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Church of England shows signs of growth

Date: 17 January 2014
RESULTS PUBLISHED FROM The Faith in Research Conference show signs of growth throughout the Church of England.

The conference was held in London to publish and disseminate the executive summary of an 18 month systematic multi-method study into Church Growth in the Church of England.

Churches are showing signs of growth across the country in a variety of areas of church life, from newly established congregations to ancient Cathedrals and parishes.

The research is published against a backdrop of decline of 9% in church attendance over the last decade. It identifies factors associated with growth as well as decline in churches.

    Significant Growth Fresh expressions of Church (new congregations and new churches) with around 21,000 people attending in the 10 surveyed areas of the 44 Church of England Dioceses.
    Significant growth in Cathedrals, especially in weekday attendance. Overall weekly attendance grew by 35% between 2002 and 2012.
    Declining numbers of children and young people under 16 - nearly half of the churches surveyed had fewer than 5 under 16s.
    Amalgamations of churches are more likely to decline - the larger the number of churches in the amalgamation, the more likely they are to decline.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “There is every reason to be hopeful about the future of the Church of England, and indeed, all the churches in this country. There are many signs of growth, huge areas of development, and the church is – more than it has been for the last 60 years – demonstrating how essential it is to hold together our society.

“Over time there has been a decline in the percentage of the population that attends church. We need to listen to the message that comes through this research in order to develop our own strategies and stop doing things that help accelerate decline and focus on things that develop growth.

“The turnaround of the church is fundamentally in the hands of God. God is faithful. He has shown that in Jesus Christ, and He shows that to us every day in our lives - and in the lives of our churches together. But He calls on us to be his feet, his hands, his mouth, his eyes, his ears, who listen to and serve and love the people around us, who above all witness to the reality of the love of Jesus Christ.”

First Church Estates Commissioner and Chair of the advisory panel which commissioned and oversaw the research, Andreas Whittam Smith, also welcomed the findings: “The findings of this research provide facts figures and stories which are helpful to the Church and vital to our understanding of which factors contribute to growth.

“There is now a substantial body of evidence and the findings have provided a firm foundation for researching further some of the associations found. Understanding how to share the Good News of the Kingdom of God effectively is important. It is particularly encouraging to see evidence in the research that many churches are responding to the need to reach out to those who might not normally go to church, being willing to change and adapt to different trends and contexts.”

Quantitative sociologist of religion and current Professor of Population Studies at the University of Essex, Professor David Voas, carried out some of the research: “There is no single recipe for growth; there are no simple solutions to decline. The road to growth depends on the context, and what works in one place may not work in another. What seems crucial is that congregations are constantly engaged in reflection; churches cannot soar on autopilot. Growth is a product of good leadership (lay and ordained) working with a willing set of churchgoers in a favourable environment.”

Certain churches stand out as having experienced significant growth.

Fresh expressions of Church, new forms of church which meet in a variety of venues and seek to engage especially with non-church goers, have seen significant growth. The number of new attenders at the 477 fresh expressions of Church within the ten regions surveyed is equivalent to adding the attendees of one new medium sized diocese (around 21,000).

These new forms of church include Café Churches, churches in drop in centres, Messy Church and churches which meet in pubs and bars or out in the street. More than half (56%) meet not in churches and over half (52%) are run by non-ordained leaders.

Cathedrals have shown significant growth in overall numbers over the last decade and especially in weekday attendance. Overall weekly attendance grew by 35% between 2002 and 2012. Especially significant is weekday attendance, which has more than doubled in ten years from 5,600 in 2002 to 12,400 in 2012.

In a survey of cathedral worshippers, peace and contemplation, worship and music and a friendly atmosphere were identified as the top three motivating factors for attending.

A survey of 1,700 parish churches also helped to identify some of the factors associated with their growth. Researchers have concluded that while there is no single recipe, there are common ingredients strongly associated with growth in churches of any size, place or context.

These include:

    A clear mission and purpose
    Willingness to self-reflect and learn continually
    Willingness to change and adapt according to context
    Lay as well as clergy involvement and leadership
    Being intentional about prioritising growth
    Actively engaging children and teenagers
    Actively engaging with those who might not usually go to church
    Good welcoming and follow up for visitors
    Commitment to nurturing new and existing Christians

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