Signs of Growth
The Church of England has recently published the results of a major study into growth and decline in that denomination.
The broader context for the report is an awareness that the huge declines in church attendance in the Church of England over recent decades have slowed or may even be turning around. What lies behind that reality is a new determined attitude and activity around mission.
There are many initiatives designed to encourage congregations to take their future growth seriously and to engage in actual plans for mission. The Fresh Expressions movement has undoubtedly formed an important part of that activity and reflection.
Those with a passion for mission have noticed that there is a new interest in all things spiritual in the wider population of England. That interest is reflected in the significant growth in attendance at Cathedrals and larger landmark churches that offer a degree of anonymity to worshippers who may just be curious about church but don’t wish to be identified or to join anything.
The report does not reveal a solution to the question about how to produce growth. Indeed one important quote in the report states:
“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.”
Although the report does not reveal a blueprint for growth, it does highlight some of the key factors that seem to be present in growing churches. These are:
A clear mission and purpose
Willingness to self-reflect, to change and adapt according to context
Involvement of lay members
Being intentional in prioritising growth
Being intentional in chosen style of worship
Being intentional in nurturing disciples
We could summarize that list further and suggest that three factors predominate. First, growth is a decision. In other words we need to be intentional about what we are trying to do. Growth does not come by adopting a few new programmes but is part of a wider and more considered approach to context and experimentation.
Second, leadership is crucial. We might debate what we mean by good leadership but congregations that desire to grow need to locate creative leaders.
Third, lay people are a vital part of growth – a superstar as a leader will not be enough by itself. The church in mission is partly about developing a community of faith not a passive audience.
Just as encouraging is the fact that these trends are beginning to be reported by a range of other denominations too. Although the same kind of detailed research is not available from other settings, those who are close to the action recognise that this is not an isolated development peculiar to the Church of England. Perhaps the long night of decline is ending and the dawn of mission is approaching.
If you want a copy of the report you can access it at: