Justin Welby Nicky Gumbel
Church of England

Justin Welby's "spiritual magpie" plan to save the Church of England (DV)

 

There’s a fantastic article this weeks’ Spectator entitled ‘God’s management consultants: the Church of England turns to bankers for salvation‘. It’s the sort of piece that is bound to send many clergy and lay members of the Church of England into a big flap, accusing Justin Welby of attempting to turn their beloved church, with all of its woolliness and eccentricity, into an efficient and hard-nosed organisation full of managerial types who have more interest in numbers and ‘talent pools’ than theology or the pastoral wellbeing of parishioners.

“A new mood has taken hold of Lambeth Palace,” writes Mark Greaves:

Officials call it urgency; critics say it is panic. The Church of England, the thinking goes, is about to shrink rapidly, even vanish in some areas, unless urgent action is taken. This action, laid out in a flurry of high-level reports, amounts to the biggest institutional shake-up since the 1990s. Red tape is to be cut, processes streamlined, resources optimised. Targets have been set. The Church is ill — and business management is going to cure it.

Reformers say they are only removing obstacles that hinder the Church from growing. Opponents, appalled by the business-speak of some of the reports, object to what they see as a ruthless focus on filling pews.

This is an approach to the running of the Church of England that takes it into unchartered waters, but given that Justin Welby is the first Archbishop of Canterbury with a business background, should we really be that surprised that he is drawing on his own experience alongside that of a number of high-flying city executives to give this large and complex institution a good shaking?

The thing is that at one level Christianity is deeply personal: it is all about an individual’s acceptance of salvation through Jesus Christ and the resulting intimate relationship with God that it is capable of leading to. But on another level it is fully corporate, as believers are commanded to meet together regularly in fellowship as the Body of Christ, which is the Church. Any family that seeks to avoid constant chaos needs to establish rules and structures in order to get on well together and manage their available resources. The bigger the family, the more important good management becomes.

Back in January of last year I wrote about this at my ‘God and Politics’ blog, likening the Church of England to a declining multinational still living on its past glories and fading reputation. I made it quite clear that in order to turn around its fortunes it would need strong leadership and structural overhaul. It became one of my most read pieces, but also one of the most criticised, with much of the backlash coming from clergy who refused to see the church in this way or were baffled by the description. Too often it would appear that they considered empowering leadership and structural planning to be alien concepts. Acting in this capacity was not what they had in mind when they were ordained. I was told enough times that Jesus didn’t describe his Church as a business, and to see it that way is fundamentally wrong. However, if you turn to what Paul has to say about the make-up of the Church, you’ll see this is far from being the case. In 1 Corinthians he gives a list of roles: teachers are ranked third after apostles and prophets; administrators get a mention, but pastors don’t get a look in (although they are added in Ephesians 4). Apostles are the entrepreneurs of God’s kingdom, planting the gospel in new ground and building the Church. Prophets make sure the Church sees God’s plan and stays firmly focused on it. The gift of administration (kubernesis) is not about organising rotas or producing newsletters; it is about governance. Administrators have the position of overseeing strategic planning, execution, enablement, change and resource management in order to steer the Church towards its God-breathed vision.

If the Church is led only by pastors and teachers, decline is inevitable because there is no balance in leadership and key gifts that are there to grow the Church are disregarded. Unlike some sceptics, Justin Welby sees hope for the Church of England. Numbers, growth and success are not dirty words because genuine growth as opposed to transfer growth, where people move from one church to another, can only happen when new believers come to faith. Jesus talked about this growth as an absolute certainty. Why should we treat it any differently?

In the Spectator, Dr Linda Woodhead, the influential academic who oversees the Westminster Faith Debates and regularly writes about the future of the church, is quoted giving her own thoughts on the matter:

For some critics, though, that goal is the heart of the problem. Linda Woodhead, sociology professor at Lancaster University, says an obsession with thriving congregations represents a narrowing of the Church of England’s vision. The vision, she says, is that of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), the super-successful church in west London. ‘What’s happening is the Alpha-isation of the Church,’ she says. No attention is being paid to those Anglicans who don’t go to church at all. Ignore these people, who still care about the institution and feel part of it, and ‘you can’t remain a national church’, she says.

Woodhead may be a well-respected social scientist, but when it comes to where the CofE should be heading, she is profoundly misguided. What sort of a national institution would the Church of England be if it neglected those who are carrying out its primary purpose and paid more attention to others who have a nominal attachment to it, at best?

Alpha and HTB’s model for church planting have provided a massive boost for the Church of England. 5,000 people attend services at HTB every weekend and it has planted 27 churches since 2005. One of its most recent plants at St Swithun’s in Bournemouth has grown to over 500 in just six months. The Rev’d Nicky Gumbel, vicar of HTB, explains more in an interview in this month’s Premier Christianity magazine:

Tim Matthews has planted in Bournemouth. That’s an astonishing story. There was no one in the church at all. They went out with 11 adults and four children and last Sunday they had 574 people there after 26 weeks. They’re running marriage courses and homeless shelters. They’re already baptising people who have never been near a church and are coming to faith in Jesus…

A work of the Holy Spirit is taking place in the nation. And not just in the Anglican Church; actually some of the biggest churches now are not Anglican. You think of Life Church in Bradford, Audacious in Manchester. Think of some of the Newfrontiers churches, the Vineyard churches, Pioneer churches. I do think there’s an amazing thing going on. It’s almost like a hidden revival is going on.

People don’t see it yet. The statistics don’t show it because so many people are dying off at the other end. It will take time. It’s like a field that has been burnt and looks brown at one level, but then when you get a bit closer you can see the green shoots beginning to emerge. You have to look at bit closer to see what’s actually happening in the Church at the moment…

We have an amazing opportunity in this country. After all, we have 16,500 church buildings. That is a great blessing. It’s a pity if those church buildings are converted into warehouses or pubs or private residences. Because when they’re filled with people, instead of people walking past and saying, ‘The king is dead,’ they will walk past and say, ‘Jesus is alive.’

Justin Welby was once a member of HTB and knows there is great potential to be found in the Church of England. He sees the need for change if it is to not just survive, but flourish. He also knows that for that to happen, things most definitely cannot stay as they are, and after decades of denial and procrastination, some urgent measures are needed. He describes himself as a spiritual magpie, drawing inspiration in his faith from different Christian traditions. He is equally happy to take the best of what he has seen outside of the church and adapt it for the needs within it. These are not the dealings of a misguided amateur. Those who doubt what he is working to achieve or demur from some of his more unorthodox methods should think carefully about their own understanding and motives before issuing harsh judgements.

