Comments: church attendance

The minister of my last parish commented last year that they had solved the problem of people who come only for Christmas, Easter and special events like Baptisms. They had complained to the people so often that they only show up for these events, that the people listened and stopped coming to those too.

When I was young, people used to see that coming to church was a sign that God was moving to bring you back into a relationship with God. People found it easier to heed God at Christmas and Easter, but if they trusted God they would find it easier to hear his call in the other parts of his life too. It used to be an encouragement to see how many weeks after Christmas and Easter they would come this year, and the parish would rejoice as they came to more and more weeks as the years went by.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Wednesday, 18 October 2006 at 8:46pm BST

Dr. Williams has sent out his appeal to "save" Canterbury Cathedral. Perhaps the masses will come flocking back to the parishes on the winds of such an auspicious and elegant appeal. As another goad to attendance the CoE should include seek a word inserts. The mystery words could be selections of Dr. Williams' uncannily dense pronouncements on this or that matter of burning Anglican issues, surely the makings of a puzzle for the ages.

As we say at sea, heave to!

The AoM

Posted by The Admiral of Morality at Wednesday, 18 October 2006 at 10:46pm BST

Thank Goodness Jesus' message speaks of the Kingdom / Commonwealth of the heavens !!

The secret growing of the seed,the generosity of the muslim* incomer while the bishops 'pass by on the other side', the hidden treasures of the heart, the widow's mite & the poor in cash or in spirit are incalculable. As are all those who brake bread with thanksful hearts; not to mention the 2s and the 3s gathered together in the spirit of love, generosity or joy...

Posted by laurence at Thursday, 19 October 2006 at 8:51am BST

I know that there are many factors governing the decline of church attendance. But how can it help to to continue to alienate those who are gay or lesbian? If we take the conservative estimate of 5% of the population as being gay, we, in the UK, are speaking millions of people who are denigrated and vilified by the church, and feel there is no place for them within its doors. But it is not just they who are alienated by the church's stance. Add to the number the parents who love their gay son or lesbian daughter, their brothers and sisters, their friends, their work colleagues, the majority of whom are absolutely uncomprehending as to what the problem is. We are talking of many more millions. Are they any more likely to be attracted to the church when they hear such hateful words about those they love and esteem? I recently met a young gay man (16 years old). He knew very little about the church, but did know one thing, 'They are anti-gay, aren't they' he said to me, challenging why I would want to be assosciated with such an organistation. Trying to explain to him the complexities of the situation just left him mystified. I suggest he is not untypical of most young people and alot of older folk, who don't know very much about the church, but know one thing: it is 'anti-gay'. The Episcopal Church in the US understands these issues, I suggest, and is trying to address them in an inclusive way. We in England seem intent on turning these millions of people away. Yes, certain evangelical churches are growing - but I suggest they will only go so far. The are taking numbers from a diminishing pool of people, most of whom are turning their back on the church. If you look at your history books, you will see the English have never really taken to the Puritans, and always managed to stop them seizing the church we loved. Are they going to succeed now and further the Church of England's decline into an irrelevant sect? That is the question we face here in England today as regards the mission of the church and reversing its decline.

Posted by AlaninLondon at Thursday, 19 October 2006 at 12:59pm BST

If we who do not fit and are not conformed are banned from following Jesus of Nazareth inside the CoE or other Anglican churches, then simply we will try to follow outside, as indeed we do try to follow outside in daily life. I would/will miss the generosity of getting to see just about everybody, sooner or later, around the Lord's Table - is not God already sorting out the wheat and the tares in all of our lives? - and greatly will miss that grateful chance to marvel at how God works so variously in different believer's lives. But conformity and generosity around the themes of peace and goodwill will continue to affect our survival on this little planet, much more than conformity and narrowness in pledging to flat earth theories of sexuality and human nature.

Most post-industrialized national surveys are showing the younger generations get it; and since they already know people who are out and queer or trans, they have fewer axes to grind about exclusion. Why bother? It truly isn't worth all the animosity and institutional effort.

This is just where chaplaincy/mission models of gathering faith community might come into play. Or, in some places in USA, an emerging virtual church movement wherein nobody needs to build a separate church building for God, and people prefer to transform by their witness/worship and living the buildings they already inhabit in a day's rounds.

Posted by drdanfee at Friday, 20 October 2006 at 3:47pm BST

The figures show that whilst there are fewer people, those who are left attend more often. Thus the fringe is being lost, presumably often part of the "other" - in the Church of England the evangelicals are declining by just under 1%, the Catholics by just under 1.5% and other by some 2.25%. The other is the interesting figure: I doubt that dedicated liberals are declining by any more than dedicated evangelicals, but the odd matter is that these other dedicated types are going too, presumably to other churches (and numbers of dedicated liberals transferring to Unitarians and Quakers, for example, are tiny - far more are dying and leaving; my knowledge of Unitarianism is that the central structure is beginning to crack under cost cutting and reorganising that is necessary as chapels continue to empty out).

