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Hope for the CHURCH: contemporary strategies for growth – Bob Jackson

April 14, 2018

HFTCThe author confuses God’s kingdom with Christ in each heart rather than justice and peace. Not a good start. For all his emphasis on diversity, he’s an evangelical at heart.

He then cites the ‘Missionary Diocese of Wakefield’ a turning things around so as not to become extinct. It is now extinct.

He wants Christians to work in secular schools – in my experience, they can do a lot of damage.

He wants cell groups meeting weekly – that is a huge commitment. In the late 1970s I was part of a cell but nobody ever told us what heir purpose was and I took over leadership rather then letting it grow by itself.

He advocates church planting but has nothing to say about invading other parishes.

He thinks there is nothing wrong with our ‘product’, our messg. I think this complacency uis wrong since people are asking questions that conservative orthodoxy doesn’t answer convincingly.

However, he has a lot to say about the importance of the diocese, which I’d never thought before.

Interviews during worship can be powerful.

It is good that he values different churchmanship styles. His idea of ‘inclusive church’ does not include LGBTs.

The author takes a challenging look at recent church attendance figures and sets out to interpret their message for today’s Church. Bob Jackson highlights areas where the Church is growing, analyses causes of decline and outlines strategic responses to the problem of declining numbers. Hope for the Church is, in essence, a plea to the church not to lose heart, but to be pro-active in the face of rapid social change.

The decline is “patchy” Nevertheless, if the trend continued, the Church could look “radically different” in 2030, with “a myriad of tiny congregations” struggling to maintain their buildings, but crushed by their heritage.

Already in Hull, which has the lowest proportion of churchgoers in Britain, fewer than one per cent of the population attends Sunday services, a “meltdown” which could spread across the country.

In London, Sunday attendance in the Church of England grew by 12 per cent among adults and four per cent among children between 1989 and 1999, compared with an average fall in dioceses of 14 per cent for adults and 28 per cent for children.

Research was still being undertaken into this success, but churches in the capital seemed to offer a sense of community for people who appeared wealthy, but who were spiritually “heartbroken”.

chs. 1-2 Although numbers are not God’s measure, we do have to face up to the basic fact that the Church is shrinking, and not offer ourselves spurious arguments why this is OK. Often church leaders end up planning for decline; why not plan for growth instead? He offers the analogy of a person who is overweight: the options are denial; despair; think about it all the time; make lifestyle changes. Same with the church. Wakefield diocese is doing just that, planning to see better teaching and community service on the one hand and increased congregations and giving on the other.

ch. 3 Church growth – mission possible. Society is changing, institutions declining. And yet humanity itself has not changed, or the gospel. Church growth is seen in the NT as natural – see for example 1 Corinthians 3, which likens the Church to a garden. Seeds will still grow: if the plant is in decline, it must be that we need better or different gardening methods. We must face up to the fact that the shrinking Church is not the victim of the irrelevant Jesus, Jesus is the victim of the irrelevant.

Church. Decline simply results from failure to adapt to a changing climate. Evidence that this is so comes from the many churches that are growing: the answer turns out to lie in identifiable good practices and healthy ways of living, and investigation

  1. Bringing growth out of decline.

This chapter offers a detailed statistical analysis of all the Anglican dioceses based on the 1989 English Church Census and the 1998 English Church Survey. In this period, total Anglican church attendance declined by 23%. But 22% of churches of all denominations grew by at least 10%. 7% of Anglican churches grew by at least 60%. The growing churches were spread over all sizes, traditions and locations. The evidence suggests they are growing because they have found a spiritual vitality and adopted some good practices that are available to all. York diocese declined from

1989 to 94, then grew from 94 to 99 – after looking at the figures and setting up a series of day conferences for leaders of the declining churches (which turned out to be the ones with 125+ members). Churches that took part halted their decline.

  1. Why should the future be any different?

The Decade of Evangelism made no numerical difference; but it did put evangelism back on the map. The common perception is that evangelical-charismatic churches have been doing better than others; but in fact as all traditions embrace the need for evangelism and growth the differences are reducing, and detailed research shows that growing churches are of all types of churchmanship. Growth is possible for every type of church in every type of place. Insofar as there is a pattern small fellowships, which can provide the relational emphasis needed in today’s culture, are the ones which are growing.