If it is a stark choice between Linda Woodhead’s prosaic plan for the Church of England or the Welby-Gumbel vision for holiness, transformation, revival and growth, I know which I prefer.

  • sarky

    Spiritual magpie?? More like spiritual dodo!!

  • Sybaseguru

    I’ve always thought it was a numbers game – read the first half of acts and see how many references there are to numbers/growth and the like. Numbers will defeat the liberals who don’t like them for a reason – they are in freefall in their churches. Its the reason that the 5 Bishops principles established for women bishops was so important. It allowed the growing evangelical part of the church to stay in and “flourish” – eventually winning the church back. Gamaliel’s principle will apply.

    • Linus

      Liberal Christians don’t suddenly “see the light” and become conservatives. They abandon faith gradually, first becoming “agnostic” and then either gaining the confidence to repudiate the whole concept of god, or, if they’re of a less philosophical bent, just living their lives without thinking about such abstruse and irrelevant matters.

      That’s where the liberal Church is heading, leaving behind it a rump of god-obsessed conservatives who are fast becoming the new face of Christianity, but only because numbers in the liberal Church are melting away to nothing. As Christianity shrinks it’s lurching sharply to the right. This is easy to explain.

      Think of the Church as a decapitated head stuck on a spike on Tower Bridge, or wherever they used to display such things in England. The skin and flesh (representing the liberals) are slowly eroding away. Some portions may mummify and stick to the remaining bone (representing conservatives), but most of it will just melt away and disappear. What’s left will whiten in the sun (or turn green in the constant drizzle, more like) and sit there as a grisly reminder of the past, until some random gust of wind dislodges it and it falls into the river to be swallowed and swept away by the tide of history.

      Enjoy your brief moment as masters of a Church that has only death and decay to look forward to. You’ll be able to overturn all the liberal innovations and get things exactly the way you like them before the last one of you dies and it’s all consigned to the scrapheap of history.

      • Sybaseguru

        We’ll be consigned to the same scrapheap as the early church who were so keen on numbers – Hmmm – that didn’t happen!

        • Linus

          A seed is planted, it grows, flourishes for a while (generally because it’s sitting in a pile of muck), reaches maturity and then withers and dies.

          It too will produce seeds, but if they fall on stony and infertile ground, how will they take root and grow?

          Christians complain constantly about how inhospitable society is to their ideas, and then, virtually in the same breath, make huge claims about Christianity taking over the world.

          You can’t have it both ways. In order to pose as martyrs, society has to reject you. But in order to grow, you and your ideas have to be accepted. You cry martyrdom out of one side of your mouths and triumph out of the other. Make up your minds, why don’t you?

          May your imaginary god protect us from his followers. They’re just not quite connected to reality. Crazed religionists can cause so much harm to those who have the misfortune to come into contact with them. We haven’t seen Christian suicide bombers yet, but the way things are going, and the crazier and more inconsistent Christian claims become, it can’t be long…

          • Sybaseguru

            Guess I must be a “Crazed religionist” because I disagree with your analysis. Perhaps you could question your liberal credentials as they seem to have a tendency towards facism. Surely a true liberal would go with what works and having seen lives transformed for the better I would go with Gods way every time.

          • sarky

            I’ve seen lives transformed by psychiatry, doesn’t mean I want to worship Freud.

          • Sybaseguru

            People are transformed in many ways. The bible is one. I’m happy to accept psychiatry as another as I believe science is exploration of Gods creation. We should worship the creator not the creation.

          • magnolia

            Didn’t think you had much time for Freud anyway. His take on some matters is diametrically opposite to yours.

          • Linus

            I’ve never seen a crazed religionist whose life was transformed into anything except ecstatic obsession and deluded fantasies about sky fairies and life after death.

            Some of them go to extraordinary lengths to purchase whatever delights they believe the after-life will hold for them by doing good deeds (in between the hate-filled rants against anyone and anything that contradicts their beliefs, of course). So it isn’t unusual to see a Christian feeding the hungry or helping out in a homeless shelter. The fact that their apparent selflessness is actually motivated entirely by self-interest (i.e. their own personal salvation) makes it hard to see their actions as particularly noble however.

            I wonder, how big a fix of Jesus crack do you earn for giving some spare change to a down-and-out, or serving in a soup kitchen? I guess nuns will be high for all eternity. That’s the aim, isn’t it? To get God to flip the dopamine receptors in your brain to the permanent “on” position?

            Well, while you’re dreaming of eternal bliss and reducing yourself to groveling god worshipper in order to obtain it, the rest of us have figured out that dreams aren’t real, and that this life is all we have. That’s the trajectory most liberal Christians are on. A trajectory that’s considerably accelerated by the benighted antics of conservatives like those who post on this blog. Liberal Christians are embarrassed by whack-jobs like the Phelps family, or the more extreme Catholic cardinals and bishops, or even some of the regular ranters here, and don’t want anything to do with them or the distorted, medieval faith they drone on and on about. That’s why they’re drifting away from the Church and leaving you to your own devices.

            You’ll soon be able to drag the Church as far to the right as you please. But nobody except the 5 other gibbering whack-jobs in the pews alongside you will take any notice, so you’ll be even more irrelevant than you are now. But at least you’ll have the illusion of control, which as far as consolation prizes go, is not to be sniffed at. Anything that keeps religious nut-cases docile and nips their suicide bombing and/or martyrdom tendencies in the bud has to be a good thing, in my opinion.

          • magnolia

            There, there.

      • Mungling

        I’m not entirely sure why this made me smile, considering I’m one those destined “to the scrapheap of history”. The imagery was so over the top that it came right around to funny.

        • carl jacobs

          Linus feels the need to come here and tell us we are dying. Repeatedly. It’s become sort of his secular version of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. After a while it blends in with the background noise.

          • Pubcrawler

            And there’s that fixation with bodily decay. Almost a fetish.

          • Linus

            If my words are so easily ignored, I wonder you take the time to comment on them. Is not such a reaction proof rather that I have found my mark and caused you to lash out in anger like every “meek” Christian does when provoked?

            So much for all those platitudes about turning the other cheek. One more example, if any were needed, of Christian hypocrisy and the “do as I say, not as I do” nature of your cult.

          • carl jacobs

            I know it’s a subtle point, Linus, but I didn’t actually respond to you. I responded to Mungling. It would have been difficult for me to respond to you since I didn’t read your post. And I didn’t “lash out.” I simply told the truth. What, you ask? How could I comment on a post I hadn’t (and still haven’t) read? It’s not hard – since 80% of your posts are variations on a theme of one note. The rhythm may change, but the note never varies. I think it’s a C flat.

