Today we’re doing our first filming of “Take a Pew”, where we ask people about how the Church should change.
It’s a big question, not one we probably have to ask out of fear, or out of need to protect the institution. One person has already said that this begins with a sense of God’s love for all, not out of a need to keep the show on the road. Another person has said that we need to be radical with our solutions, but I have no idea what that actually means, and would throw us into a prolonged discussion about structures.
The statistics are interesting, or downright scary more like. Peter Brierley’s analysis of UK denominations in 2015, round that the average mainline decline in places like the Church of England was something like 3-4%. Some larger declines were in places like the URC which I think was -15%. The largest decline in a decade, by some considerable distance was in the Presbyterian denominations, which was -29%. And if you consider that this contained the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, whose decline is far slower, then one worries very much about decline in the Church of Scotland.
The latest version of the downward graph I saw predicted that the Church would close in 2030. The high point of Church membership was 31st December 1956, when membership was about 1.3million; today it is 380,000.
A key emergence is literature which is saying that we should invest in people. Commonly cited is Mike Breen’s observation that if make disciples you get the Church, but if you try to build the Church you don’t necessarily get disciples. Jesus told us to make disciples, building the Church is his job.
Then there is our failure to find new forms of Church. This is something which has happened more in England, and has enabled now over a 1,000 expressions of new Church to be planted, 2/3rds of which are still growing after 5 years.
Then there is idea that where a Church prioritises leadership it tends to experience growth – my own observation that Episcopal Churches are serving in the present age more strongly than Presbyterian ones. And that if you compare Church of Scotland statistics with Presbyterian Church of USA statistics, they are very strongly correlated.
And investment in people is key. I am struck by the new rise in “Discipleship” (although latest research tends to show that the words itself doesn’t really connect with people). The Saltley research says the practice that people find most helpful is actually going to Church, and that least helpful is social media and the Internet. The other things is they group discipleship activities into group activity, public engagement, individual activity, and Church worship. The strongest effects are in individual activity – public engagement strengthens discipleship, group work strengthens as sense of vocation; but individual activity strengthens both of these.
Finally there is the Steve Aisthorpe stuff about the Invisible Church – I think that one of his key I findings was the peopel had to be enabled to grow in Church contexts, and not feel like they were aliens when starting to ask questions. The flip of that is that Church’s which remain strongly rooted in their tradition (even if it’s a tradition that they question and challenge) are the most passionate and flavoursome of Churches to be part of. Not to be rooted in anything is unfaithful to who we are and the example of Jesus.
I am still looking for some research that suggests that we are becoming more spiritual even if we are less religious.