Thursday, November 12, 2015

How to fill Anglican churches?

I have been away for two months, as part of a sabbatical leave which continues until the end of the year. I have not been on such an extended break from normal routines of work and home before - my last two sabbaticals were mostly spent at or near home. It was pretty fabulous being free from those routines! (There were countervailing stresses re travel). It was good to be away. It is good to be home. But this is not a travelogue, so what has struck me as worth noting in an 'Anglican' blog?

I suspect several things will emerge from my ongoing subconscious reflecting, but here is one reflection, based on being part on several Sundays of full Anglican churches. (To keep in perspective the general state of the global church, my experiences while away have included some great services in well supported Methodist, Catholic and Elim churches).

What fills an Anglican church in 2015?

This is what doesn't fill an Anglican church: one specific style of worship. I have been impressed by congregations filling churches offering a variety of styles of Anglican liturgy, to say nothing of styles of preaching.

This also doesn't fill Anglican churches: getting everything right. OK so I am sole judge and assessor here, but I felt on occasions in full Anglican churches that if I were in charge of them, I would do some things differently and, naturally, better. (Having said that, no full Anglican church I experienced these past two months, or ever in the past, was full despite doing all things badly!)

Thirdly, what doesn't fill some Anglican churches is things done Anglicanly. I've experienced full Anglican services where things were done 'by the book' and full churches where they were not done 'by the book'. It is also doesn't seem to make a difference whether the vicar is robed, or, when not robed, whether the vicar wears a clerical collar, or a tie and shirt, or an open necked shirt!

So what does fill Anglican churches? My hunch is that what fills Anglican churches is simply that these churches do what people desire in a church. But that then leads to two kinds of Anglican church doing what people desire in a church.

(1) Anglican churches which do what people desire, though not by being distinctively Anglican (i.e. distinctive by virtue of use of Anglican prayer book services, or offering rites in an Anglican manner-prescribed robes, due solemnity).

(2) Anglican churches which do what is distinctively Anglican and that happens to suit a bunch of people, some of whom may be committed Anglicans, some of whom may be not so loyal to our denomination.

There is nothing new in these observations. But the key to understanding them in depth may be to think about what it means for people to 'desire' something from the experience of being in church. My sense having crossed a culture or two in the past couple of months, is that what we desire from church may be shaped by our culture as much as by other, hopefully Spirit-fuelled desire.

To give a very general illustration. I see enough cultural desire within English culture for certain forms of Anglican worship to explain why some kinds of services there seem able to draw a full congregation when pretty much the same approaches in NZ fail to draw full congregations.

So one question, returning to NZ, is what is going on in our culture that the churches could better connect to?

It is not a new question. It has been rumbling around 'church growth' and 'mission strategy' discussions for years now. I guess I am returning with a renewed conviction that we need further discernment of our Kiwi culture and how the gospel of Christ connects with it.


Jean said...

Well there was a scheduled TV section during the Rugby entitled,
'The cup over-runneth' : )

And an add during the games where a Father uses his ipad to interfere with his teenagers romantic musical moment alongside the words:
'The music giveth and the music taketh away'

Okay serious, serious. Nature and creation seem to be close to the heart of most kiwi's. It is interesting how many local songs modern and old from NZ refer to creation and our association with the land.

I am glad you got a break!

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, what is all this about 'filling our churches'? Are we not supposed to be salt and light; the leaven in the lump? I, frankly, do not get the numbers game. If we clergy are being faithful to our calling, Loving God and God's children with ALL our heart and mind' soul and strength, and encouraging others to do the same, perhaps that is what God is asking us to do. To God be the glory, the victory and the majesty, the power and the strength: "Not unto us, O Lord..."

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron
I get the numbers game: when ALL churches have ZERO people in the pews then something has gone wrong with the plan for the world unveiled by God in Scripture. If ALL churches are filled 100% each Sunday around the world I imagine about 1% of the world would be in church. That would start to proximate to us being the Salt of the Earth and Light of the World!

Father Ron Smith said...

So, Peter, salt absoltely has to be 1% of every soup you make: i cup salt to 100 cups fluid? I seem to remember God chidng someone in the Scriptures for making a big 'do' of numbering God's people.

Also, it may just be that there are many more 'believers' outside of the walls of any Church than there are within its restrictive 'holy' borders. This would seem to also be the opinion of Pope Francis, who, at his recent talk to the people of Florence (at an 'outside' pulpit) urged the Church to be more inclusive, reaching out to ALL people.

If only the Institution of the Church could be seen to be more openly welcoming and encouraging of 'all sorts and conditions of women/men' - instead of insisting on 'good behaviour certificates'- the Good News of the Gospel might become more readily heard and embraced.

We need to take careful note of what fundamentalist, puritanical religion in ISIS and Al Qaeda are perpetuating in other parts of our world of today. And Jesus said: "Who are you calling holy? There is One, Alone Who is Holy". He also said: "They will know you're my disciples by your love".

Kurt said...

Over at “Episcopal CafĂ©” folks are talking numbers, Peter:

By this “outer circle” criteria, The Episcopal Church’s membership could be currently figured at about 5 million people, which is about the number of people in this country who “identify” with us according to Pugh Research of a couple of years ago. TEC actually uses a much more stringent measure of membership, however, than many Global South provinces.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Ron and Kurt
Numbers matter, I say again, at least in the sense that when numbers decline and no attention is paid to that, they mostly continue to decline, until, yea and behold, as we see dotted about our Kiwi landscape, churches are sold and become ... homes, restaurants, etc.

I see it as part of faithfulness to Christ and the Great Commission ( ... into ALL the world ...) to look around and ask, How are we doing? A measured answer to that question is not wrong!

Anonymous said...

(1) Ron obliquely proposes a difficult but truly worthwhile new numbers game: identify the several barriers to participation in the Body of Christ and estimate the numbers of those effected. If you don't play Ron's game, you risk removing imaginary obstacles at more or less expense and leaving real ones.

(2) Herewith, I propose another new numbers game, equally difficult and worthwhile: identify the different kinds-- sorts and conditions, if you prefer to break it down further-- of people who do participate, and count the ministries supporting each. If you don't play my game, you risk being a church that has deep appeal to a few segments defined by taste and socioeconomic status, but little or no presence in most of its society's constituencies.

Both fates are bad ones. Play the games. Play them to win.

Bowman Walton