In educational terms, religion is about the abstract and many people consider the abstract questions in life only rarely. Life is now fully practical. At one time in a past culture people believed in forces outside themselves (like God) making alterations to everyday and vital experiences (like food growth and weather; and danger of early deaths, disease: and when life is short people start to think it must continue in some other realm). But now there are practical this worldly solutions to everything, and when people are superstitious it is like throwing a switch for the time being. I've often encountered religious people throwing a switch, beliefs that will be defended when challenged and yet seem to have nothing to do with the ordinary language and beliefs of negotiating the every day.

This outside practicality is the Secular City beyond Barth and Bonhoeffer (for those abstract types like me who reflect back); it is rather a set of beliefs that have one slot when that space is being occupied, to be lost elsewhere.

One drag towards thinking more consistently, and keeping the switches throwing, is of course the formal content of belief as in a surface reading of liturgy.

Now there are consistent people, including some dedicated evangelicals and Catholics, and consistency is a source of liberalism and radicalism. The question is whether anyone is teaching this kind of consistency and how it can be done, and whether this might encourage some who are on the fringe to think abstractly and see some connections between faith, the religious process and everyday life.

Even the liberals will be sectarian, in one esoteric sect called the Church of England for example, doing peculiar liturgies that no one outside can understand or why they are even being done. Traditionalists and evangelicals of course build high walls, walls of other belief that deter even if, in the latter case, they create a way in through copying the entertainment culture within worship (but Church of England practices prevents this being absolute). They will be sectarian, but even the liberals are.

I notice in On Christian Theology (2000), Rowan Williams talks about celebratory theology - from the churches' activities, communicative theology - relating to the world outside, and critical theology - academic approaches that can be conservative, agnostic and nihilist, but really it is about time that theology was communicative to those inside, never mind outside, and about time they were able to be confident in being critical and able to explore. Then the gap might be closed between the content of formal liturgy, which is one thing, and what people actually think in every day life, which is often quite another.

Posted by Pluralist at Friday, 20 October 2006 at 4:48pm BST

I wonder if God creates special little havens for ultrapuritans in heaven? A small little reality where they are not confronted with the presence of those who they condemned and harassed in this lifetime. I often contemplate that these boxes are made of one-way glass. Where the rest of us can look in and be reassured that they are there, but they can not see beyond and so are not shocked by God's inclusive love. Snicker.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Friday, 20 October 2006 at 9:59pm BST

I know that there are many factors governing the decline of church attendance. But how can it help to to continue to alienate those who are pagan or animist? If we take the conservative estimate of 5% of the population as being pagan, we, in the UK, are speaking millions of people who are denigrated and vilified by the church, and feel there is no place for them within its doors.

The only thing that stops the CoE being universally popular is our failure to abandon all doctrines that upset people who don't subscribe to our beliefs. If we just continue to chip away, people are bound to be eventually convinced by our confidence, our rejection of fashion and the eternal truth of our message.

We just need to be nicer.

Posted by John at Friday, 20 October 2006 at 11:09pm BST

What you are describing is essentially hell, though it doesn't resemble the cosmic torture chamber that neo-puritan revenge fantasies concoct. The neo-Puritans don't know they're in hell, but they are. Not much wrong with this particular hell. The people in it are missing some of their more interesting brothers and sisters. Perhaps, the Holy Spirit will continue to knock on their hearts until they are able to receive the whole Gospel. And then for them, the wall is broken down, much as Christ broke down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile on the cross.

Posted by Bill Carroll at Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 1:59am BST

"I often contemplate that these boxes are made of one-way glass. Where the rest of us can look in and be reassured that they are there, but they can not see beyond and so are not shocked by God's inclusive love."

Oh, I think not. God is much more loving than that. We will all be at the great wedding feast, seated so that we will always be nearest those we most quarreled with in this life, and we will keep saying, as more and more come to the banquet, "OH! You are here! I'll bet you didn't think to see me! Neither did I think I'd be here. Have some wine?"

Posted by Cynthia Gilliatt at Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 4:28am BST

Thanks Pluralist, that was terrific! I'd like to read more of your writing ...

Posted by laurence at Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 10:14am BST

You guys are absolutely hilarious. You just dont have the faintest, tiniest clue why you are in terminal decline and why Churches that actually preach unimportant things like, ooh I dont know, following the Bible maybe (?) are increasing their congregations.

HINT: There's a small clue for you in that last sentence. But feel free to dismiss it, after all I'm just an ignorant atheist sniggering at a bunch of Christians telling each other the only way to save their Church is to ignore the Bible.

Posted by dangerouslysubversivedad at Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 10:33am BST

Who suggested we ignore the Bible? And who suggested that Church growth was automatically a sign of faithfulness? You can grow the Church by telling a bunch of likeminded people what they want to here and by confirming their prejudices. Or the preaching of the Gospel can convert people to a new way of life.

Posted by Bill Carroll at Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 2:14pm BST

Thank you Laurence. My website, Learning Area, Religion contains a jumble of things from the academic to the school RE resource to the chatty. I am currently trying to do a review of Cupitt's (July 2006) The Old Creed and the New, London: SCM Press and then find somewhere to send it as well as put it on my website.

Some of that thinking is in my comment above: I kind of agree with Cupitt yet with a long string of buts, and the issue arises about being religious as a process and a necessary (?) archaism in language in order to be religious, this being a critique of Cupitt's latest turn. So this is why the final sentence of my comment above is more of a problem than a solution.

I've experienced liberal alternatives and how they do and do not work (Unitarians) and the confusions in timid adjustments and whether more than timid adjustments would work. It comes down, probably, to understanding the difference between liturgical activity as a process and actual theological thinking, and having an active understanding of remythologising as the religious process. We are in complicated times, and the abstract level involved does raise problems for a communicative religion, and yet the churches are almost nowhere in doing any kind of work of communicating theology in an open manner. If it doesn't do this effort the simplicities will become stifling as they are churned again and again into absolutes.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 2:17pm BST

Funny, the more traditional interpretations of the Gospel filled the pews for, oooh, hundreds of years. Your version, your 'new way of life'...with all due respect it doesnt seem to be working all that well by comparison does it? The CofE v.2006 has never been more unpopular, never been more disliked by Christians in general, and has certainly never ever been laughed at so much by the populace of the country it began in. What does that tell you?

I have no stake in this as an atheist. But the sarcastic comments that 'John' makes above are 100% the public at large's perception of 'Thinking' Anglicans. Which is why you are in such terminal decline.

Posted by dangerouslysubversivedad at Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 6:30pm BST

And we are talking about tiny numbers in any case.

The only growth industries in religious terms are new age and secularism

Posted by Merseymike at Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 6:33pm BST

I think, Mr Carroll, if you were to look at the correspondent's blog , you might conclude either that he does not quite share the same planet as most of hom. sap. sap or (and more probably) that he's practising his wind-up skills. Either way, it's probably best not to encourage him by taking him too seriously.

Posted by David Rowett (=mynsterpreost) at Saturday, 21 October 2006 at 9:45pm BST

Ooooh that was just mean! I'm almost hurt that someone so obviously in tune with the feelings of his potential congregation that they are charging away in the opposite direction as fast their faith and legs will carry them thinks I am on another planet lol.

And yes, that was me practicing my windup skills yet further. Though Liberal Anglicans are such a huge target I can't miss even from all the way out here on my Nasty Right-Wing Planetoid.

Posted by dangerouslysubversivedad at Sunday, 22 October 2006 at 9:46am BST

Well, the aversion of dangerouslysubversivedad to fundamentalism evidenced on his blog is such that his espousal of the merits of fundamentalism in a Christian frame is positively Machiavellian/Dawkinsian — and I salute his ingenuity.

After all, it'd never do to have an expression of Christianity which did not require that, up-on finding God one had to bid farewell to one's marbles:-))

Posted by David Rowett (=mynsterpreost) at Sunday, 22 October 2006 at 6:52pm BST

fantastic - I do not need to comment becaue the atheist is talking common sense!

Posted by NP at Monday, 23 October 2006 at 8:48am BST

There is a huge disparity between differences of opinions between souls committed to trying to help the world and trusting God and Jesus to help, than people who simply come to stir up the pot because they enjoy creating dissension. The former at least have the credibility of trying to be part of the solution, even when they vehemently disagree with others. The latter are simply trouble makers that every sensible village learns to recognise and leave on the margins with their piles of rubble. Such souls if they were not taking pot shots at us would be taking them at women, people from different ethnic origins. Take comfort that their families find them difficult to tolerate as well, assuming they could even get married. And the ones that tell you they are happily married with the lovely spouse and kids are either lying or have their family so fearful that they are too scared to do anything to rock the boat and upset the family's public image.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Monday, 23 October 2006 at 10:01am BST

I stand corrected. There are some people who would rather consort with people like this than with those who acknowledge God and Jesus. For the rest of us, we can chuckle at David Kuo's book "Tempting Faith: A story of political seduction". Some of my favourite highlights from various reviews and an amazon link can be found here

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Monday, 23 October 2006 at 12:35pm BST

How can it help to continue to insist upon the Ten Commandments, thus alienating those people who are adulterers, murderers etc ? If we take the figure of 30% of the UK male population as having a criminal record, there will be millions of ordinary thieves and idolaters who feel that there is no place for them ...

[Laban sends his regards]

Posted by Mike Jericho at Monday, 23 October 2006 at 1:36pm BST

"Funny, the more traditional interpretations of the Gospel filled the pews for, oooh, hundreds of years."

Is that's what it was? So making it socially unacceptable, at times even illegal, not to go to Church had nothing to do with it? Linking social, political, and economic success to church attendance was meaningless? All those people went to Church for love of the Gospel as Conservatives think it was interpreted back then? No-one was so messed up that they were easily manipulated by a message of "believe or burn"? You know, informed atheism is OK, most of the people I know fit that category. You, however..... As to John, he seems to get it about as much, or little, as you do.

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 23 October 2006 at 2:22pm BST

Thats because you are both extremists, NP. Black or white, in or out, right or wrong.

So out of touch with emerging postmodern society in the West

Posted by Merseymike at Monday, 23 October 2006 at 3:05pm BST

The full pews of Olde Englande are something of a romantic dream. Martyn Percy, now principal of Cuddesdon theological college, did quite a bit of research on churchgoing habits of the past and found that the rosy dreams were just that. It was, for example, quite normal for a warden to get the parson out of bed on a Sunday if (and I stress the word 'if')anyone had turned up for divine service.

It wasn't quite the Christian utopia in those heady pre-liberal days that some would have us believe in!

Posted by David Rowett (=mynsterpreost) at Monday, 23 October 2006 at 6:27pm BST

"So out of touch with emerging postmodern society in the West"

So? Frankly, there's a lot of post modern society I would only be too glad not to touch.

Posted by Ford Elms at Monday, 23 October 2006 at 8:58pm BST

And to continue on Ford and Davids' themes. There were also issues about getting work and where you would get work (e.g. in Australia some businesses were known as "catholic" and others as "protestant"). Then there was the question of getting a suitable marriage - being known as a contributor to the church community elevated a girl's status and thus suitability as a bride, and boys who were to church were also see as more suitable.

To a large extent the latter still happens today, and I have no issue with that. What did happen then was that society was more arbitrary on who was worthy of respect and who wasn't. Being on the "wrong side of the tracks" had much more serious connotations then than it does now.

Mind you, there are some souls who long for the good old days and it would be lovely to bring forward the best of those traditions. But I say no to the traditions of wife or child abuse, social apartheid, indifference to poverty, xenophobia.

One of the beauties of this period is that the victims of circumstances do not have to be permanently scarred by events that are imposed upon them. For example, a woman doesn't have to take responsibilty for being raped, a woman whose abusive husband leaves her is able to rebuild a life with dignity. I like Ezekiel 18 and think one of the beauties of this period is that the soul who commits the sin is the soul who takes responsibility for the sin, not their wife, not their son nor the parent. To paraphrase 18:30 the Lord will judge each one of us according to our own ways.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Monday, 23 October 2006 at 9:59pm BST

Mike Jericho, forgive me -all my life I'd thought (with Wm Temple)that "the Church exists for the sake of its none members" !
Furthermore, I believe a ne'er-do-well Jew with a capital criminal record also consorted with criminals, murderers, prostitutes and quizzlings. But then he wasn't even a Church member, either himself....

Lovely to have word of Laban too.

Posted by laurence at Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 12:18am BST

Here is my memory of a discussion in a church group earlier (I'm still awake):

Now what are we supposed to do, as an apparent means of boosting church attendance numbers: imagine it is otherwise? Is religion forced to be a kind of false conversation, devoid of historical method and critical thinking? There are several variant outcomes to the conversation: that is how it is.

If you take a tradition and expand into it, sift it out and ask a few questions, then others might say, "Hang on this might be quite interesting."

Not that everything is about thinking, of course. But asking someone, "What do you think?" is one way of valuing that person.

In the end I don't care if it is an atheist or a believer (or something else): I'd just ask what they make of it.

It is like all this stuff about evangelising: it is put so often that there is this "package" and out you go to aggressively bang it on someone else's head. Rather, I call it conversation, and if I go out evangelising they might end up changing me.

Posted by Pluralist at Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 2:29am BST

Merseymike, David and Ford - my large "fundamentalist" (in your eyes) Anglican church is too full and that is after it has started 5 other churches in the last 5 years...... IN ENGLAND (not Africa!!!) - amazing what God does when we listen to him!

Also, we regularly see English atheists come along .....hear the Word and many become Christians - again, amazing what God does even in the West!

So, don't ignore the atheist. He is telling us that the baseless "beleive what you like, live how you will and be a nice person" message has no attraction to people like him....and his more like most Brits than we are! Give the atheist the respect he deserves - he has something to teach us.

Posted by NP at Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 7:32am BST

"beleive what you like, live how you will and be a nice person"

NP. This is getting a bit much. Who teaches this? Who ever said this was Christianity? Certainly not me, or most other people on this list, as far as I can see. Pretending that we do so that you can dismiss it is pretty much bearing false witness. I have never heard "liberals" say this either. In fact, there is always great concern for following the Tradition. There is a great deal of patristics in what most "liberals" say, numerous citations of the Fathers, Scripture, and on and on. I read recently: "Traditionalists are people who know nothing of the Tradition and fight to defend the social conventions of several decades ago."