  1. The Church after Christendom

Christianity no longer provides the framework of our culture, and often the culture seems hostile to it. Hard though this is, it is not in itself a reason for decline – the fastest growing churches in the world are in the places where persecution is the greatest. The church can be countercultural and survive. But if it is to do so we must rethink the nature of our faith (spirituality is in, religion is out), we must discern a new role for the church (servant rather than king), and we must re-imagine the church (structured around worship, community and mission rather than being an institution).

  1. Using figures

We are good at collecting facts but poor at using them. Examples: a church which found some services showed declining attendance and replaced them with new ones at different times of day; a church which found that its best attended service was the declining one, and reversed this by the appointment of a children’s coordinator and an Alpha coordinator. Churches which change service styles and patterns keep their people better than those which don’t. Deaneries with declining evening congregations can pool resources, closing some evening services and starting new midweek ones. Dioceses need to look at their patterns of growth and decline, provide support for declining churches and identify common factors in growing ones; and they need to join up their financial and church growth thinking so as to avoid the vicious circle of parish share default followed by reduction in clergy followed by greater default. Central bodies need to invest more in research (not less).

  1. Nurturing faith

Evangelism is now best understood not as event but as journey, our role being to stand alongside them as they make it. The typical journey moves from friendship to belonging to believing to behaving. Churches which run Alpha or other process evangelism courses for 3+ years tend to grow – responding to a measured increase in spiritual awareness in the population at large over the last 15 years.

  1. Welcoming all

Churches which engage with a variety of cultures are more likely to grow than those dominated by one culture or type of person. Ethnically mixed churches grow better than all white ones, and those with youth provision grow better than those without; perhaps because these factors reveal willingness to engage with people ‘not like us’. Churches that find ways of allowing diversity within their unity do better – eg by having different congregations with different styles; by having cells which allow everyone a place and a role. Churches and deaneries can ask which community groups they are not reaching.

  1. Taking risks

The institutional church needs to move from being a barrier to radical change to being an agent of it. Children show the greatest decline. Churches can try working together, or doing children’s work at different times (weeknights seem to work), or appointing youth workers (they seem to at least prevent decline). Churches which offer youth worship are twice as likely to grow as those which don’t. Close links with schools also seem to go with growth.

  1. Acting small – whatever your size

One surprising finding is that decline is a particular problem for larger churches (100- 400 adults; bigger ones do OK). Small churches tend to be in rural communities and depend on lay ministry; and to have a better quality of relationships. Churches organised into small units in fact do better than those which aren’t, whatever their size. York diocese reversed its decline by realising all the larger churches were where it was happening, and getting them together to brainstorm.

Reasons for decline in larger churches include : lack of close relationships within the fellowship, a consumer attitude, the more demanding nature of lay leadership, difficulty in integrating newcomers and noticing absentees, faster turnover in suburban areas, leadership burnout due to the higher demands, higher number of children, growing beyond the number of people one minister can pastor (100-150), more conflict (more relationships!), higher parish shares. Solutions include : facing the facts, developing small units of belonging (cells or congregations), organising pastoral care, having a specialist leadership team, doing few things well, freeing the vicar to concentrate on oversight of pastoral team and vision rather than being pastor of the flock, and having the courage to be radical. Small churches, on the other hand, need to be encouraged and helped to pool resources and develop lay ministry.

  1. Planting churches

In countries where the Church is growing, it is by the planting of small new fellowships, not by the emergence of superchurches. We need to develop an active policy of planting churches. Most members of such plants are not transfers from other churches but lapsed churchgoers or new Christians. The CofE has planted the equivalent of a  whole new diocese in the last 20 years! Small plant teams do best. Most new churches cater for a niche market which  tends not to be catered for in the traditional church (CofE can now be called the National Trust at prayer…). Dioceses have a key role.

  1. Growing younger

Anglicans are getting older – 1 in 3 is over 65. Only 1 in 6 clergy is under 40. As it is the younger generations that the  Church has been losing, decline will continue unless they can be won back. Churches grow best when they have a spread of ages, young and old. To grow younger: look at your age profile and that of your area; appoint a ‘growing  younger’ team; develop contacts in the community; adjust your social programmes; allow younger people to lead; employ younger staff. Dioceses also need to have younger people amongst its senior staff if they are to be in touch with the needs of young people.