            Here, let me explain. I will provide Carl’s Practical Guide to Interacting with Linus.

            1. If you respond directly to one of my comments, I will read the first few sentences to see if the comment is (shall we say) unreasonable. You telegraph unreasonableness very quickly so it doesn’t take a lot of sifting. If the comment seems reasonable and if I think you have raised an issue that requires a response, then I will reply. I always reserve the right to reply to a direct response.

            2. If you make an original post or respond to another commenter, I will scroll past your post to see if anyone else has responded. I skim the responses looking especially for commenters I respect in order to get the sense of the subject. At some great interval I might decide to reply to someone else on the sub-thread based upon their response to you. But I won’t respond either directly or indirectly to you. If I do make a reply on the subthread, I will perform the sifting operation described in (1) to verify my understanding. As I said, you telegraph your intentions very quickly. It isn’t hard to recognize the footprints along of the same tediously-repeated path.

            All I did was point out your repeated behavior to someone I perceived to be a new commenter on the board. A warning, as it were, to not take you very seriously. What I said was true. And truth is a perfect defense.

          • Linus

            Such a lot of time and effort spent explaining why and how you ignore me gives lie to the very same assertion. You clearly accord much more importance to my interventions here than you’re prepared to admit.

            But you go ahead and issue all the denials you like. Thr very act of denial itself tells me all I need to know.

            Ah the lies and false claims of Christians! If ever I want to know how vicious, dishonourable and false humans can be, a dip into these shark-infested waters is all that’s needed.

        • grutchyngfysch

          It was the skull imagery that made me laugh, because when all is said and done it shows that the most terrifying image Linus can conjure is merely death. As though the same will not prove true of the entire world.

          All this is passing is not a particularly compelling reason to abandon that which will neither pass nor decay.

      • Liberal Christians don’t suddenly “see the light” and become conservatives.

        No, but atheists and agnostics do though.
        ‘I know; I was that man.’

      • Phil R

        Liberal Christians don’t suddenly “see the light” and become conservatives

        Read about it. That is exactly what happens

  • Stephen Heard

    This is a very thoughtful piece, Gillan; and there is very little in it that I could take serious exception to. But I do think you dismiss Linda Woodhead’s reservations too summarily. There is something in her worry about the “Alpha-isation of the CofE” that merits serious consideration.

    First, if the HTB model is our only hope for survival, then of course we must support it (I am not disinclined to support it in any case, on the grounds that it has been clearly successful in bringing many unchurched to sincere faith – the Great Commission to which we are all bound). But it is worth looking at where it is most successful (predominantly white, middle-class communities), and thinking about how we are to continue to reach the less well-off, less well educated and less “literate” who populate the ungentrified parts of our inner cities. HTB planting has had much less penetration into these communities, and there is a danger of their being forgotten as we rush to put all our eggs into the Alpha basket.

    Secondly, Linda Woodhead is right to emphasise the CofE’s position as the “national” Church. This is part of its vocation, and should not be downplayed. It means that we have a duty of pastoral care to all the people of England who seek it, even if they never darken the doors of a church building and are not quite sure what they believe. It is true that we cannot rely on these people to keep the Church going, but they do have rights and legitimate expectations with regard to it. This may be a nuisance, but they too are among the sheep whom we are called to serve in Christ’s name.

    Thirdly, I have to say that I am unexcited by the “management model” proposals – partly because they are rather old-hat, and partly because I feel in my bones that they will not, in the event, not deliver what we want them to. The “talent pool” will inevitably have the effect of making junior clergy feel that they have no chance of preferment if they have not been identified as “talented” early on. (This is a version of the “fast stream” arrangements that have existed on and off for years in the civil service and elsewhere.) I’m not sure that is the sort of Church I want. I want some unexpected decisions on the appointment of bishops and archdeacons: people with wisdom, gravitas and holiness, and not just those who are dynamic, efficient and married with 2.4 children. How will they find their way into the talent pool?

    • carl jacobs

      we have a duty of pastoral care to all the people of England who seek it

      Does this in mean anything more in practice than:

      1. A traditional baby-naming ceremony.
      2. A nice venue to get married.
      3. Someone to bury the body with appropriate pomp and circumstance.

      The purpose of the church is not to provide “pastoral care.” The purpose of the church is to prepare disciples for the work of the harvest. It’s purpose is manifestly not to provide traditions and ambiance to mark the progress of life.

      • Stephen Heard

        Yes, it does mean more than that. It means comforting the dying and the bereaved, feeding the hungry and visiting the sick. A bit like Jesus.

        • carl jacobs

          The church is not supposed to be some kind of National Spiritual Health Service. Its purpose is not to apply balm to the angst of life. The idea that an unbeliever can walk into a church with a legitimate expectation that his personalized spiritual needs will be met is incredible to me. The church’s first responsibility to the unbeliever is to proclaim and evangelize. There is no legitimate right to Christian baptism. A marriage ceremony of form without substance is a scandal. And what would you tell the dying unbeliever but “If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”. What do you tell the bereaved but “It is appointed once for a man to die and then to judgment.”

          There is no Christian comfort absent the Gospel. There is no point to indulging a man’s unbelief simply so that he may be more comfortable while he dies. The church isn’t a corner market where shoppers drop in to pick up whatever spiritual meaning they might desire. The church has a message. It must proclaim that message in everything it does. People receive it or they don’t. But the message shouldn’t be dropped in the name of service.

          • Dominic Stockford

            Absolutely.

          • magnolia

            It is fitting to treat the dying and the bereaved lovingly. You may feel that choice of words fits the description of loving and that that is how Jesus would act.

            You will understand if many of us would not agree, and would wish to be a mite gentler, well more than a mite….

        • Pastoral responsibility to those outside the church is still of great importance, don’t get me wrong. HTB does way more of this than people realise btw. There is far more to it than Alpha and church planting.
          The important thing for the wider church is that all ministries are supported and valued. We’re not seeing much of that balance right now – too much hindrance of the Spirit.

        • Dominic Stockford

          “Even the pagans do as much, do they not?”

          But they don’t preach the Gospel of salvation in Christ alone.

    • If the entire Church of England morphed into franchises of HTB then I would be very concerned. I don’t think it would even be possible. As you say, their model works well in cities with white middle class congregations, but it wouldn’t work in rural Dorset where I grew up. We do need to make much more of an effort to share good practice though and believe that God can turn things around even through us.