If you truly believe this is what "liberals" believe, you have been led astray. Who taught you this? How many "liberals" have you spoken to? Do you seriously feel the line I quoted is descriptive of the discussion here? Which of us has said "believe what you like"? Or maybe you feel that listening to anything written after the final full stop of Revelation is "following the traditions of men" and the Fathers mean nothing. Let me assure you, considering the Bible to be not just the most authoritative but only source of Christian teaching is following the traditions of men, and men who lived a lot later than the Fathers. And, again, full churches don't mean faithful believers. I have no idea which parish you're in, let alone who your members are, and why they're there is none of my business. If Evangelical style worship and practice is the only true Christianity, then I'll go off and be a Buddhist. I find nothing in it that inspires me, nothing that puts the fire in my belly, nothing that represents the God who loved me when I ignored Him, and drew me back to Him when the time came. Sorry, but if your kind of Christianity is the only kind, then the only thing left for me is dispair if I stay. I know it isn't, though, so don't worry, I'll be at the table for a long time yet.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 11:55am BST

NP ; you are part of a local 'star church'. They exist in every area. But their expansion doesn't even begin to match those lost to the Church, yet alone the huge numbers outside who feel that it is either entirely alienating to them or that it has nothing to say to them.

What you fail to understand is that there always has been and always will be a market for conservative Christianity.But its very much a minority sport and repels far more than it attracts. If you don't realise that, try talking to those outside and find out what they really think.

Posted by Merseymike at Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 5:37pm BST

Ford, thank you for taking the time to do a long posting. It is so annoying to have someone describe what you are and then attack their description and then claim victory over you. It is slanderous, based on errancy, and simply sloppy thinking. It is no wonder they have had to rely on censorship and suppression, because if people can talk and read material from those who have been stereotyped, they find out that we are not the cartoon figures as described by slanderers, are much more diverse, sophisticated and complicated than we are portrayed. They also find out that we have strong morals and sense of what is just and fair, and that in many ways it is far more compassionate and merciful and consistent with Jesus' exhortations. Thus they rely on us not having a voice, so that they can slander us as "failures". They win the awards of this world, but have no credibility in the courts of truth.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 6:30pm BST

'Being anice person' has a lot to be said for it. This is my own aspiration...

Posted by laurence at Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 6:54pm BST

NP the Atheist ' is probably a C of E bishop !

Pluralist that was terrific ! Thaty's how I certainly think of doing theology / theol. reflection rather than having a package dumped on one !

Betty Edwards' books have much light to shed on all this...--- but we'll have to roll our sleaves up !

Posted by laurence at Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 7:00pm BST

John seems to think there was once a golden age of church attendance ! --or is he or she being disingenuous ?! Probably !....

And he is no more ( -or less ! atheist than me !)

Posted by laurence at Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 7:05pm BST

It's not that I take the time to do a long post, it's that I am constitutionally verbose and unable to shut up.

Posted by Ford Elms at Tuesday, 24 October 2006 at 8:35pm BST

Ford - I know lots of "liberals"....on Synods!

And yes, I know "liberals" who teach little more than "be nice and you can do and think what you like as long as nobody is harmed."
My chaplain at Cambridge University years ago was just like that - and no, it was not the current ABC! (Chapel was empty, CU was full!) Many people in the synods are like that....and never seem to make the link between the lack of people coming to hear what they teach and what they are teaching...some blame the full evo churches and others even blame the poor old general public! It's always somebody else's fault......

Posted by NP at Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 7:34am BST

But the nature of being on a Synod says something about the character of the soul. By its nature it means accepting and/or choosing to be part of organizational politics. There are some "liberals" who eschew organizational politics and could almost be called anarchistic in their wariness of organizations. I've seen a number of articles recently that have referred to Jesus as an anarchistic vagrant who hung around with his mates and the outcastes. And his acts such overturning of the tables in the temple and blunt rebuttals to establishment figures was not the behaviour of someone who longed to be in the "in" crowd. Further,God calls some people to be "outside" the system so they can act as the conscience to the system e.g. Isaiah 49:2 These souls will not be found wheeling and dealing in the synod.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 10:54am BST

Among the people I know, I am the only one who goes to church. Everyone else has an almost violent hatred for the Church, and everyone will say in no uncertain terms that it is because of legalistic attitudes like yours. One friend refers to Christianity as "a dispicable religion". He thinks that way because of his experience of the Church. Doesn't that bother you? If people believe false things about your dearest friend, would you rather confirm all that they believe or help them see the truth?They have experienced the liberating Gospel of Christ as a tool of oppression, something that I believe the Church will be called to answer for one day. So it is not only liberals who must answer for the fact that the majority of people in Western society are not interested in Christianity. I feel very much as you do about wishy washy "liberal" Christianity. I just don't see how Evangelicalism is helping the situation. Again, there are many reasons why people go to church, and not all of them have to do with the Gospel. There are many reasons why people don't go, but in my experience, they all have to do in some way or another with the oppressive legalism that you seem to think is "True Christianity".

Posted by Ford Elms at Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 11:52am BST

Ford - your friend's reaction does not bother me. He does not know me! He is your friend and I am sure you are showing him that he is wrong through your life and words.

As you know, the parable of the sower explains certain reactions and predicts most will be negative but the fact remains that even in postmodern, theologically ignorant England, I see time and time again that those outside the church do come and stay when they are given the Biblical message without compromise and with love. This is why I do not believe we evos put people off.....we have lots of them coming in every year, coming from nowhere to is humbling to see.