  1. Supporting the clergy

Good clergy are necessary for growth – but this research suggests that clergy skills are as important as clergy talent. In 2000 there were 4 clergy in the whole CofE under 25.. Younger clergy tend to be associated with church growth. Incumbencies of 9-13 years are associated with growth. Gospel enthusiasm is perhaps now more important than pastoral sensitivity as a selection criterion – we need missionaries not pastors. Theological colleges should perhaps offer more management skills and less academic theology. Church growth is not associated with particular theological colleges or training styles. Ongoing training would seem helpful; shorter working weeks; pastoral support; better matching of individuals to parishes; selection of senior clergy on their church growth record not their committee record..

  1. The vital role of the diocese

The ethos, culture, structure and policies of a diocese partly determine its growth or decline. It has an increasingly important role as the structures of society change; a diocese can see what is going on better than individual parish units. It can, for example, change parish boundaries, set up new non-geographical parishes to cater for the emerging world of relational community, encourage pioneers, set financial policies to encourage growth. New forms of church do not ‘emerge’ – they are planned and planted by visionaries, and dioceses are in a key position to facilitate this.

Example: London diocese has a policy document for the years 2002-07 which sets out 5 commitments; 2 are about evangelism and church growth. Other dioceses are asking parishes to go through a review process such as that offered by Springboard, Growing healthy churches’ .

  1. Renewing the spiritual heart

Spiritual health is the priority. The Holy Spirit is untamed and free. The Church of the future will need a structure and a culture designed not to enshrine stability but to handle change.

Quotations:

“The managing director of Marks & Spencer would know how many pieces of underwear a store in Blackburn sold by close of play that day. If certain lines are not working and certain ones are, they will use that information to build the business. That is the sort of thing the Church of England can learn and is beginning to learn.”

The Decade of Evangelism

We now know that the 1990s — the ‘Decade of Evangelism’ — turned out to be a decade of decline. We tried to stem the tide, but it only rushed out faster. For every ten children in the churches in 1990, there were only seven in 2000. So why should the future be any different?

But perhaps the 1990s were not actually a ‘decade of evangelism’ after all. Yes, a policy objective was set — to engage in successful evangelism that would result in the incorporation of new believers into the people of God, and the advance of the kingdom through the strengthening of the Church. An evangelism adviser or missioner was appointed, usually at a fairly low level in the pecking order, in each diocese. However, typically, once they had declared their policy objective and appointed their specialist, dioceses did little more than issue some vague exhortations. Thought-out strategies and implemented policies for achieving the objective were few and far between. In other words, simply calling the 1990s the Decade of Evangelism did not turn them into a decade of evangelism. The Government does not meet its inflation target by wishful thinking, or even by appointing a new Governor to the Bank ofEnglan but by implementing a set of coherent economic policies. Dioceses that d not focus and co-ordinate their activities and policies around the evangelism should not be surprised it wasn’t met. And in case you are thinking is easy to be wise after the event, the above is a summary of an article author which appeared in the Church Times of January 1992.

, the Decade of Evangelism did give rise to many benefits, most of long term. Evangelism is now respectable again. It has gained widespread ance as a central activity of the Church. We have embraced Emil er’s truth that the Church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning. understanding of the nature of evangelism has broadened. It is no longer cted to verbal proclamation, the work of specialists and Para-Church organizations. It has become accepted that evangelism is the whole process which the Church attracts and incorporates new believers into the people Jesus Christ. It is not a bolt-on activity for enthusiasts, it is the very stuff the everyday living of normal churches. Some churches have begun to structure their regular programmes and budgets with evangelism in mind, but the fruits of this are likely to be fairly long term. We have learnt, for example, that in today’s world it takes people, on average, two to four years to move from their first attendance at church to a full acceptance of the Christian faith. As people today tend to believe only after they have begun to belong, then helping them belong is the best route to helping them believe. This is why we now understand evangelism to be the work of the whole Church, because everyone has a part to play in helping newcomers to feel they belong. And this is also why we now see evangelism and conversion as a process rather than an event, and a process that needs the local church at its heart. Springboard, for example, the Archbishops’ initiative in evangelism, has a broader approach than simply offering missions and evangelists: it also offers help to parishes and dioceses in their attempts to organize their lives around the objective of incorporating people into the life and faith of the Christian Church.

In truth, the main storyline of the Church of England in the 1990s did not turn out to be evangelism, which swiftly dropped down the list of priorities. This was partly because the Church was also going through what did turn out to be the principal story of the decade — the ordination of women. This watershed experience may well have had a deleterious impact on attendances at first. Following the decision in 1992 to ordain women to the priesthood, around 400 stipendiary clergy left the Church of England under the measure allowing them compensation. This was about 4 per cent of the whole. Numbers of lay members also left the Church, mostly for Rome. Yet other clergy and parishes were preoccupied with their own response and decision, a preoccupation that often lasted for several years. The main years of resignations and disruptions were 1993-7. Figure 5.1 shows that these were also the peak years for attendance decline. This is surely no coincidence.

It will be apparent to every reader that this book finds many aspects of culture of the Church to be problematic for its growth. Yet there are ho aspects too. The status and independence of parishes and incumbents a great freedom of action. The Church of England is used to variety, and its very nature a broad and tolerant Church. This is a key characteristic society that needs its Church to offer a variety of both tried and expert routes into the heart of God.

church meets the spiritual and needs of ordinary churchgoers, and empowers their social action, to a in excess of what weary or jaundiced professionals sometimes imagine. e heart of it is their worship. The single factor most appreciated by church-from a wide range of denominations was the receiving of communion. was the most valued aspect of church for 18 per cent of respondents, with preaching coming second with 12 per cent. Different sorts of worship, traditional modern, together were the most important aspect for a further 20 per cent.

The testimony of ordinary Christians is that it is church attendance that creates, s and empowers their Christian faith, witness and service. If our aim is make Christian disciples, folk religion may be a way in, but going to church what matters.

Around the world, the most rapidly growing churches are often those in countries with little Christian background. Nepal is the only officially Hindu country in the world, and the Christian Church there is less than 50 years old. Where once we had ‘Christendom’, Nepal has `Flindudom. The dominant culture is hostile to the Church and sometimes persecutes it. Yet Nepal has one of the fastest-growing national Churches in the world. Its success is based not on its authority as the official religious voice of the land, but on its authenticity as a weak and humble embodiment of the self-sacrificial kingdom of heaven. In fact in Nepal it is `Flindudom’ that is under threat of decline, from Western materialism, not the Church. Clearly, the Christian Church has the ability to thrive in a counter-cultural form.

Nearer to home, the Diocese of London is the one diocese in the Church of England that has seen consistent attendance and adherence growth in recent years. Yet in London the decline in the numbers of people asking clergy for infant baptisms, weddings and funerals has proceeded as far as anywhere in the country. In 2000, London Diocese performed only 2.9 per cent of the Church of England’s baptisms, 2.8 per cent of its weddings, and 2.9 per cent of its funerals, yet the diocese contained 7.1 per cent of England’s population. The residual ‘Christian culture’ or ‘folk religion’ background looks to be as withered away in London as anywhere in the country. Yet it is the one place where the Church of England is experiencing substantial growth.

Perhaps these two factors are connected the opposite way round from the traditional theory that the Church is built by the pastoral contacts of the occasional offices, for they are enormously time-consuming. This in no way demeans the importance of the occasional offices as a service to the nation, it simply suggests that there may be a net advantage to the church growth side of the equation in clergy being freed from them. London clergy on average in 2000 performed 6 infant baptisms, 4 weddings and 12 funerals each. The average for the Church of England during the year was 12 baptisms, 7 weddings and 24 funerals. So London clergy had only half the burden of occasional offices of the national average. Perhaps this freed them up to spend more ti on church development. In Durham Diocese, on the other hand, where adu attendance decline has been as rapid as anywhere in the country, the de performed 18 baptisms, 7 weddings and 35 funerals each. This makes a to of 60 occasional offices in the year compared with the London clergy’s 22, a difference of almost one more occasional office per working week – whi may equate to between half a day and a day’s work. The average fun requires a number of organizational phone calls, a visit to the next of preparation time, the service in church, the ride to the crematorium, the at the crematorium, an appearance at the funeral ‘wake’, and a later 1 visit to the next of kin. This is a very large slice of the ‘discretionary’ parish clergy have at their disposal once the necessary weekly tasks have performed. Far from the church attendance tip of the Christendom iceberg g away as underlying residual Christianity disappears, this evidence s it might have a new chance to grow through the clergy and their es having more time, energy and focus available for building the ed community of faith.

extreme example of this is a certain city church in an almost 100 per cent im parish. This church has a distinctive culture and attracts a large and wing eclectic congregation. lts parish makes almost no demands on its

They spend their whole time, energy and thought processes ministering, leading and growing their own gathered congregation. It could, of course, be argued that this church has lost its proper missionary and pastoral vocation to its own parish, but, from the purely church growth point of view, the fact that its parish has left Christendom completely behind has become a very helpful thing. The church has grown as a relational community in a postmodern world, with many young adults in its congregation drawn to the church by the presence of ‘people like me. Perhaps one day this church will have the energy and vision to re-engage with its own parish in a new, mission-minded way.

The loss of Christendom, and the decline in the use society wishes to make of the Church of England for family and for state occasions, does not, therefore, inevitably imply that the Church itself will continue to decline. Its position in a post-Christendom, postmodern world might be different, but there will be gains as well as losses. We might have to get used to operating from the margins, rather than the centre, of society – but, as someone has remarked, that is no bad place to be, since-the margins ‘are where all the interesting things get written, not least because there is space to do so.

So should the Church of England cling to the trappings, the responsibilities and the vestiges of its Christendom privileges – establishment, prestigious buildings, palaces for bishops, presence in Parliament, civic positions, clergy as registrars, canon law – and attempt to hold back the secularizing tide that threatens to sweep it away from such things? Or is it better to walk with dignity into the margins, still strong as a gathered community, before we are humiliatingly pushed? Should the Church accept, even embrace, being freed from palace and power in order to rediscover the servant ministry of Jesus Christ who had nowhere to lay his head? To put the question a final way, and in order that 1 might use the longest word I know, how antidisestablish­mentarianistically inclined should we be? This debate will doubtless mature in the Church of England over the next few years.

imagine that you are a quiet-living pensioner, getting a little frail, who 1oves the Book of Common Prayer. In your church you are the only member over 25, and everyone else arrives by motorbike. Services are accompanied by strobe lighting, the pews have been replaced by a dance floor, and the organ a rock band. It is the only time in the week that you are able to leave ur hearing aid at home. The rest of the congregation talk to each other in a language that may be English, but not as you would understand it. The sermon is all about ‘relationships: You would move to another church, but in your area they are all the same. How long before you stay at home on Sundays?

This situation in reverse is exactly that faced by young people and younger adults in many Anglican churches today. It is abundantly clear that church is not designed for them and so they cease to belong. It is not that their generations lack religious instincts — it is that the Church fails to offer them what is needed to nurture and release those instincts. Churches may respond by saying that they would make provision for worship in styles that young adults and young people could relate to if they had any, but they don’t so there is no point. But which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Do churches fail to provide worship for young adults and teenagers because they have none, or do they have no young adults and teenagers because they make no provision for them?

First, there is the matter of location. As we have already seen, almost all the tiny churches are to be found in village or rural communities. Perhaps here the church is still seen as being at the centre of the community. Other facilities (the village pub, the village shop, the village post office, the village school) may be in danger of being withdrawn, or may actually have closed down. But there is no outside agency that can impose closure on the church. The village will rally round to keep it going, with money for the tower appeal, and perhaps with attendance on Sundays. in other words, in the countryside people will support the institution even if their own personal faith is uncertain. This support will not wither away with postmodernity because the inhabitants will fight to preserve their communities — aided and abetted by people from the towns migrating to the countryside in search of just such an experience of community.

Secondly, small churches have probably had to learn to live and work without their own resident, paid clergyperson. Where a vicar has four, six, twelve or sixteen churches to look after, each set of wardens and office holders has to learn greater independence. Worldwide, it is a fact that churches without full-time paid ministry are growing faster than those with it. Along with taking more responsibility for practical matters, members of small churches may also develop the attitude that it is down to them to find new members, because the professional clergy ‘are never here:

Thirdly, the numbers involved in tiny churches are often no more than the average home group, or cell, or choir in a larger church. It has long been recognized that members of large churches need a small-group structure in order to find fellowship and belonging. But this comes naturally in a chur that is so small it doesn’t need to divide up. Belonging, loyalty and commitme levels are likely to be high. Most people will have a job of one sort or anoth if someone leaves, they will be missed, and will still be a close neighbour unl they move away from the village completely. It may therefore be much ha to leave a small church than a large one.

Finally, there is the simple statistical fact that it is quite easy to grow a ch of ten by 10 per cent just by getting ‘Joyce’s husband’ to come along as This does not make the comparison with large churches unfair, for it is as easy to lose 10 per cent of the congregation by upsetting ‘Joyce’s husband

both short and long incumbencies are more often associated with decline, and medium-length incumbencies with growth. It would seem that, on average, from a purely church growth point of view, the best length of time for an incumbency is between 7 and 13 years. The chances of attendance growth get slimmer and slimmer for incumbencies both shorter and longer than this. Once again, this finding does not mean that some clergy cannot see church growth very quickly, nor that others cannot preside over growth towards the end of long incumbencies. There may also be good reasons to have short- or long-term incumbencies for other than church growth considerations. However, if the Church of England is serious about halting its own decline, it does seem that encouragements to medium-length incumbencies are a good thing. Five-year contracts and withdrawal of freehold may be important for reasons of financial caution, or perhaps desired for reasons of central control, but moving people on after five years does not look like a good church growth option. Short incumbencies and frequent vacancies can be damaging, yet the average length of incumbency in the Church of England is between six and seven years. This is clearly too short, and clergy should be encouraged by their own PCCs and by their diocese to stay for a fairly long time, but not for too long! An average of ten years looks about right.

lf, as suggested above, it is true that clergy with the appropriate characteristics and mindset are likely to lead churches into growth, then recruitment, selection and training become significant long-term determinants of the growth potential of the Church of England. In particular, the old pastoral model whereby clergy are selected on the basis of pastoral sensitivity rather than gospel enthusiasm may need an overhaul. In the post-Christendom world of the future, the Church will need fewer pastors and more missionaries.

Furthermore, if it is true that the possession of the appropriate church leadership skills is key, then the content of clergy training may also need an overhaul. An academic theological education may not be the best preparation for the job the clergy are actually called to do. When a new incumbent is called upon to turn around a failing operation with a turnover of £200,000 p.a., half-a-dozen paid staff, a crumbling medieval building, a parish share debt, and a complex interaction of activities, her detailed knowledge of the book of Habakkuk may not be her most potent weapon. She may have learnt to rejoice in the Lord whatever pastoral disasters may happen, but she will also need to know how to get the flock back in the fold and the herd in the stall (Habakkuk 3.17,18).

If greater emphasis is to be placed on actually training ordinands for the realities of their future jobs of growing churches in difficult times, then more of the trainers will have to be experienced parochial clergy themselves. It is not realistic to expect academics without this experience to impart skills they do not possess, nor to train ordinands for a life they themselves have not lived and may not properly understand. There is, of course, the theory that the `practical’ training comes with the experience of a curacy. There are many problems with this expectation. One is the hit-and-miss nature of curate—incumbent relations, another is the expectation of the parish that they have acquired another pair of hands, not a full-time trainee, a third is the narrow, and possibly outdated, wisdom and experience base the curate has to draw on in this apprentice model, and a fourth the fact that busy incumbents do not have time to train curates.

There is a wide variety of training colleges and programmes for ordinands in the Church of England. Some offer more academic courses, some are more practical. Some are full-time residential, some are part-time non-residential. Some are clearly associated with one church tradition or another, others are not. Are the graduates of some colleges or courses more likely to lead churches into growth than the graduates of others? The data from the 1989 census and 1998 survey yields a sample of 3,009 Anglican clergy from about 40 different training institutions. A number of comparisons were made, including residential colleges v. courses and charismatic-evangelical tradition v. others. No statistically significant differences were found whatsoever between the different groups. In other words, someone from an area ministerial training scheme was just as likely to have charge of a growing church as someone from one of the heavyweight evangelical colleges.