      Linda has been making the same noises for a while, see here: http://archbishopcranmer.com/discerning-the-future-of-the-church-is-not-an-intellectual-exercise/ I actually think this line of thinking does a good deal of harm. Yes, the C of E is a national institution but it’s primarily belongs to God. In Linda’s vision God is pushed to the margins for the sake of tradition and that would be disastrous

      I expect Justin’s mangement models to have some failings along the way – it is untried and pushes the boundaries considerably. Much of it will come down to the detail. The talent pool could turn into a dangerous clique or privileged inner circle. But at the moment far too much Spirit given talent is under used and going to waste. We need to be taking more risks for the sake of the Kingdom, but also need to be wise and prayerful too.

      • merchantman

        In Britain, where middle class was practically invented it was ‘invented’ in tandem with a Protestant base and a metro one at that. Therefore Alpha is a good fit for well educated relatively prosperous group of people who in turn have as their roots a Christian modus vivendi.
        The rest of society is now probably highly suspicious of anything as life changing as born again Christianity and in any case the class warfare thing kicks in. Besides, any reference to sinfulness, now widely held in media and almost every other level of society as the gold standard and beneficial lifestyle it is massively inconvenient.
        People in this predicament will only reassess their lives by talking to people who live the Gospel and have encountered the one true living God.

      • magnolia

        Underused is a very slippery concept, isn’t it? You may have a superb potential visionary preacher looking after his or her disabled or very ill spouse or child or sibling. Difficult to say they are doing the wrong thing, and should be freed up. Maybe they should, but on the other hand who knows the cared-for person better? Some things remain a mystery.

        I admit to a degree of discomfort at the concept of mixing Holy Spirit with management. Management slips so easily from enabling to controlling and reinventing the wheel in a slightly different way while Rome (or Canterbury) burns. Meanwhile the Spirit “moveth where it listeth” and can transform a stumbling incoherent guy into a great preacher or a broken suffering gutted one into a great healer. And what management guru would have seen that one coming?

  • The Alpha Course is Gospel-lite There are as many going out the back door in some of these ‘Alpha’ churches as are coming in at the front.
    Christianity Explored is another evangelism ‘course’ with Anglican origins which is far sounder in many different ways. It doesn’t get the publicity of Alpha, but it is doing a much better job.
    I still say though that the C of E is holed below the water-line. Leave the rats on board and let the evangelicals take to the lifeboats.

    • sarky

      I read somewhere that ‘hillsong’ recycles its congregation every two years.

      • Sybaseguru

        The whole point of the numbers game is that you can’t build numbers if you don’t disciple properly. You do get this recycling.

    • Dominic Stockford

      Yes. Alpha forgets the whole matter of sin.

      • William Lewis

        Not so. Sin is a central component of, at least, one of the talks.

        • Dominic Stockford

          I could reply at length to explain why I said that – which I will not withdraw, but there is not the space here.

          Try reading “Alpha – the unofficial guide” for a full and accurate explanation.

          • William Lewis

            Unfortunately I could not find a free copy – apparently one has to pay for it. It seems a shame that such a full and accurate explanation of this far reaching evangelical tool is not more widely disseminated. Meanwhile I am, unfortunately, still in the dark as to your comment.

    • Whenever I hear of the numbers of people who take Alpha courses, I do wonder how many of those people are still in the church after, say, 5 years.

      I recently joined a church as a curate. The church has been running the Alpha course for about eight years, and it has brought people into the church – people were quite enthusiastic about it. I helped run it last year.

      However, due to the problems which others have mentioned, this year we are running Christianity Explored. Strangely enough, since we made that decision, I’ve talked to quite a few people who did Alpha who actually didn’t find it very helpful or had problems with the course. Many of them are coming on Christianity Explored.

      All this is just to say that I’m not convinced that growth in HTB terms is a good thing – it may be broad but I don’t think it’s deep, if Alpha is anything to go by. If people think that God is there to sort out all their problems, then the chances are you’re going to fall away when you get to problems which aren’t sorted out (or if you find yourself in a situation in life where you don’t have many problems).

      We will see anyway.

      • Phil R

        All those that were ordained to eternal life were saved

        • Linus

          In other words, you’re special. God’s anointed. Everyone else is just hell fodder.

          Delusions of grandeur are a symptom of many psychological disorders. I wouldn’t presume to try to diagnose you online (although I’m sure Sad Jack would be happy to take a stab at it), but I would highly recommend you consider consulting a qualified mental health professional before its too late. If it isn’t already…

          • Phil R

            In other words, you’re special. God’s anointed

            Correct. However I am not discounting the possibility that you are also.

          • Linus

            Of course, crazies always want company. It isn’t enough to be God’s special Chosen One, is it? You need the constant reassurance of praise and affirmation from others whose beliefs coincide with yours.

            Apparently your god isn’t quite enough for you after all. But shhhh! Don’t tell anyone or your halo might slip!

          • Phil R

            No idea what you are on about

          • Linus

            Now why doesn’t that surprise me … ?

      • Phil R

        I can tell you about Alpha turning real lives around.

        It is not perfect. So….

        • There are people in our church who are only there because of Alpha. But I think in many ways God works despite Alpha’s flaws rather than because of it. I know some who have recently done Alpha and struggled with it – I just don’t think it presents the gospel clearly enough. Which makes me wonder whether people who do alpha but then end up in an a church which doesn’t present the gospel clearly actually stick around.

          • William Lewis

            – I just don’t think it presents the gospel clearly enough.

            Interesting. Can you be more specific about which aspects of the Gospel you are referring to?

          • Yes of course 🙂

            This article will help to explain my concerns:

            http://archive.churchsociety.org/churchman/documents/Cman_112_4_Scholes.pdf

            I just think Alpha doesn’t really get to the heart of what sin is. When we were running the course last year, I did feel that you could be forgiven for thinking from what was said that sin was purely something which messes up our lives which God comes to sort out.

            At no point is God’s judgement, wrath, or (heaven forbid) hell actually mentioned. (I think Nicky Gumbel did say ‘judgement’ once, talking about the second coming of Christ, but he said it very quickly as if he was embarrassed about it).

            This is a far cry from e.g. Paul’s sermon at the Areopagus: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.”

            I think the cross is massively underemphasized – there is one session on it, and then it barely gets a mention again.

            In fact, instead of talking about Jesus and going through all that he has done, the course goes off talking about guidance, prayer, resisting evil, etc – and I’m just not sure it’s appropriate to be talking about those things with people who don’t yet understand who Jesus is. In fact, I’d say that the people in my group found it more confusing than helpful.

            Which is another (less theological and more practical) problem with Alpha – is it an evangelistic course, or a discipleship course? I think it tries to do both and ends up not really doing either.

            Basically I think Alpha is a mess, theologically, and while a lot of people have found it helpful I think the positives of Alpha are rooted in actually getting people into church rather than in the course content itself.

