not quite what it says on the tin
By Mr. D. P. Jay on Jul 25, 2013
At first sight, the title seems like a joke since everyone tells us that it is the conservative churches that are growing while other churches are accused of standing for nothing, watering down the gospel, dumbing down everything in a desperate attempt to survive. Thankfully, that's all stereotypes and propaganda. In any case, does numerical growth signify faithfulness? Jesus got crucified. Should his followers measure growth by success in numbers or by growth into following the cross? For a start, the powers-that-be, especially in the US, deal in single issues so that people who run for political office have to kow tow to these issues. However, ordinary people have several issues in their lives so they don't necessarily choose churches based on single issues but find the best fit and compromise on what doesn't fit. Furthermore, their issues change through out life. For example, if you have children it may be important for you to find s church with a good youth ministry. There's a good article about Sheffield's Nine o' Clock Service. Because it ended in scandal, there is not enough written about its success. There is an instructive essay by Pete Ward about why evangelicals seem to be successful these days. As this is a tradition about which I know very little, I found it very informative: Clearly the evangelical/charismatic sections of the Church are thriving. More than that they are entrepreneurial, ambitious, well funded and on something of a wave. This has not always been the case. In the 1930s evangelicalism was a small and somewhat ineffectual group within the Church of England. David Bebbington illustrates the weakness of the movement by pointing out that in this decade there was not a single episcopal appointment from among evangelical ranks. In 1944 Max Warren, general secretary of the Church Missionary Society could lament that 'all too commonly today an Evangelical in the Church of England is a person labouring under a sense of frustration and discouragement often so deep as to engender ... an inferiority complex'. In a period when other sections of the Church have experienced a loss of confidence and decline, how have evangelicals managed to buck the trend? I would like to suggest that the answer is very simple: youth ministry.....Even before the Second World War evangelicals were clear that the future lay in ministry among young people. Working largely outside of parish or formal church life a series of youth ministries had begun to emerge. The most important of these came from the unlikely and rarefied context of the leading English public schools. In 1932 a young Anglican clergyman named Eric Nash was appointed by CSSM (the Children's Special Service Mission) to lead a section of their work know as the Varsities and Public School Camps (or VPS). Bash, as he was known, followed a very single-minded policy. He was called, he said, to minister to the small group of privileged upper-middle-class young people found in the elite public schools of the day. His reason for this was strategic. If he could win significant numbers of these young people for Christ they would in turn have a disproportionate impact on the life of the nation, because overwhelmingly the leaders of the academy, the military and indeed the Church of England, were drawn from this group. At the heart of this ministry lay a number of very important commitments and values. First, Bash stressed the importance of building long-term relationships with young people. Secondly, he formed patterns of ministry which encouraged young people to develop as Christian leaders. He trained these leaders 'on the job' as evangelists, preachers and pastoral workers. Thirdly, while maintaining an unswerving commitment to a particular expression of the faith he was quite prepared for this to be located in a style and cultural form which connected to the social norms of the young people with whom he was working. The result of this ministry was quite extraordinary. Bash effectively trained a whole generation of evangelical Anglican clergy.... For over 80 years evangelicals have prioritized work with young people..... When I first came to Oxford in 1983 there were probably four of us working as youth ministers in the churches. None of us had received a formal training for our role. We had to form a pressure group to persuade the local diocesan youth officer to recognize us in any formal way. Today there are more than 30 full-time paid youth ministers in Oxford city alone. There is also a degree-level training course linked to Oxford Brookes University..... The numbers of young people involved in charismatic/evangelical churches come directly from this long history. There is no quick fix in youth work: the festivals and bands and so on may seem to be the answer, but in reality they are just the icing on the cake. Youth ministry is about the willingness to spend time with young people, listen to them and share your life with them. Evangelicals have been doing this for years, and n this is why their churches are full of young people and young adults....There doesn't seem to be any reason why those from a more catholic or liberal tradition in the Church might not embark on a similar journey. The thousands of young people who flock to Taize would indicate that it is not just charismatics who can connect to young people. What is interesting about Taize is that it has maintained an authenticity in