Thursday, September 29, 2016

Church of England Heading For Growth, Say Leading Christian Evangelists

The Church of England is heading for growth, according to a leading Christian evangelist.

Church attendance has suffered steady decline for decades and latest figures published earlier this year showed it dropping below one million for the first time.

However, there are indications that the decline is slowing and possibly even reversing, especially in iconic churches such as cathedrals.

The slowdown in decline coincides with the launch of the Archbishop of Canterbury and York's Renewal and Reform programme to find more people to train for the ministry as well as to encourage church growth.

Mark Russell, chief executive of the Church Army, says in the fourth video in the programme's series: "I'm excited that we are going to be a church that grows. Because God's calling us to grow, to reach more people, to reach into our communities, to make a difference, all over this nation."

He adds: "The Church of England is embarking on a really exciting programme of helping make evangelism the centre of our activity by focusing on discipleship, by relocating resources to where they're most needed.

"The Church of England is going to grow and we need you to help us grow that Church even further and even deeper across this nation."

William Nye, secretary general of the General Synod, says: "The great thing about the Church of England is it is the Church for England, for all people in this country, for urban Christians, for not-quite-sure Christians, for people of no faith, for anybody who at any time feels the need to experience a little bit of the love of God."

The aim is for children and children's children to "still be able to find God wherever they choose to live in this country," he says.

Rev Madhu Smitha Prasadam, vicar of St Paul's Hamstead in Birmingham, adds: "A chance encounter, a couple coming in for marriage enquiry, led to the most incredible discussion. Then onto baptism, confirmation and marriage. And then onto bereavement support as they struggled with their grandmother's death. I think that's what growth is all about. Unexpected, uncharted, but transformational."

Church leaders need to take every opportunity for growth, she says.

"It is God who gives the growth. We don't know what might surprise us and transform our communities."

The video comes as latest figures from the Church of England show soaring attendance at cathedrals.

It was released as members of the Archbishops' Council meet today to discuss the Renewal and Reform programme:

Becky Clark, of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England, writes: "Football matches are a good comparator for cathedral services – a place where people gather in large numbers to watch a (hopefully) magnificent performance, somewhere where group singing is joyfully encouraged, events that regulars will go to again and again, enjoying the combination of familiarity and exciting unpredictability. Visiting cathedrals, like going to the football, is a major national pastime."

It sounds too good to be true, she admits.

"Visitor numbers – in the millions, and growing. Numbers attending services – growing. Numbers coming midweek as part of everyday lives – growing rapidly. Children attending – growing. Cathedrals are bucking every trend. How is this possible and what does it mean for the rest of the Church of England, and for the place of cathedrals in the work of the Renewal and Reform Programme?"

It would be wrong to think that the growth of cathedrals is happening at the expense of the rest of the Church, she adds. "Instead consider cathedrals as the vanguard of renewal. They have the locations, the leadership, the staff and the confidence to be at the forefront of what an outward-looking, societally focused, just and fair Church can be.

"They are not an exclusive Premier League within the Church, a modern-day Goliath, built up into a fearsome, armoured warrior, smashing the narrative of decline through sheer weight and momentum. They are servants of the Son of David, Jesus Christ, leading with kindness and justice, walking humbly with God. They show the Church of England is not a spent force. It is a growing one."

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