This startling (to some) result could mean one of a number of things – that all training methods are equally effective or ineffective, that the skills imparted were less relevant than the (fairly randomly distributed) innate talents of the clergy, or that the skills were not imparted in the first place. However, it does seem safe to conclude that no one college or style of training should complacently assume its superiority over others in this regard. There are two important caveats to all this, however. First, this data refers to incumbents who were trained in the 1980s or earlier. Perhaps we would see greater differences between more recent ordinands. Second, those graduating from the evangelical residential colleges are probably more likely to be incumbents of larger churches. On average, surveys suggest that congregations in the evangelical tradition are 50 per cent larger than the others. But the larger churches of all traditions are much more likely to be in decline. So, if we could compare like for like in terms of church size we might find that the graduates of these colleges are more associated with growth. But the most important conclusion remains – there is no evidence that any one training style or tradition enables clergy to buck the declining attendance trend. In this lies a major challenge for clergy formation and training.

Preferment by casual patronage often means that the new incumbent is remarkably ignorant about what he or she is taking on. One of the most hopeful pieces of better practice in the Church in recent years has been the development of ways of helping parishes find clergy that suit them. The systems of parish profiles, parish reps, incumbent profiles and job descriptions have made the whole business more professional and more likely to attract round pegs to round holes. Where parishes advertise and appoint from a shortlist they are far more likely to get the sort of person they want than if they simply wait for a patron to present them with someone.

However, the tendency of some dioceses when they hit a financial crisis to restrict the filling of new posts to internal candidates can clearly derail this advance. In an attempt to cut clergy numbers as fast as possible a diocese can easily give a further twist to its own decline cycle by appointing less than ideal candidates to parishes simply because they are already on the payroll of the diocese. Such a policy, by taking away from parishes their freedom to seek suitable candidates by open advert and interview, can also harm diocesan-parish relations. Better for dioceses to plan their staffing over the long term, attract the best clergy they can, and so be strengthened in the battle to reverse decline.

some dioceses have been better planned and less conservatively run than others. This matters from the point of view of the growth or decline of the Church. Chapter 15 suggests ways in which the effectiveness of dioceses can be, and is being, greatly increased. Just as the selection and training of parish clergy matters to the growth or decline of the Church, so does the selection and training of senior clergy. Diocesan bishops are largely chosen from the ranks of suffragans and archdeacons. These in turn are largely chosen by diocesans. Such a circular system can work perfectly well, but there are dangers in such self-perpetuation, one of which is that it is bound to be treated with suspicion in the postmodern world.

This is true, for example, of the way in which the people of the diocese are divided up between the churches for the purposes of pastoral care and evangelism. For centuries they have been divided up geographically. This arrangement suited a medieval rural economy. Between them, the clergy, each licensed to a specific geographical location, were responsible for the spiritual care of all the citizens of the land. But geography was not fundamental to the intention of the parish system – the fundamental principle of the ‘cure of souls’ was to ensure that no one was left out of the spiritual care network of the national Church. The geographical parish was simply the best means to that end. In order better to meet that unchanging aim of reaching the whole nation, dioceses may now need to change, or at least to supplement, the means.

The parish system has not always been 100 per cent geographical anyway. Some cathedrals have had little parish to speak of, yet have cared for large numbers of worshippers who live in many surrounding parishes. Minsters and monasteries provided other models from an age before that of the settled parish. In the minster model, instead of the countryside being divided up into parish units each looked after by one man, groups of clergy or monks and their disciples would journey around a wide area tending to the needs of the villages and preaching the gospel. Church buildings were not involved ­the focal point was often an outdoor stone cross. Today, once again, most rural churches no longer have their own exclusive priest, and rural incumbents are beneficed to impossibly large numbers of parishes. Perhaps the minster model suggests a better way of exercising cure of souls in the countryside, but experiments in this direction can only be instituted by dioceses.