its community life, theology and worship, and yet it has responded to young people. It has done this by becoming more than a monastic community. Indeed, the process of engaging with young people has helped the authentic culture of the community to develop around the particular commitments of Brother Roger and in response to a much wider global and ecclesial scene. It is worth comparing Taize to Alpha or to the New Wine Network. Alpha and New Wine have both grown out of a local parish church: Alpha from Holy Trinity Brompton and New Wine from St Andrew Chorleywood. What these parish churches have achieved is that they have become more than a local church..... Richard Holloway once remarked that evangelicals were characterized by a willingness to embrace bad taste for the sake of the gospel . It is an amusing and telling observation, not simply for what it says about evangelicals but also for what it may imply about Holloway and others in the Church. It was youth ministry and a commitment to young people that has led evangelicals to express faith in terms of popular culture. Holloway and others may feel that a commitment to taste goes hand in hand with their version of faith. The challenge really lies in the extent to which such a commitment is dysfunctional for the long-term health of the Church. My sense is that for Holloway and others involved in the Church a link has been made between particular forms of Anglican spirituality and worship and notions of 'high culture'. The problem is that good taste can be less than helpful for youth ministers and the young people they seek to involve in Christian worship and Church life. It is my sense that the location of certain forms of Church life in an aesthetic formed by a particular view of culture has held sections of the Church back from a real engagement with young people. The willingness of charismatic/evangelical Christians to utilize methods of communication from popular culture and then to incorporate these into the worshipping life of the Church has in turn been one of the reasons for their success. The challenge then for the wider Church is how do we with integrity and authenticity to our tradition connect with and communicate within a media-constructed consumer culture? I am convinced that it is only when creative energy and resources are given over to finding solutions to this question that we will see vibrant and renewed churches outside of the charismatic/evangelical scene. Interestingly the success of the cathedrals is firmly located in good taste, but it utilizes consumer culture through the increasingly commercial and sophisticated world of classical music. This should suggest that there are ways for a creative and innovative parishes to connect with young people in their neighbourhood without the vicar resorting to an ill-advised baseball cap and attempting to rap the sermon..... I would want to suggest two ways forward. For the liberal tradition it seems clear that a concern for social justice and a commitment to the environment and ecological issues are echoed strongly in many aspects of youth culture. Young people in the main would sympathize with the agenda of many within the Church. Indeed there are organizations, such as Amnesty International and CND, who have generated their own culture and creativity from engaging with young people. Surely the Christian Church can follow this lead and develop spiritualities and Church life which link these worlds together? For those in the catholic tradition I am sympathetic that identity and =` liturgical practice are linked together. This makes innovations in worship such as those associated with the charismatic movement particularly problematic. At the same time there is considerable evidence that there is a groundswell in the wider youth culture and among a large number of young Christians towards a more ritual-based, sacramental form of worship. On the whole, catholics in the Church of England have been outside of these devel
Church Growth for Liberal Churches
By T. Rymer on Mar 10, 2008
This book claims to "Explode the myth that only conservative churches are growing." So says the back of the book. In the introduction the editors state, "We want to set the record straight. So many commentators assume blithely that the only growing churches are the evangelical and fundamentalist ones. Yet those of us in the mainline, progressive churches know that this is not the case." Unfortunately for them, the overall message was not that liberal churches are growing, but that they are by and large stagnant and in need of revitalization. This notion underlines most of the dialogue within the book as most of the chapters either offer suggestions as to why some liberal churches have grown, attempt to offer keys to growth, or outline case studies where the methods have worked. The assumption is that most liberal churches are not growing and so those who have had some success present their experience in the hopes that more will follow suit. In the end this book amounts to a second-class liberal version of the church growth movement and even references Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Church and Fuller Theological Seminary on more than one occasion. The bottom line is that we are once again told to believe the local church is a business. Thus if one uses the right methods he (or in this case also she) can gain more market share. Will someone please stop the madness? Don't waste your time or your money.