The churches of the UK are in freefall. For years membership, however that has been defined, has been in decline. Church attendance has also been in massive decline. In many church communities it is terminal decline. Covid certainly didn’t help. Most churches are now much smaller. Many people seem to have given up on church. As we know, Christians today are in a minority – less than 50% of people in the UK perceive themselves to be Christian.
It is in this context that the Church of England developed a model for mission. At the heart of the ‘circle’ was a church that was ‘Christ centred and Jesus shaped’. A renewed church, with a deepening prayer life and a new delight in worship, yet at the same time outward looking and overflowing in loving service for the world.
From this ‘hub’ emerged three spokes within the wheel, pointing to three strategic mission priorities: to be a church of missionary disciples; to be a younger and more diverse church; and to be a church where mixed ecology is the norm. The first two priorities speak for themselves. However, the term mixed ecology needs unpacking: it refers to a church prepared to experiment in new forms of church.
The vision underlying this mission is a church that is bolder, simpler and humbler. The hope is that within ten years the number of children and young active disciples will be doubled, and that the church will be fully representative of the communities it seeks to serve. It is a bold vision, involving a simpler church in the sense that it does away with activities which are peripheral to mission and instead focusses on the basic tasks of transforming lives of those whom it seeks to serve. Inevitably this kind of church is also humbler, a church where God is allowed to work.
How precisely this mission is expressed will vary from place to place. Pope Francis put it this way: “The church is a people with many faces, and expresses (its) truth in countless different ways, according to each culture. He went on: “That is why I like to think that evangelisation must always be in the dialect of each place, with the same words and sounds of the grandmother who uses to sing lullabies to her grandchildren”.
As a Baptist minister of many years standing, understanding of mission appeals to me. It is not a ‘top-down’ model imposed by a hierarchical leadership. Rather it is for each church to discern what is appropriate for them. What’s more it asks each church to think through their priorities in such a way that the needs of the whole community are met – the need to young people is clearly vital, but older people must not be forgotten either. What’s more, there is the recognition that one style of service is a limiting factor to effective mission.
Unlike Anglicans, who tend to operate with a parish system where the focus is on the community as a whole, Baptists make much of the fact that they are a ‘gathered church’. The downside of the Baptist concept of the gathered church is that the needs of the wider world can be forgotten. However, unlike a typical Anglican church where mission tends to be limited to those within the parish, a Baptist church need not limit its mission to a local parish, but rather can appeal to a wider grouping of people.
Whatever the denominational allegiance, if the tide is to be turned and communities are to be transformed by the Gospel of Christ, then appropriate strategies need to be put in place for Christ’s new creation (2 Cor 5.17) to be realised.
Paul – a very interesting piece. Perhaps I can comment from the perspective of our small Anglican Church in the Salings? When we do something innovative – for example a Palm Sunday Procession, led by a pony and with coffee and croissants before a short service – we get 25-30 people. A standard ‘Morning Service’ or ‘Holy Communion’ nets 10-12. That often includes us, but out of loyalty rather than anything else. To give them credit, the Anglicans place a lot of emphasis on ‘Fresh Expressions’, and when churches do it, it pays off. Another example would be the Anglican Church in Westleton, Suffolk, where a couple who have moved there from Frinton Free Church have brought new life with a guitar, croissants and coffee. Finally, post-COVID, many churches seem to have given up on social media and streaming services. A big mistake – it really reached out to people, including the housebound.
Yes interesting article, I was impressed a few days ago on Good Friday when for the first time in three years the churches together returned to their March of witness followed by a town centre service. I reckon 500 turned up with many walking past us .
There was aged atmosphere the preacher was a 30 year old Anglican vicar assisted by a 25 year old Anglican curate, no earth shaking stuff but a genuine expression of. Faith and unity.
However I like you am concerned. The church is in decline and I fear all our human ideas are just that based on our experiences and education when what we need is a real genuine move of Gods spirit. First verses of `Isaiah 64 come to mind .
I have fond memories of many who have said all this before about a new way etc and was genuinely convinced the BU president some years ago now with his study on “Fanning into flame the gift the is in you “ based on Timothy …would indeed be one of many strand leading to growth ….but it was not to be
So we are back to waiting on the Lord …..or is that too naive ?
I remember a farmer a few years ago on his death bed said to his half hearted sons, the 200 milking cows will keep you all but you will have to milk them twice a day!
A religious joke for you….
Moses was the first to experience modern technology when he received the 10 commandments …it was the first time that data was downloaded to a tablet from the cloud !
Thank you again for your blog. Interested to hear more about the mission strategy you mentioned from the Church of England since the census figures of numbers that identify as Christian in this country and the significant decline in church membership and attendance.
What is it called and when was it published? I’m presuming that it hasn’t got anything to do with the Living In Love And Faith initiative, also a mission initiative to grow the C of E’s numbers by introducing particular inclusivity (ie gay couples and the blessing of their relationships including sexual ones)?
I have just resigned my membership from the Baptist church and am going to attend (again) St Helen’s Bishopsgate from this Sunday. This is a church of England but very much against the latter mission initiative brought in recently by the House of Bishops. For me this is an area of mission that the churches should be much more vocal about. It has been proven (by the census statistics amongst others) that the more the church moves closer to societies values and the cultural norms accepted within it, the more it loses its numbers, not increases them as is the aim of the strategical approach! It seems paradoxically that the ‘world’ rejects the church trying to move closer towards them and at least respects them more for them upholding their traditional values and doctrines. So this is the reason why I am moving, by God’s leading I believe, to a church that is vocal about these issues rather than keeping them ‘under wraps’ as my previous Baptist church was doing.
I do not know everything yet about the C of E (and the wider Anglican Communion including GAFCON for the evangelical and anglo catholic parts of it) and was wondering if the mission initiatives (like the 2 just mentioned) are linked?
Could you comment any further on this? Many thanks.