In today’s urbanized, mobile and relational world, people vote with their feet anyway. They pick the church that suits them best. There are usually several within driving distance. Whether or not they live in a particular geographical parish does not even occur to many churchgoers as a significant factor in their choice of church. About 50 per cent of Anglicans worship in only about 15 per cent of the churches. The idea of an even spread of people and parishes and clergy across the land sharing the load along geographical boundaries ordained from on high has little correspondence with reality today. People divide themselves up in their own way, in relational and cultural groupings – the Church cannot force them into its own parishes. People will typically join in worship not with ‘people who live near me’ but with ‘people who are like me.

So, if it is the duty of the diocese to ensure that all the people of the diocese are covered by the pastoral and evangelistic life of the churches, then the diocese may need to make some changes to the way it achieves that objective. In fact our very Anglicanism seems to demand that dioceses supplement their geographical parishes with some relational ones in order to reach those who are currently overlooked, whom the geographic parishes cannot touch. Take, for example, a town-wide youth church. The ‘parish’ here is composed of the relevant age group who live in and around the town in question. The aim is to offer ‘church’, including both worship and relational glue, that is suited to the culture of the ‘parish. This requires a specialist team and skills not normally found in the average geographical parish church. It also involves a greater number and concentration of teenagers and young adults. Other examples of non-geographical parishes could include a Wednesday night church; a Web-based congregation relating in a mosaic of different ways and coming together periodically for celebrations; an inner-city ‘children’s church’; a sport- or activity-based church; and existing cathedral congregations.

Just as only a diocese can be responsible through its pastoral committees and bishops for changing geographical parish boundaries and creating new geographical parishes, so only a diocese can take ultimate responsibility for the setting up of new non-geographical parishes to cater for the emerging postmodern world of relational community. Sometimes a dominant local church, or a far-seeing local leader, is able partly to replicate the diocesan role (e.g. in the setting up of a town-wide youth church), and they may have the advantages both of being on the ground to start with and being able to work ecumenically rather more easily. A diocese may be able to encourage, authenticate and contribute to the pioneering work of a parish. However, these conditions do not exist in most places, and initiatives easily falter when key personnel move on. The way the Church of England is organized, only the diocese can offer the continuity and oversight needed for the long haul in each area.

Examples of this can be found in every area of diocesan life, but perhaps the most obvious are in the realm of financial policy. A diocese is facing a deficit budget and needs to reduce its expenditure. Instead of planning a reorganization of posts, abolishing the least important and creating a few strategic new ones, it simply leaves unfilled all the vacancies that happen to occur. This is because the financial managers have no control of policy, and the policy makers no familiarity with the financial realities. Church of England dioceses tend to set their budgets the opposite way round from everyone else. Most people first work out how much income they can expect, and then decide how to spend it. Dioceses, typically, first work out how much money they would like to spend, and then ask the diocesan board of finance to work out how much income is required from the parishes in order to produce it. Crises occur when parishes are collectively unable to supply this total, an amount that was decided with minimal reference to its impact on their lives and ministries and to their ability to pay. And so financial management and employment policy only get joined up at the last minute, when a crisis has already begun. Parishes large and small become subject to the random vagaries of interregnums which sometimes go on for years. Large parishes can easily be plunged into major decline by such a lengthy leaderless spell, especially if assistant staff start to leave as well.

A parish decides to adopt good practice for growth and pay a youth worker. His ministry is wonderfully effective and the church grows, but the parish share goes up too because of the increased attendance. For a year or two, the parish cannot pay all its parish share. The diocese complains to the parish and asks it to sack the youth worker. The vicar is marked down as disloyal and a trouble-maker.

A parish raises the cost of paying for an evangelist by asking the congregation to increase its giving. The congregation meets its target, and the evangelist begins her work. However, next year the increased income of the church leads to a large increase in its parish share. Because the extra giving was designated, and because new income from new Christians only follows after a time lag, the parish cannot afford the increase. The diocese demands it put its house in order and pay the share instead of the evangelist.

A board of finance is faced with the need to make some budget cuts. it is always easier to cut uncommitted expenditure. it notices a budget for grants of seed-corn money to parishes making growth initiatives in their youth and children’s work. This was the bishop’s idea. The board cut the budget and tell the bishop the grants can’t be afforded any more.

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