’s concern for our growth in grace through real setbacks and frustrations to what we might reasonably describe as ‘his will’.

  2. Ian Paul February 8, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    Steve

    Thanks very much for your encouragement comments—much appreciated.

    On the team thing, the best read I have found is Bob Jackson’s books ‘The Road to Growth’ and ‘going for growth’. He also offers occasional courses in different locations.

    The issue with teams is that energy gets diverted into matters of internal organisation and negotiation, often between very different theological traditions, rather than getting on with outward-focussing business. Teams are often found in poor areas because that it where shortages in clergy hit first.

    There are good articles in this week’s Church Times on both these issues.

    You can subscribe via a feed reader if you use such a thing. My email subscription is not working just now, but will be fixed by a site redesign in the next couple of weeks.

    Thanks for reading…

  3. Steve Pownall February 10, 2014 at 4:18 pm #

    Thanks for comments – I last heard Bob Jackson at St John’s, I must look again.

    I’ve been tribal CEN but it’s getting very thin – sounds like it really is time to jump ship to the Church Times!

  4. Ian Paul March 2, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

    Steve the email subscription should now be working

  5. maggi dawn March 3, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    “Why should Vicky Beeching get out of bed on a Sunday morning?” – what does that mean, Ian? I’m not following your argument. (I know she does, as she does lots of Sunday TV, but what is that to do with church growth?)

    • Ian Paul March 3, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

      In that edition there was an article by VB on what makes her get out of the morning. None of the reasons was ‘To meet with God.’

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