          • William Lewis

            Thank you for your comprehensive reply. I have not read the link yet (I will) but will say that I do agree that Alpha does try to pack a lot in and that perhaps the line between it being an evangelical tool and discipleship tool is blurred. Certainly not everyone is ready to hear some of the later talks – but some are and it could be argued that Alpha does try to present Christianity and what a Christian is and does as far as it can. I wouldn’t say that the cross is massively underemphasized but I agree that that session is key, as this is also where sin is introduced, and I have seen that it is often helpful to return to the cross in later discussions.

            You say that Alpha is a mess theologically but as an introduction to Christianity (with the necessary limitations that entails) I think its rather good evangelically, theologically and Christologically speaking. But I will read your link now. 🙂

          • I think for me the problem with Alpha is not so much what they say… it’s what they don’t say.

            Perhaps the cross being “massively underemphasized” was an exaggeration, but it’s not as if the cross is central to Alpha. They say it is but it’s not a theme they return to. I think this goes back to what I was saying about the gospel being explained clearly – for most people I think having two sessions on Jesus before moving onto other things is not enough.

            If Alpha was split up into two courses (an evangelistic course and discipleship course), retained similar themes but revised the content to be more gospel focussed I think it would work better.

            As it is, I think Christianity Explored does a better job at explaining the gospel as well as sorting out a number of the more practical issues with Alpha (such as the length of the course). (I’ve heard lots of good things about other courses too, such as Identity – there are other courses available apart from Alpha and CE…)

          • William Lewis

            I guess the bottom line comes down to two questions: does the Alpha course provide enough information and experience (we haven’t touched upon the sessions on the Holy Spirit) for people to put their faith in Christ? And do they? As the answer to both those questions is yes I would say that’s a good endorsement though, of course, other paths are available. It’s not for everyone and its not perfect. Like most things in life. But as a tool for bringing the Gospel to a range of people it’s rather good and its spread to other countries is extraordinary. Blessings.

          • I would disagree with your bottom line questions. I’d say the quality of the information and experience were more important, and as I said I have serious reservations about Alpha’s content. If there are better courses available, why use Alpha?

            Anyway, at the end of the day if Alpha bears the fruit of people turning to Christ then I’m not going to begrudge it. But, to return to the question we started out with, I’m not convinced that church growth in an HTB style is a good thing.

          • Phil R

            With 50% of the ordinands being female and a sizeable proportion of the male clergy being either gay or gay friendly it is a miracle if any stick around

          • People will stick around if God’s word is preached, and fortunately there are many churches which still do preach the word.

          • Phil R

            I’m not sure if many people are actually very good at preaching even if it is God’s word

            Many think that they do but they are actually terrible public speakers.

            They would do much better to put on an mp3 of say Tim Keller and listen themselves.

      • Ceige

        Well I am one, say 17 years on. As others say it is not perfect, as nothing is carried out by imperfect beings. I have heard Christianity explored is good too. God uses these courses as he does many other ways such as personal witness to point people to Jesus. What matters most is the truth of the content and our heart motivation.

        It is about numbers, preaching the gospel to the whole world for ‘God desires that all shall be saved’. It is not about getting numbers to individual churches. My most memorable ‘God moments’ have occurred in small group settings or on my own. I was fortunate to attend a church who called itself missional – to take people, disciple and build their faith and be joyful if they were called to move on. After any alpha course it didn’t matter what church the people who wished to pursue their faith went to, they were free to choose. What mattered was them.

        • I’m very glad that you’re still around after 17 years, and I’m sure there are many like you. Of course everything is not perfect, but… with Alpha I just have the sense that we could do better. Of course nothing’s perfect, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim for it!

      • Dominic Stockford

        Good post.

    • Dominic Stockford

      Good post…

  • Stig

    The church has to reach out to people where they are. Commercialisation is a fact of life, and had been going on for decades (rock group Genesis released their album “Selling England by the Pound” on exactly that subject in 1973). People expect to be subjected to constant attempts to sell them things these days. Like it or not the hard sell is a fact of life. The church has to live in that environment, and in my experience the most successful evangelists are those that adopt the methods of the commercial world. I fully understand the distaste that many Christians have for this, it is not what our faith is about. But if we hope to be successful, we have to start from where people are, rather than condemning the prevailing culture, just as Paul did when he visited Athens. We should use any and every method to try to reach people with the Gospel message, it is too important not to do so. Yes, I know that we have to start with a dumbed down version of the message, but that is how things are these days when there is pretty much no Christian content in what is taught in most schools. Jesus has a message that can be understood by anyone, each person at their own level. In fact many might find discussions of the finer points of theology off-putting. We are talking about a population many of whom never read books, and asking them to real the Bible. Yet just about every Christian I know found Christ through personal contact with other Christians. I think the Archbishop could be on the right track, and he certainly has nothing to lose by that approach.

    • dannybhoy

      There’s come truth in what you say – we start where people are – but business methods do not produce eternal relationships with our Creator God.
      Read Pilgrim’s Progress for example. Just like a true friendship our relationship with God grows and develops and always I think involves revelation and worship and obedience.
      Business models are an insult to the intimacy and holiness of a relationship with the Eternal God who shed His blood for you and for me on the cross at Calvary.

      • Stig

        That’s true, but we have to start somewhere. We can use commercial methods to “sell” the idea that a relationship with God is desirable. We can perhaps spark curiosity, or an interest. The important thing is to find a way to reach out with God’s message to unchurched people. Then it is up to the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

        • magnolia

          Doesn’t prevenient grace tell us that it is up to the Holy Spirit to do the lot? Maybe some monk’s prayers for x, y or Z and his descendants back in the 13th Century are still having an effect. Maybe those prayers of your parents, godparents, grandparents are only now being answered. We like to think we made the choice, but maybe the prevenient grace which helped us make the choice came from our ancestors, friends, elders in the faith and their prayers?

          It is only up to us then to be obedient channels in succession to those who have gone before and to enable those who come after.

        • dannybhoy

          Yes, we do have to start somewhere, and we have to address the spirit of our time.
          Francis Schaeffer ministered to the young intellectuals, Billy Graham preached the Gospel to societies that still knew what Christianity meant.
          The Alpha Course is reaching a particular segment of society, the Christian Catholics and Anglicans another, and the free churches yet another.
          We do have to be relevant, we do need to have answers, we do need to have a coherent world view.
          I suppose that my antennae prick up when I hear,
          ” Like it or not the hard sell is a fact of life.”
          You can’t package the Gospel. You proclaim it, you share it, you live it. If a man or woman or young person has a genuine encounter with the living God through Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit will lead them to the living waters, wherever they are…

  • IanCad

    Although a little hesitant to diss those who in all sincerity are attempting to win souls to Christ, I am mindful of the fact that Nicky Gumbel was inspired by the – IMO – demonic Toronto Blessing.