Posted by NP at Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 12:39pm BST

oh dear -- not only is my religion wishy-washy in both its(non)theory and practice, but also I hope one day to morph into a nice person ( if at all poss).

There's an awful lot in the bible that ain't very nice, including some some not very nice characters-including one 'Yahweh' --but he only occurs in translations into 'English' by Christians. You won't find tradtional marriage much either --you know as defined by President Bush & Canon Harmon --'one man, one woman'. In fact, you'll find most forms of heterosexual coupling imaginable (and some that are not!,

You will also find deceit,robbery, invasion, genocide--and some handy hints on how to stay ritually Pure.

After that lot, wishy-washyness is a positve relief! Howe I wish a few muslim pratitioners of suicide were more wishy-washy. How I wish Joseph Ratzinger, the Archbishop of Cardiff and the RC denomination, George Carey, and some anglican prelates were more wishy-washy. If only 'the Archbishops' Council' had been wishy-washy they would have done less harm, to fewer persons.

As for 'nicer'--lets leave taht to another time !

Posted by laurence at Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 3:53pm BST

My partner and I attended evensong in a Welsh cathedral, the service was 'up in the Quire' as there were about 7 old ladies, an old man and an organist and a Dean.
How I enjoyed the ferial responses and Welsh hymns. How moved I was, to tears in fact (for all the wrong wishy washy reasons probably).

Did the tiny numbers, the great age, the genders and the very ancient 'non-state' language invalidate the whole thing? Perhaps my own 52 years of regular church attendance marks me out, as unkool, passe and not what the brave new Anglican regime requires? That morning I had sat in silence, for over an hour, with a group of about 3o odd Quakers. The silence couldn't fool me -- I fear they were a thoroughly nice, thoroughly wishy washy group -- more concerned about equalities, racism, the environment, 'that of God in every one' (whatever that is) -- and with a deplorable disinclination towards Christology, eschatology, sexual purity policing, and the exercise regimes of angels....

Posted by laurence at Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 4:10pm BST


Your passion got away with you, don't drag the angels into power hungry men's oppressive paradigms. There's the odd bad one and it is more polite to criticize them by name than to overgeneralize the whole group. Even people of faith like to be distinguished from violence mongerers - e.g. I don't see the Anglican church jumping over itself to acknowledge the Protestant roots to Hitler's justifications.

After all, isn't that what GLBTs and those who would love them want? To have the bad apples distinguished from the bulk of their classification and not be lumped all together.

If the conservatives persist in insisting that all GLBTs should be judged by the poor morals of a minority, then I say all Protestantism should be judged by Hitler's regime. If they want to play by those rules then they can be judged by those rules. They can't apply one standard to others and then not have it apply to themselves.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 7:40pm BST

Just goes to show, NP, that you can use the bible to justify anything - in your case, the clear evidence that the vast majority of people in the UK have no interest in evangelical Christianity, and never will have.

Posted by Merseymike at Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 11:02pm BST

I meant the studies of angels dancing habits, on needle heads, Cheryl !

Let me digest the rest of your post when I am fresh.

Posted by laurence at Wednesday, 25 October 2006 at 11:30pm BST

Laurence, thanks for that clarification, it mollifies my concern about your original posting. In that sense, I would join your comments with by adding that deliberations about how many angels can fit on a pin head are meaningless if the angels and those that study them ignore injustice and hypocrisy that is happening outside their hallowed libraries.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Thursday, 26 October 2006 at 2:57am BST

Merseymike - listen to what I say.....we evos see so many Brits (all classes and races) coming in every year we are struggling for I do not buy that we are putting people off.

And our actions speak louder than your words - we are praying and working very hard.... and giving lots of money sacrificially to reach all the people in the UK who do not know Christ.....just look at Alpha and how God uses it - so, it is a bit rich to say we do not care when our actions show we clearly do and God is multiplying our numbers -and all this in Anglican churches!

Posted by NP at Thursday, 26 October 2006 at 8:43am BST

If people fit in with the community and are comfortable in the community then all is dandy.

The issues that welfare and support counsellors have are the people who are spat out of the church communities. The problem is not that the community looks after its own. The problem is when the community not only does not look after those that are not their own, but that they pursue and attack those souls e.g. denying them civil liberties, slandering their character, breaking up their marriages. It is fascinating to read the case studies of what happens to people who are (r)ejected from tight knit communities, especially when there is a lot of cliche and covert power games. Humanity behaving at its worst and being complacent because they are "blessed by God" and therefore authorised to attack the "unworthies".

Further the communities that are most likely to take such actions are also the same communities that will aid and abet predatory behaviour against its children and vulnerables for the sake of the "reputation" of the church. Often the same communities that refuse to deal with these kind of behaviours unless secular state scrutiny and financial compensation threatens their credibility and wellbeing. Flattery and affluence in such communities is more important than justice, compassion or honesty.

Posted by Cheryl Clough at Thursday, 26 October 2006 at 12:33pm BST

NP - listen to what I say - the number of churchgoers continues to fall, and you evos have absolutely no chance of reaching those who do not want the sort of false certainties you have to offer.

