The Future of the Church

I’ve been inspired recently by a number of books/reports/conversations about the future of the church. In particular I just finshed the CofE Report from a few years ago ‘Mission-Shaped Church’. I don’t suppose it will be of any surprise to you to know that it totally struck a chord with me. What I find frustrating is that it seems most of the church are comepletely ignoring it, so what is the point in the ‘management’ commissioning a report and then doing little about it? The report basically challenges some long-held beliefs about church attendance, and raises potential ways of looking to the future. Yet in my own experience the age-old petty squabbles and arguments of the traditional church are still ongoing. As a member of a fresh expressions church, all too often I hear the complaint that our church is ‘sheep stealing’ from other local churches. To which I have little sympathy. and I mean none. If you cannot provide the spiritual nourishment that your parishoners need, don’t complain when they go elsewhere. I had a conversation recently with someone related to ministry, nowhere near our church I shuold say, but where there was a similar plant in her area and she was bringing up the same accusations. And, ‘if only we had had those resources…’, ‘if a few couples came and livened up our congregation’… It was sooooo defeatist. If you want to change your church, DO IT! It’s no good not wanting to alienate people. I’m sorry to say it, but most of those who would be annoyed by change will be dead in 20 years (or 10…)… Now I am not anti- the more traditional approach to church, as I have said before I recognise there is a place for it, but what I am anti is when people moan about falling numbers but are not prepared to do anything about it. And I can think of several examples near me where that is the case…

What ‘Mission-Shaped church’ talks about a lot is the need to ‘go to people’ rather than expecting them to come to us, which is something I have been banging on about for ages. no one told me I could have been quoting from a CofE report (and I probably wouldnt have believed tham anyway!)  A line in the report says:
Yet there is still considerable resistance in practice to giving church plants and fresh expressions of church the right to Anglican citizenship. In a few cases the process of acceptance and recognition has been so reluctant and slow that valuable resources to the Church of England have been lost.

By valuable resources I am assuming they mean skilled people, again which I have seen. People so disillusioned that they go somewhere else, often outside the CofE. So what are we doing about it? Not enough frankly. WAKE UP SLEEPERS…! where will the church & Christianity in ths country be in 50 years time if we don’t seriously addresss this NOW?

I am thinking about Pioneer ministry. Can you tell…?

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  • Reply
    Alan Crawley
    April 16, 2011 at 7:58 am

    It is the big dilemma – fresh expressions are set up to attract people who do not currently go to church, and yet what so many become is alternative worship for those who already go to church.
    They then weaken the surrounding parochial churches making them less able to reach out. So for me the big question is do we believe in the parochial system?
    Don't get me wrong, I am all for fresh expressions and pioneering – just a bit worried about the impact on parishes.

  • Reply
    April 16, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Yes – I got excited by that report too – I wanted to be a pioneer minister but during training my DDO said she would try to get me a pioneer curacy.. but there were hardly any. Now I am at the end of my curacy, how many pioneer vicar jobs do you think there are??????????? if you google "pioneer team vicar" I reckon you find there is one in the CofE every three months.. or go to the fresh expressions website and you will find… err… none. 'Mission-shaped Church' was a report that was originally called 'dying to change' ie change or die… feels like we prefer die.

  • Reply
    April 16, 2011 at 9:38 am

    I broadly sympathise with you, Red though I think some of your statements are a bit sweeping, to say the least 🙂 I know quite a few people considerably younger than me who love traditional worship and are very traditional in theology and conversely numbers who may be older in years but very open to fresh ways of worship.

    Surely there is a place for both in your church?

  • Reply
    Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold)
    April 16, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    It is so difficult to post without the pop up comments setting. I have to come to Internet Explorer.

    You can do it easily and become a media church, and that removes the blockages and increases the level of entertainment and spiritual impact. But it still takes a portion of a declining market. Try and be a bog standard Evangelical Anglican church when you have Abundant Life round the corner, acting as a vacuum cleaner.

    Almost all Unitarians, for example, are already interested in religion and have an attending habit and outlook that is transferred because there is or was a 'deconversion' in process. The issue is finding them remotely or directly and getting the transfer.

    You either know your market or you don't.

  • Reply
    April 16, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Firstly, thanks Adrian, didn't even know about that, but have now rectified it – should be in pop up from now and yes is much easier…
    Thanks for all the comments.
    Perpetua: I should clarify, I wasn't saying this is the only way, I recognise the place for different forms of worship for all ages. I was just frustrated that the CofE doesn't seem to be looking to the future.

    Lesley: yes indeed, and what did that report say? – that the church should give 'priority attention.. to the identification and training of leaders for pioneering missionary projects…similarly training curacies and similar first posts should be provided with proven leaders of church plants and fresh expressions of church. It is then important that they are not pressed into becoming minsters of of existing churches, but are deployed in pioneering contexts.' And how much of that is actually happening…? why are they noht following their own advice?
    Pluralist: yes thats the key isn't it – know your market – that is why fresh expressions and similar work because they seek to reach out to those in need in a particualr area. Inevitably there will be some hoovering too, but they address the primary concern first. Locally HTB have done a plant in Brighton and they have addressed the huge student population of the city, and as a result are thriving after just over a year. My own church was aimed at 18-35s who had stopped attending church (the de-churched) and largely that is what they have achieved. And anyway it doesn't have to be a big 'media' church although those are often the most seemingly 'successful', fresh expression is about just that – fresh expressions of the Gospel. Thats what I want to see – people meeting in a skate park, or in the local pub or addressing a particular part of society in need in any given area.

    In reality the de-churched are the easiest ones to get back, it is the 'un-churched', who in this generation are growing up having never experienced church or hearing the gospel, are the ones we should really be reaching out to, who have little aimed at them.. I could go on and on about this, so for now will sign off!
    red 🙂

  • Reply
    April 16, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Alan: sorry wasnt ignoring you. yes, that's the key question isn't it – does the parish system still work? might have to post on that separately…

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