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Churches face 'demographic timebomb'

Date: 11 April 2014
GW May 14 timebomb ‘Demographic timebomb’ ticking in churches Church needs your help to ensure the future of congregations A 'demographic timebomb' showing a church drastically depleted in numbers a generation from now was presented to the diocesan synod in March when parish representatives heard that ‘doing the same’ was not an option. Diocesan director for parish development and evangelism, the Revd Alan Hulme, told synod members that a ‘confident urgency’ was needed to bring younger people to faith - otherwise face the stark reality of an unrecognisable church thirty years from now. While the latest figures for church attendance show that the Diocese of Guildford’s average weekly attendance (28,200) is roughly static or marginally up on the previous year, there are five adults attending for every one child. Alan said: “The crisis is not shrinking attendance but the age of our membership.” He revealed projections by the national Church showing that, if churches carry on as they are, they stand to be just ten percent of their current size by 2057, simply because the number of members dying vastly outnumbers those in younger generations coming to faith. He said: “We want to encourage a sense of confident urgency in our parishes, a confidence which is based on a trust in God and a realistic assessment of the situation we are in. While many churches have good provision for younger children we must begin to engage more effectively with those in the 11 to 25 age band and pass on the gospel to the next generation.” The national statistics have been backed by a recent two-year research project instituted by the Church Commissioners, looking into factors affecting church growth and decline. Alan continued: “The report, From Anecdote to Evidence, is clear about the challenges that face us with ageing congregations - but there is also much encouragement. “There has been significant growth in a variety of areas from fresh expressions of church and church plants to ancient cathedrals. In this diocese over 50 of our congregations are currently growing.” In ten dioceses surveyed so far there are 21,000 people attending fresh expressions – equivalent to a medium sized diocese. For every person sent out to help form a fresh expression, on average, there are another 2.6 people added after three years. These new forms of church include Café Churches, Messy Church and churches which meet in schools, pubs or out in the street. More than half (56%) don’t meet in churches and over half (52%) are run by non-ordained leaders. Messy Church, which aims to reach whole families - especially those on the edge of church - is expanding across the diocese and is one sign of growth. There are at least 35 being run by Anglican churches with several new ones starting this year. Diocesan children’s work advisor Alison Hendy said: “Parishes are offering Messy Church to give their local communities the opportunity of engaging with Christianity in a less formal and more culturally relevant way. It is enabling many families to engage with faith for the first time.” The diocesan synod passed a motion noting the From Anecdote to Evidence findings and commending it to parishes for study, reflection and action. Alan concluded: “From Anecdote to Evidence tells us that while there is no single recipe to enable church growth, there are key factors associated with it. These include willingness to change, involving lay members and having a clear vision and purpose. Now is the time to act to defuse the demographic time bomb. Can you give time each day to pray for the growth of God’s Church? “Diocesan teams are committed to supporting parishes through resources, advice and insights as we work together to ensure that we have a future-proof church which will be able to serve God’s mission for generations to come.” Turn to page ten for a feature on St Mary’s East Molesey church partnership initiative, which has experienced a 100 per cent increase in its congregation since it was set up a year ago. • To see the synod presentation, including the national Church predictions, visit bit.ly/1eqqzDq • For From Anecdote to Evidence www.churchgrowthresearch.org.uk/report. • For the PDE team see bit.ly/1lJWwfp Pull-out quote: “A church with no children or under 16s is very likely to be in decline.” From Anecdote to Evidence -ends 751

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