New research published in January highlighted churches showing signs of growth across the country in a variety of ways. The 18 month systematic study into Church Growth in the Church of England is published against a backdrop of decline of nine per cent in church attendance over the last decade and even more drastic decline since the 1960s. Growth is being seen in new forms of church including Café Churches, churches in drop in centres, Messy Church and churches which meet in pubs and bars or out in the street. More than half (56 per cent) meet not in churches and over half (52 per cent) are run by non-ordained leaders. Perhaps surprisingly there is also significant growth in Cathedrals, especially in weekday attendance. Overall weekly attendance grew by 35 per cent between 2002 and 2012.
Set against this are declining numbers of children and young people under 16 – nearly half of the churches surveyed had fewer than five under 16s. Amalgamations of churches are more likely to decline, the research indicates. Professor David Voas, quantitative sociologist of religion and Professor of Population Studies at the University of Essex, who carried out some of the research, said: “There is no single recipe for growth; there are no simple solutions to decline. The road to growth depends on the context, and what works in one place may not work in another. What seems crucial is that congregations are constantly engaged in reflection; churches cannot soar on autopilot. Growth is a product of good leadership (lay and ordained) working with a willing set of churchgoers in a favourable environment.”
Researchers concluded that while there is no single recipe, there are common ingredients strongly associated with growth in churches of any size, place or context: These include: good leadership, a clear mission and purpose, willingness to self-reflect and learn continually, willingness to change and adapt according to context, lay people as well as clergy involvement and leadership, being intentional about prioritising growth, actively engaging children and teenagers, actively engaging with those who might not usually go to church, good welcoming and follow up for visitors, commitment to nurturing new and existing Christians, and a sense of vision.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, commented: “There is every reason to be hopeful about the future of the Church of England, and indeed, all the churches in this country.” He added, “We need to listen to the message that comes through this research in order to… stop doing things that accelerate decline and focus on things that develop growth.”
Source: Ekklesia – ekklesia.co.uk
BIBLE STUDY: Psalm 92:12-13
Day 1 – PRAISE: God that parts of the Church are seeing real growth in England.
Day 2 – PRAY: That churches may be true to the Gospel in both proclamation and incarnation.