Monday, October 13, 2008

How the church can rise again

The last post was gloomy-ish, but hopefully realistic. I believe our church can rise again, so our question must be: How can the Anglican church rise again?

In attempting to answer this question I am trying to hold a vision for our whole Diocese, and all of ACANZP, rather than focusing on how one or two parishes can have a surge in growth. Put in another way, the challenge I see is this: individual parishes have had and continue to have remarkable sustained growth where certain factors collude together: e.g. urban location, outstanding ministry leader, at least one element of excellence (great music, outstanding preaching etc), superb support through staff and lay leadership teams, and (I notice this these days) a "banker", an individual or three prepared to open their cheque books in significant ways.

But, just taking the regional element of our church I am most familiar with, the Diocese of Nelson, we have twenty-six parishes, with only five being wholly urban in demographic character, and several of our parishes are in places which people love to visit as tourists but are not so keen to commit to making a home there! Our chance of getting 26 ministry "stars" simultaneously into roles of vicar or priest-in-charge are slim.* We need a strategy which incorporates such 'stars' but also builds on other factors of a more ordinary kind.

The following comment to the previous post offers some helpful clues:

"I wonder if there are other factors from the wider antipathetic culture that are hindering evangelicalism from being as effective as it could. A couple of random thoughts:
- Have personal devotional lives become too thin and lax, and maybe too individualistic, for many church members? Do we need to rediscover the discipline of praying and reading the Bible together? A passion for winning others for Christ can only be born in prayer and the sad belief that others are lost without him. It needs to be daily discipline of each Christian to ask the Lord to give him or her at least one conversation with another person about faith in the course of the week.
- What would Nelson be like if it had its own diocesan high school, a place where Christian faith was openly taught and practiced among the young?"

In other words for the church to rise again, there is something every member of the church can do through a renewed personal devotional life, leading to a renewed passion for evangelism; and there is a diocesan initiative, establishing a diocesan high school (we have no Anglican schools in our Diocese), which could bear fruit over the long-term. Personally I think this idea is worth exploring, and we have done a little bit of thinking in the Diocese about an educational initiative. Through our eldest daughter being a student at a recently established Catholic high school, Garin College, I have seen first-hand how such a school builds and strengthens church life across a region. Incidentally, Garin College, which includes boarding houses, draws pupils from a catchment area almost exactly the same as our diocesan area.

There is something else to say which I shall post soon, and it builds out from a correspondent's comment re preaching and good men; and some reading I have been doing in the Acts of the Apostles.

*To be clear: I do not see myself as a 'star' with respect to leadership of a growing church. I had a good stint as a vicar 1995-2001 and am looking forward to returning to parish ministry in 2010. Some recent work on Diocesan statistics during 1995-1997 has confirmed that we had some 'stars' in those years, with some noticeable spikes in attendance statistics, though not in the parish of which I was vicar! Each of these stars had what I call an 'impactive personality' and contributed to one or more excellent elements in ministry. The same work on Diocesan statistics, incidentally, demonstrates that some parishes have had some remarkably stable attendance figures through periods with difficult ministry leadership: it would be as interesting to work out what has contributed to resiliance as it is to work out what contributes to outstanding growth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Peter, thanks for responding to my previous comment, and be of good cheer! I pray that BTC will be an instrument under God for revitalizing the diocese as well as the national church. And having worked in an Anglican faith school where a good number of the children are from church-going families (by no means only or perhaps even mainly Anglican), I do believe this can be a means of building up Christian community and laying a foundation of faith and worship in the rising generation. Which is to say that teaching also is a Christian vocation and reaching the young with the Gospel (or even just a praeparatio evangelica) is difficult but rewarding work. I suspect some Anglican schools are more Anglican/Christian in 'heritage' than in fact, but it doesn't have to be that way - and certainly not in Nelson!
And I want to say a heart Amen to good soul-stirring, intelligent biblical preaching! I know that Wycliffe Hall in England has had its problems of late, but one of the concerns of the new principal is to turn out much better preachers than may have been the case in recent years.