Which is the vast majority of the population, only you are too entranced by the ability of your star church to grab a large proportion of those certainty seekers in your own locality to be able to grasp what is really happening.

Posted by Merseymike at Thursday, 26 October 2006 at 11:21pm BST

SO Merseymike, why are so few joining your type of church if you have something important, true and powerful to say?

Oh don't tell me... people are put off by the thousands joining's certainly not the fault of liberal hollow it?
No, it must be someone else's fault.

Also, it is not about star churches. When we start small churches in poor parts of England, within a couple of years they grow very quickly with lots of local people joining. It works. There is an attractve message!

Remember, Alpha started in England not Nigeria! There is great growth here even if you do not want to participate in it. You have the luxury of subsidised churches which do not have to breakeven, creating jobs where little work is being paying for Weslsh choirs in cathedrals singing to a few people, for example.

Anyway, the money is running out, the evos are sick of subsidising all the decline. TEC might take on susbsidising UK "liberals" for a while but they are slowly disappearing too so enjoy blaming everyone else while you can....but I would rather you had an honest look at why "liberalism" is in terminal decline in the church and why Alpha's stricter approach to the Bible is producing growth.....even in English Anglican churches.

Posted by NP at Friday, 27 October 2006 at 7:41am BST

For goodness sake, NP. I have never suggested that 'my type of church' is in any better position than yours!

Britain is a country which is becoming more secular - indeed, the religiosity of its minority populations is viewed as a social divide.

I think there is a great deal of interest in spirituality in its broadest sense, I don't think that 'going to church' is something which will ever regain popularlty. The issue is rather more how to capture and work with the interest which exists, and I think churches of all descriptions are very unlikely to be able to do this

I'm afraid you are simply failing to accept the facts about patterns of church attendance. As churches grow, others fade - this has been the pattern of evangelical church 'growth'. The idea that there are large numbers of new conversions is bogus - and lets not forget the well known phenomenon of evangelical church turnover. I think the number of ex-evangelicals who have given up Christianity altogether must be considerable, although its obviously difficult to quantify (though recognised as an issue - they've even given it a jargonised name ...'backsliding'!)

I think you should start to wonder why 94% of the UK does not attend church, and why the term 'Christian' means little more than 'being English' to the bulk of those who affiliate themselves to it.

Posted by Merseymike at Friday, 27 October 2006 at 9:51am BST

Merseymike -I think you should wonder why those from the secular 94% are not attracted to your church......because many of them are doing Alpha - even in sceptical old England!

Posted by NP at Friday, 27 October 2006 at 11:14am BST

NP; Alpha has largely been done by those already attached to a church and has been largely unsuccessful in attracting those outside that mindset. Read Stephen Hunt's research.

I don't think any church will attract people in postmodernising Britain. The notion of institutional 'church' and rule-based, book-centred traditional religion is something which is simply past its sell-by.

Posted by Merseymike at Friday, 27 October 2006 at 6:36pm BST

(Chapel was empty, CU was full!)

It's entirely possible that the chapel was empty, of course, though I remember an earlier post which said it was simply used by people who went for the music etc etc.

But the statistician in me urges caution. In 1970's Durham DICCU could haul in 200-300 on a Saturday night, and this was (even then) taken as a sign of God's blessing on evangelical Christianity. However, the chances are that the total chapel attendances across the colleges was not dissimilar.

A more interesting statistic would be to know how many Cantabrigians from NP's college attended CICCU when compared with attendance at his college chapel, and taking into account whether Sunday mornings (=perhaps 'chapel') are intrinsically less appealing to students than an evening meeting (= perhaps CICCU).

The lack of sophistication in handling statistical data does rather depress me (sigh).

Posted by David Rowett (=mynsterpreost) at Saturday, 28 October 2006 at 10:29pm BST

Laurence said (apropos pluralist's posting)
'That's how I certainly think of doing theology / theol. reflection rather than having a package dumped on one !'

to which I can only reply that facilitating a group like that leaves one feeling as if one has been through a mangle! It must be 30 years since I last had to look at Addai and Mari....

keeps me young, though.

Posted by David Rowett (=mynsterpreost) at Sunday, 29 October 2006 at 5:17pm GMT

NP may wish to comment on this quote from Peter Brierley in the original CT news article:

All traditions experienced decline, but Evangelicals less so: nine per cent against 18 per cent. But this figure rises to 17 per cent if one subtracts non-white Evangelicals.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Sunday, 29 October 2006 at 6:46pm GMT

Indeed, Simon. I gather that this is also very much biased towards London and its large African community.

Posted by Merseymike at Sunday, 29 October 2006 at 11:50pm GMT

David - the people who went to chapel at Cambridge went largely to sing (for which they got supper and a glass of wine) (nobody went to listen)

Simon - I accept there is work to be done and even the "evangelical" classification is broad and contains some parts which are not doing as well as others.

