The Church of England recently commissioned a major research program looking at church growth in its churches throughout Britain. The research asked where the church is growing, and why some churches grow while others decline. A series of reports was released and are available on the Internet at http://www.churchgrowthresearch.org.uk. This article is based on the summary report and the page numbers refer to pages in that report.
The report begins by noting that there are several dimensions to growth including the following:
- the holiness, transformation and commitment of members and churches (growth in depth of faith);
- the number of disciples of Jesus Christ (growth in numbers);
- the fruit of social righteousness and a transformed society (growth in the outworking of discipleship).
However, while growth in depth of faith and in the outworking of discipleship is mentioned, the major focus is on numerical growth.
The report emphasised that there was no single recipe for growth. Rather, there was a number of ingredients which were linked to growth such as: Context, leadership, a clear mission and purpose, self-reflection, willingness to change and adapt, active engagement of children and teenagers, and many more.
A number of churches had developed teams of people to plant new churches. In most cases, a larger church provided some financial and other resources with the expectation that the new church would become self-supporting within three to five years. The research identified several models of church planting. However, it noted that such planting activities commonly involved entrepreneurial and innovative approaches. It was important that they were relational and incarnational, welcoming, and involved families. Most plants focussed on local people, volunteering, attempting to be a healing presence, and used small groups in the growth.
Overall weekly attendance in 42 cathedrals across Britain grew by 35 per cent between 2002 and 2012. In particular, there was a doubling of the numbers of week-day attenders. It was suggested by the cathedral deans that growth was associated with the quality of worship, music, preaching, the hospitable and friendly atmosphere, exploring new patterns of service, spiritual openness and emphasis on families and young people (pp.21-22). It is notable that in a study of the attenders of four cathedrals, just half of the worshippers were regular in their involvement. It would appear that increasing numbers of people were dropping in occasionally.
There are also many factors that contribute to the decline of churches, such as: Failure to retain younger generations, amalgamation of congregations, burdensome buildings, stagnation, inappropriate leadership and unwillingness in congregations to change.
For more information see: Pointers, Volume 24, No. 2, Pages 9-11