    Truth and error readily mix and thus become a deceptive snare to those who seek for light.

    Permit me Gillan, to post a link offering another perspective:

    http://www.spectator.co.uk/spectator-life/spectator-life-life/9085161/alpha-rising/

    • Mungling

      As a non-charismatic Catholic with no horse in the race in the Alpha race, I’m not sure that the linked article is entirely fair. Their criticisms seem to come down to the fact that Alpha isn’t gay-positive (at least in the way they would like), is well funded, and charismatic (which, admittedly, can be rather weird). Maybe I’m missing something, but it seemed Rev. Kirker has a bone to pick with evangelicals more than anything else.

      As for not being upfront with the fact that they are evangelical Christians: can you blame them? So many people *think* that they know what orthodox Christianity is all about that people tend to dismiss it out of hand. Allowing newcomers to encounter evangelical communities free of pre-existing biases may be the smartest thing they could have done.

      • IanCad

        “Allowing newcomers to encounter evangelical communities free of pre-existing biases may be the smartest thing they could have done”

        Not exactly sure what you are implying here Mungling. While open to your contention that the article may not be entirely fair, am I to understand that uncontrolled behavior, jabbering, and rolling on the floor is OK with you?

        • Mungling

          For people outside orthodox Christianity, evangelicals and orthodox Catholics have a fairly bad rap. Thanks to some bad apples and a relentless media campaign, the average person tends to view us as mean, ignorant, judgmental loons. Of course we have our problems — we’re all sinners — but we both know that our communities offer a lot of good! I think that Alpha’s approach allows people to see that good without being blinded by what they think they know.

          As for the whole speaking in tongues / slain by the spirit phenomena, I’ve never known what to think of that. Every logical part of me would say that nothing supernatural is happening and that such behavior must be from some sort of psychological phenomena or is a fake. But then I’ve known plenty of otherwise normal, intelligent people who swear that its a real thing. I’ll remain extremely skeptical ’till the day I die, but I’m willing to at least entertain the possibility that there’s more to it than I might otherwise give credit.

          • IanCad

            A good answer Mungling, and I pretty much agree with you.
            On the subject of tongues I am a little less charitable given the unalloyed shysters who profit from such shenanigans. Kenneth Copeland, the late Kenneth Hagin, Benny Hinn – the list goes on…

          • magnolia

            I agree with your list of rogues, though my best guess so far is that Hagin started off his healing ministry OK, but along the way became corrupted. I have puzzled over this and would like to know what your take on it is. Some of the videos of his latest ministry I instinctively find deeply alarming.

          • IanCad

            When a man declares for the Lord he will be buffeted on all sides. There is power in a preacher. He will be looked upon as more than a man by those not well grounded in the Word.
            What temptations he must face! At the wave of a hand or a shout, weak devotees will fall and roll and roar and shake. Power is a great aphrodisiac, and, as it indulged so it demands more. Thus the corruption of good men. And so the indignities of the Charismatic movement become more and more outrageous.
            I should have added Peter Popoff – surely the master villain of them all.

          • dannybhoy

            Hm,
            Are they really shysters or people who have swallowed a false teaching?
            I think it depends where you’re starting from.
            For instance if you have been taught that St Peter was the Rock, and that upon the Rock of St Peter our Lord will build His Church, then Catholic theology makes complete sense.

            Likewise if you are brought up on the idea that “Ask whatever you want and it shall be given to you” or “If you have faith, you shall say to this mountain move…” then you might end up with the ‘Prosperity Gospel’ or the ‘Everybody should be healed Gospel’, and if you ain’t healed it’s because YOU lack faith, or YOU’VE got unconfessed sin in your life!!
            The problem with building doctines on verses is that they often clash with what the Apostles actually did and said..

          • IanCad

            Danny,
            My reply to magnolia below goes someway to answering your first paragraph.
            I could have been kinder in my assessment of the subject preachers. However we are counseled to be bold, and, were I to do otherwise I would not be true to myself. Sure, we have to be careful as we judge and be doubly mindful of our own shortcomings.
            Bible verses taken in isolation or out of context make poor foundations for any denomination. We have to read the Word as a whole and compare scripture with scripture.
            Unless I’m mistaken Peter was not graced with such exalted status until the 4th century.
            It is always wise to follow the money. If you can get people to roll around on the floor it should then be easy to persuade them to empty their pockets.

          • dannybhoy

            To me a shyster is a person who goes into a ministry with the intent to defraud people. A person who was taught a particular doctrine and then goes on to use it to make money is also a shyster and a deceiver. It’s knowing the intent of the heart that can be dificult.
            There are men in the established churches who do not even believe the basics of the faith. To me they then seem to be just as dishonest or dishonourable as those who profit by the ‘gospel.’

          • carl jacobs

            Christians aren’t the victims of a media campaign. The media follows the culture. We are victims of the rejection of truth as a knowable concept. Men in the absence of the knowledge of the Creator have declared themselves a self creation. We refuse to bow before that idol. And that is why they condemn us.

          • Mungling

            Well it might be both/and rather than either or. When it comes to issue of sex and sexuality, there’s no denying that there’s more there is a legitimate conflict between the Church and the rest of society. But the media has so consistently, thoroughly, and portrayed orthodox Christians as mustache twirling villains that I can forgive the average person – who may never have actually met one in real life – for thinking we really are mustache twirling villains. And that only exacerbates our problems.

    • dannybhoy

      Ian. T
      Good point, but I think there are enough wise, watchful Holy Spirit led vicars in the CofE to guard against that stuff..

      • IanCad

        I hope you are right Danny. I watched a video of a service!!?? from HTB.
        If the outward man is a reflection of the inward then – I’m sorry – they worship not whom I do.

    • Phil R

      Welby held talks with the equality campaigner Peter Tatchell. The fact that homosexuals have yet to be accorded equal rights may be an example of the influence Alpha can exert within the wider church.

      This is from the article.

      Alpha cannot be supported because of their stance on gays it seems

      sigh…..

  • Johnny Rottenborough

    In one corner, ‘the Welby-Gumbel vision for holiness, transformation, revival and growth’. In the other corner, piped into the home under the guise of mass entertainment, the Jenji Kohan vision of Christianity as an ‘evil creed’ which produces ‘hypocritical bigots with twisted, neurotic personalities.’ Holy Trinity Brompton versus Hollywood. The decades ahead are not promising for European Christianity—attacked by hostile media and then swamped by Islam.