Posted by NP at Monday, 30 October 2006 at 7:40am GMT

NP said
David - the people who went to chapel at Cambridge went largely to sing (for which they got supper and a glass of wine) (nobody went to listen)

Yours truly joined the Church (if I were to say 'became a Christian' it would probably cause both of us theological difficulty, but for different reasons) in order to have a bit of a sing.... Aren't you being a bit omniscient as to how God works in the human heart?

I wonder whether there has been any research done on the Alpha phenomenon from a psychological point of view. Not that I'm suggesting the Alpha is only for the terminally bonkers! Rather, it seems (on my observations) to work well with people whose natural tendency is towards more extreme opinion/activity, and its radical conversion model might appeal to the sort of psyche which makes 180 degree turns. A staunch atheist possesses the hard-edged belief (albeit in unbelief) which is a mirror image of that of the conservative evangelical.

The paradigm is that of Paul: from persecutor to evangelist. However, does Alpha score so well with those who are already somewhere on the way - the 'Godfearers' of Acts? I'm not sure it does, and the more conservative evangelical churches do the 'Amazing Grace' thing, attracting those who were formerly in extreme opposition to the faith, the more I worry about those (who are greatly in the majority) who don't share that psychological type. No-one's reaching them in great numbers, and the noisy conservative evangelical message may be hampering efforts to do so.

Posted by David Rowett (=mynsterpreost) at Monday, 30 October 2006 at 9:06am GMT

Would you be convinced if the LibDems complained that they are perpetually third-placed losers nationally because Labour and the Tories put everyone off politics?

I would encourage the LibDems not to worry about the other parties (let alone blame them) but to sort their own house out.

Posted by NP at Monday, 30 October 2006 at 3:57pm GMT

NP asked
Would you be convinced if the LibDems etc...?

To which the answer is that many hold that a poor perception of politicians is directly related to apathy towards the political system. That politicians are 'out of touch' is a commonplace of civil life, and the excellent work done by the quieter many is eclipsed by high-profile posturing.

The political parties are increasingly the preserve of the 'keenie' and 'normal' people are voting with their feet. By happy coincidence your example does rather illustrate the problem, that if we are perceived as being out of touch etc etc, we will only attract the keenie....

Posted by David Rowett (=mynsterpreost) at Monday, 30 October 2006 at 7:47pm GMT

but David, who is really out of touch - those who teach something which attracts large, growing groups and lots of young people or those who are shrinking the already small groups (of ageing people often) that they have been given?

Posted by NP at Tuesday, 31 October 2006 at 8:37am GMT

NP asked
who is really out of touch

Some of our folk visited (more than once) a 'successful' (ie big car park) ConsEv church, including precisely the target group you hold to be flocking in. They were all appalled by;

the lack of content in the 'teaching' which was designed to appeal to the comfortable values of the married middle classes who provided its drive-in congregation (incidentally, one of the sermons at one of the services announced that there was no such thing as homosexuality in the OT — so how can they maintain that the OT condemns it??);

the presumption that, to join a group within the church, one had to have been through an Alpha course - ie, admission to the faithful is now by 'Alpha', not by baptism;

The dreadfully low quality of the worship — heavily dependent on american imports, personality based and biblically weak (there was no attempt to use a lectionary, rather a couple of 'grist to the mill' readings were chosen to 'prove' that there were no gays in OT days); Bible Sunday didn't happen there, btw, an odd omission, and even the 1662 Holy COmmunion service lacked a Gospel reading in a church which is supposed to treasure the words of the Lord. Odd.

The patronising attitude of the congregation, who all assumed that any visitor was a heathen in search of enlightenment, not a pilgrim on their way — and even when told that our folk were visitors from another Anglican church persisted in their pre-programmed evobabble, even presenting them with a paperback copy of Luke and urging them to read it.

If this is the future of the Christian faith, my group of young to middle aged Christians who have encountered it, some at turning points in their Christian journey, say they want none of it. Sorry, but that's the way it is. It's not spiritual pride or hard-heartedness - they just found it infantile and insufficiently challenging.

And they're not the only ones. The locals, for the most part, worship in the Methodist church. The BMW set seem to feel very comfortable though, and I suppose I should rejoice that salvation has been made available to the £100K pa types....

Posted by David Rowett (=mynsterpreost) at Tuesday, 31 October 2006 at 9:42am GMT

David - I am from an Anglican church in London. We are not an American or Nigerian import! We really are pukka Brits so probably just as prejudiced as you against bad music etc!

-we have no car park....most of us come by tube;

- and the teaching is great (ie faithful and clear) - which is why we lack space given the hundreds of people (all classes, all races) who turn up Sundays and midweek.

Posted by NP at Tuesday, 31 October 2006 at 12:42pm GMT

I still don't know why you are all not facing up to reality - which is most people want nothing to do with church of any description.

Certainty-seekers are catered for by evangelicalism, but they remain and will remain a small group in the population as a whole.

I'm not convinced that 'the liberal church' as such has any sort of future. Liberal and open spirituality, yes, but does it need a church to go alongside it in any conventional sense - I don't think so.

Posted by Merseymike at Tuesday, 31 October 2006 at 5:48pm GMT
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