We don't have to resist creeping godlessness, at least not by confronting it head on. We do have to proclaim the gospel in word and deed and to nurture the disciples we make through gospel ministry. That is the way to respond to godlessness!
Some interesting statistics have emerged about church life in Christchurch, statistics which demonstrate gospel ministry is doing, well, better than one might expect in a world of creeping godlessness.
These statistics were presented at a meeting of church leaders on Tuesday morning this week by Ken Shelley (for web access head to Te Raranga, notes from the meeting, and click on the link there to the Powerpoint presentation, also from that site one can access a Directory of all churches in Chch). Key points (taken from the Powerpoint presentation from Te Raranga, copyright acknowledged):
37,629 people attending church on any given Sunday
= 10% proportion of city population
Thus, 15+% of city in church regularly
Attendance by denomination (main players): 21% Catholic, Other 17%, Pentecostal 16%, Anglican 15%, Baptist 13%.*
Other highlights: 60% of churches serve 20% of church attendance; 10% of church attendees go to churches with 800+ worshippers; mean attendance is 130, median attendance is 70; 202/290 have children's ministry; 260/290 have a community facing ministry; 160/290 have a youth ministry; 79/290 churches are damaged.
There is a lot to ponder here. 290 churches means there are plenty of churches in every neighbourhood. Stats re 'Other' and 'Pentecostal' means there are plenty of 'new' churches making their appearances in recent years, yet the largest church, Roman Catholic, is the 'oldest' church in our midst. Anglicans have a few challenges, but nothing to despair about. Overall we are moving into a new church era. One of our challenges is how we work together. The meeting of church leaders on Tuesday, with the development of Te Raranga as the 'forum' through which fellowship in ministry/mission will develop is a good sign that we can work together.
Incidentally, against a backdrop of 290 churches in Christchurch, we do not see where the general liberal or modernist approach to church life has achieved any dominance. If we exclude the Anglican 15% (because difficult to work out which bits conform to that approach and which bits don't) we are still left with Catholic, Other (we can assume that is not liberal/modernist), Pentecostal and Baptist contributing 67% of active Christians in our city. But that does not mean that a conservative approach is what is predominating. It may mean that. But it is also worth thinking about the ways in which a new path is being forged as churches grow and develop in the 21st century.
In the week in which we have seen a new pope inaugurated and a new ABC enthroned (what a terrible word!), Charles Moore, writing in the Telegraph, offers a fascinating interpretation of what the combination of Francis and Justin means (two great names from church history, we might note in passing): a new Christianity,
"Once one understands that this new unity is emerging, it makes the conventional split between liberals and conservatives in the Church seem very out of date. The liberals have lost, because their acceptance of so many non-religious ideas has debilitated their faith and therefore prevented their renewal. But the conservatives have lost too, if by “conservative” one means the old warriors of the Counter-Reformation. The people who are winning are those who share the desire to bring the story of Jesus to what Pope Francis, in his first speech from the balcony of St Peter’s, called “the end of the earth”. He knows a bit about that, because it is where he comes from."
It is good to be in Christchurch (one of the ends of the earth!) at this time, bringing the story of Jesus to people who have never heard it.
*To highlight why our Diocese is considering a structural review of churches in Christchurch city, our 15% is spread across 57 churches, the Baptists 13% across 24 churches, the Catholic 21% across 31 churches while the Other 17% is spread across 65 churches.