Here are two reports from different Anglican dioceses around the world. One story illustrated why new types of churches are truly the hope of the future. It comforted me a lot.
New types of churches are the hope of the future
PART ONE: DECLINE IN SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA
The first story is not the one that I liked the most. It was from the Diocese of Sydney and was titled ‘Behind the drop in church attendance’, and in it Anglican priest Antony Barraclough tried to make sense of the drop in attendance at Anglican church services. from Sydney.
This caught my attention because even though declining religious affiliation is regularly reported across Australia, I often hear people looking to Sydney Anglicanism as a last bastion of growth and vitality.
It turns out that’s not the case.
In 2011, in an article titled “Why Aren’t We Growing Up?” Tony Payne reported that, based on average weekly attendance data for services of all ages, Anglican congregations in Sydney were growing at just around 1.4% a year. He then pointed out that the population of Sydney itself was increasing by around 0.9%.
In other words, at the time, Sydney’s Anglican growth had completely stalled. But now we hear that it is in decline.
In his most recent article, Reverend Barraclough attempts to question the reasons for this decline. None of the reasons he suggests have anything to do with Sydney’s Anglicanism itself. The problem pretty much boils down to “the world has changed and our hearts tend to wander”.
It recounts the influence of radical individualism since the sexual revolution, the emergence of Sunday shopping, etc. etc., but it sounds like he’s saying Sydney Anglicans just have to try harder to attend more often.
MEANWHILE, IN LEICESTER, ENGLAND…
The second story was on the other side of the world and illustrates hope for the future. The Diocese of Leicester in the UK reported this: “New forms of church are drawing thousands of worshipers to Leicestershire.” It’s a beautiful story of new life, creativity and freedom. Since 2011, the diocese has been working with an Anglican agency called Church Army to foster new expressions of church in their region.
First coined by Archbishop Rowan Williams and the Mission Shaped Church report in 2004, the term new phrases refers to new forms of church that are emerging in contemporary culture and cater primarily to those who do not go to church. They are new, pioneering and innovative approaches to doing and being a church, which often do not look like a “church” at all.
Hope for the future includes things like messy churches and heavy metal churches, as well as pub churches, micro churches, supper churches or house churches, and other missionary communities. They are true churches, true places of belonging and mission, the hope of the future. The people who attend them also don’t feel the need to go to a “normal” church on Sunday mornings.
Usually they are not led by ordained and paid clergy. Instead, new expressions are led by voluntary, unordained lay leaders. In Leicestershire, 66% of all key leaders were women, 85% of leaders were unpaid, 74% were unlicensed ‘lay’ leaders.
Since they started, there has been a 60% increase in the number of new expressions in the diocese. There was also a 63% increase in the number of people attending New Expression and a 77% increase in the number of New Expression attendees who were baptized.
Today 4,378 people are actively involved in 99 New Church Expressions in the Diocese of Leicester. In fact, more than one in four Anglican worshipers in the diocese attend a new form of church rather than a traditional church. And these new types of churches do not alienate people from the traditional Anglican parish. They reinforce each other.
The hope of the future
When I compare the Sydney and Leicester approaches, it appears that one diocese has decided that it doesn’t really need to change much about its churches – it just needs to encourage greater engagement on the part of its members – while the other diocese is ready to embrace experimentation and currency radicalism.
A diocese only ordains male clergy; the other releases women and men to serve in various forms. A diocese requires its clergy to complete rigorous theological study; other lay licenses and lay-lay leaders. A diocese complains that the culture has changed; the other develops forms of church that are shaped by a particular culture or context. A diocese is in decline; the other blooms with new life.
FINDING HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
I’ve been writing for a long time for the west church the hope for the future is to release and support fresh new expressions of the church.
I have seen many of these churches start up and not survive. I have often been criticized for encouraging an unsustainable movement. But I’m starting to think the tide is turning. After a few failed experiments by brave and brave souls who got started early (God loves them), we are starting to get it right, if Leicestershire is any indication.
It’s so encouraging. I am increasingly sure that I am right when I wrote this in 2006:
“For my part, I am happy to see the end of Christianity. I am glad that we can no longer rely on temporal and cultural supports to reinforce our message or the validity of our presence. I suspect that the growing marginalization of the Christian movement in the West is the very thing that will wake us up to the wonderfully exciting, dangerous and confronting message of Jesus. If we are exiles on foreign soil – post-Christian, postmodern, post-literate, etc. — so maybe it’s finally time to start living like exiles, as a pesky, fringe alternative to the dominant forces of our time. As the saying goes, “people know the way out”. (of
This article on how new types of churches are the hope of the future originally appeared hereand is used with permission.