  • Gillan – does size matter?

    “The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

    “She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members….

    “It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

    “And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.”
    (Cardinal Ratzinger, Faith and the Future, (2009))

    The Church will survive and will lead men and women to salvation. Maybe fewer in the present and coming generations but God foreknows His elect and they will respond to the grace He freely offers.
    As Jesus said:

    “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them everlasting life, so that to all eternity they can never be lost; no one can tear them away from my hand. This trust which my Father has committed to me is more precious than all else; no one can tear them away from the hand of my Father. My Father and I are one.”

    • Purity matters more than size. We should expect the dead and dying wood to be pruned off over time, but we should also expect the living wood to grow and bear fruit. That will only happen though if it is watered and nourished.

      • Dominic Stockford

        Watering and nourishing requires the Word of God, and the action of God – it needs NO money.

    • Dominic Stockford

      Inded, the church was down to one at the first point. And he died.

    • dannybhoy

      Well said Jacko.

  • David

    This article makes much sense to me. Yes most C of E vicars are teacher/pastors and not enough are evangelists and apostles. The emphasis is on gentle, unremarkable leadership, caring and helpful yes, and that is fine; but what is needed are a fair proportion of ministers who really preach the gospel, with energy, evangelise and open up new boundaries.

    In the past when most considered themselves Christian a caring, gentle form of pastoral ministry was appropriate. But now with an ever shrinking percentage of the population still identifying, actively, with the C of E, a far more active, dare I say entrepreneurial, in a spiritual sense, type of person is needed.

    The media find it easy to go to the big institutional churches to gauge trends in faith and commitment. They seem blind to the rapid growth of new, vibrant protestant churches, as mentioned in the article, located in urban areas. How long will it be before, collectively, these new churches cater for more committed Christians than the C of E ? I suspect that the media will continue being unaware of this new growth. Indeed is anyone collecting and monitoring the statistics for these new churches.

    It is quite clear that the approach of the last few decades is not working. A new approach, including bold new initiatives are welcome. Ultimately though, reaching out and bringing in new believers, is God’s work. No amount of energetic, thrusting evangelists will bring about revival unless it is led by the Holy Spirit.

    • bluedog

      ‘the rapid growth of new, vibrant protestant churches, ‘ Led by priests or priestesses, as a matter of interest?

      • David

        I haven’t attended these churches so I am not really qualified to answer. So I suggest you look at their websites. The absence of any statistical summaries or easily digestible summaries of their theological stances, frustrates an easy tick box sort of analysis, such as you may be seeking(?). The websites seem to show smiling happy couples, but males seem to lead the services, that is preach. But as I say without in-depth research into this myself, I can’t be sure. Certainly within the C of E it is the male led (preach and celebrate The Lord’s Supper) churches of Reform that grow, though they also give women prominent positions in leading prayers, including intercessionary prayers.

        • magnolia

          I don’t think there are many Reform type churches left in the C of E. Those churches which do not accept women’s ministry are in a tiny weeny minority, and more Anglo- Catholic. There are a significant no. of men in those Anglo-Catholic ones who don’t perceive women as any use in quite a number of ways (cough, cough). Very few of the really big charismatic churches do not have female clergy or licensed lay ministers.

          • David

            Not many “Reform type churches left”
            Really !!!!!!!
            Your knowledge of the full breadth of the C of E has gaps in it !
            Go to their website, “Reform” and the interactive map says it all. They are expanding, and full of young family types.

            Their annual conference, this September, is now linking up, globally, with AMiE and The Global South, especially the burgeoning African national Churches plus Oz, as the Great Anglican Re-alignment continues, post The Jerusalem Conferences. The liberal C of E is becoming, numerically, and in terms of global Anglicanism, a mere semi-heterodox shadow of its former self, which is exceedingly sad, and I really mean that, as it pains me.

            I can assure you that most male Reform worshippers see women (cough, cough ) as exceedingly indispensable in every way – especially judging by the number of children about the place ! Moreover more seriously, women are deeply involved in significant roles in the churches.

    • magnolia

      How about prophesy, which sometimes says what the people need but do not wish to hear? Is there room for that in the parishes, or do the people just have the right to vote with their feet and turf the Vicar/ Rector/ Curate out? It is a valid question. After all Charles Simeon, from whom the Simeon Trust was named did not have a very easy time of ministering the gospel!!

      I agree about the big insititutional churches. Some church plants produce new deep membership, others produce shallow, this is “trendy” in the now membership, whilst others again simply gain from redistribution from other churches of similar ilk, like Vineyard and similar, and sometimes even enable pillars of nearby churches to come, complain about their previous Church, present as wounded. and take time off in a cosy new setting; this is not perhaps a missionary outcome nor conducive to good interchurch relationship.

      • David

        I have little experience of prophecy so I shan’t offer an opinion.
        It was obvious that from Paul’s time some conversions were “shallow”. Did not Jesus predict just that in His parable of the sower?

        • magnolia

          Yes he did. Maybe we can mine the metaphor so far as to say we should carefully prepare the ground, dig up the rocky bits, and put fertiliser in before we immerse the seedlings in the growing medium. As the growing medium is the nation….if we fail to criticise the prevailing culture and have remedies for it and encourage countercultural Christianity we may produce the numbers but they won’t last. Is that fair?

          • David

            “Is that fair”
            Well, partly appropriate, anyway.

            The “growing medium” will always be The Word – as expressed poetically by John’s Prologue – John 1: 1-14.

            But yes, you have the point. The Church will grow when it is not afraid of being profoundly countercultural. Regardless of the prevailing culture it must preach the Gospel.
            If you want to be popular, always, don’t be a Christian !

          • Phil R

            Ah yes counterculture like women and men having different roles within church and family.

            Yes as you say Magnolia but perhaps not as you mean

      • Ceige

        My understanding of prophecy is that mostly it is personal there for the ‘uplifting, edification and encouragement’ of individuals. Actual Prohets which are a bit different tend to be as you say unpopular with most people as their messages usual convict churches of their erring from the gospel, however, I haven’t encountered any modern day prophets like those of old personally.

        Admittedly there are some issues around mega-churches. Personally I am not a mega-church person, however, I am not sure if this article is about that. From my knowledge of HTB they have had an emphasis on church planting and kingdom building rather than simply being trendy. One of their prior church plants sent a team to help an Anglican Church in NZ, the team has now returned to the UK but the church here has benefited.

        Actuallly if you want a laugh when my sister was on her OE in London she went to HTB occassionally being an on the cusp christian at that stage and remarked how she was surprised it was so ordinary.

  • dannybhoy

    We are doing a big ‘think outside the box’ exercise in our deanery. One of the most useful things I’ve been involved in, so what Justin is saying makes perfect sense. Look at the Early Church model and see how they organised themselves..
    Mind you traditionalists and stick in the muds still have a potent weapon in their armoury; it’s called “The Long Grass Strategy…”

    • David

      What you mean by traditionalists ?
      For example I am theologically very traditional, that is orthodox, supporting the concept of the Bible as revelation, as were the protestant reformers of the Reformation; whereas in terms of organisation, structures and ways of operating I am fully in favour of streamlining the present archaic practices, to achieve a far more business like approach. On liturgy I say, use what works, from BCP to Fresh Expressions, depending on the congregations, but always preach the full, undiluted Gospel of Jesus Christ.

      • dannybhoy

        Sorry, traditionalists as in the Church, the hierarchy, the bureaucracy and rituals. In other words they perhaps love the traditions of the Church more than the message and ministry of the Church.
        The CofE will die if it refuses to let go stuff that is no longer relevant.

        • David

          Yes, spot on. Thank you. I agree totally !
          The Church of England must prioritise the “core business”, preaching the Gospel, as we were instructed at the Great Commission. Followers must let go of the human inventions, which always were mere tools for getting jobs done. Now those ancient tools are irrelevant, whereas the Gospel is always very relevant.

          • dannybhoy

            What the CofE has going for it is a network of churches and buildings and ministries up and down the land. It still has young people in unis and colleges, it has faithful clergy and laity who are willing to give for the sake of our Lord’s commission.
            What we now need is leadership that is willing to be both decisive and proactive, and accepting of the fact that we have to change. To call the people to prayer and repentance, rather than synods and business meetings.

          • David

            Yes, a useful infrastructure, a network is available.
            But hell that’s just stuff !

            Far, far too much focus goes on heritage, the mere buildings – energy should go into evangelism !
            If necessary let the roofs fall in, but fire up the people with a love of God – seeking forgiveness through repentance and Christ’s sacrifice of love, on the Cross of Calvary !

            Repairing the steeple can wait, until after the pews are full again – with genuine, truly believing, reborn Christians !

            I understand your points.
            But far too many people have been misled into a wishy washy luke warm liberalism, that is gospel lite and virtually morality free. Relativism is eating up the Church of Christ,

            Christ came not to preach a social gospel, but to urge repentance, rebirth and then, and then, the “good works” will flow from that deep seated, Spirit led love of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.

          • magnolia

            You are simply not allowed to let the roof fall in if you live- or worship- in a listed building. It is against the law of the land, like it or not.. We have as a people the resources to keep the painstaking artistic labour of past generations who were using their talents in the service of the Lord, as He said they should. Maybe there is not always the will, but that is another matter.

          • David

            “You are simply not allowed ….”
            Which chapter and verse of Scripture mandates that ?
            You are prioritising respectability.
            I say, if the building absorbs the resources, energy, money and time…..then walk away from it…. will they lock us up ?
            No – hell, they will !
            You can walk back later, when you have a full congregation.
            In the meanwhile ..
            Worship in a barn, a large house or, in the summer, a field.
            If we simply continue satisfying the needs of “system” we will never prioritise God.
            What did Wesley do ?
            Who spread the faith, Wesley or the dysfunctional, ossified C of E of that age ?
            Is the Church of England “for” spreading the faith, or is She the Bride of Christ, that prioritises the preaching of The Gospel ?
            Look wider ! Look at God – what does He say ?
            Repair the roof ? Or Preach the Gospel ?
            Preach the Gospel !

          • magnolia

            My answer is transform the culture, question all the comfortable atheistic, materialistic and occult stuff. Use ridicule, use satire, point out the underlying vanity. Provide a ship of rescue, which doesn’t let the rain in!

            “In the Summer a field”…. a lovely Romantic concept, but perhaps not very practical, unless you have small numbers and one of those plug-ugly caravans, or larger numbers and a marquee on hand and some portaloos….oh, wait by the time we have got all these hired the church building is beginning to look remarkably sensible after all.

            No point reinventing the wheel. Various churches have been known to say “Who needs a building?” They then end up hiring the village hall. Then that becomes inconvenient/expensive/ not fit for purpose and they end up with a building anyway.

            In this country there is too much rainfall, and then there is the question of loos and not excluding the elderly and the wheelchair bound and disabled, or is that not perceived as an issue?

            Should we just tell the elderly they don’t matter unless they can worship in a field and dodge the cow offerings on their zimmerframes? Is your vision one only for the young and fit?

          • Dominic Stockford

            Absolutely – one of the key elements of being church is that we look after one another, not merely “dump the Gospel and fly onwards”.

          • David

            You like a bit of fun don’t you !

            Permanent homes are good things, yes, as a generality.
            But buildings are the means, not the purpose or end.

            The C of E is suffering from an acute, existential form of
            very long term, Mission Creep.
            Serious decision making is now imperative.
            Visionary strategic leadership is now essential.
            It will be tough.
            Fighting against extinction usually is.

            When a vast proportion of a local church’s resources are poured into building maintenance, and not ministry in all its forms, then you’ve lost the plot.

            The C of E either regains the plot, or it becomes a branch of the heritage industry.

            For me, The Plot is defined as The Great Commission.

          • magnolia

            But this must be seen in the larger context of what happens when the very “clever” mathematical house of cards that is the world’s financial system has a card pulled out here and there.

          • Mike Stallard

            You are in the wrong Church. What you are talking about has absolutely nothing to do with what is going on right here in the Cambridgeshire countryside.

          • David

            Maybe.
            But please point to “what is going on right here in the Cambridgeshire countryside”.

          • steroflex

            The Church depends on two elements under the guidance of the Holy Spirit: the clergy and the laity.
            In the CoE, the clergy remind me so very much of the 18th century Vicars who now, as ladies, even have the hair which looks so like the clerical wig. They toe the line, react with fear when caught alone in their church, lock and leave and do not visit, walk around or get out of their car as it passes through the village. The key player is too frightened to go over to Rome, although he wants to.
            The laity seems to be over 80 years old, remembering, remembering it like it used (not) to be.
            Who can put Humpty Dumpty back together again? We need a Wesley please, asap.

          • David

            Largely agree with that.
            Yes a new Wesley please.
            Preach the plain Word.

  • magnolia

    When the dominoes fall, as they surely will, with a quadrillion in derivatives out there, worse than in 2008, I suspect those with shallower roots in the Christian faith will unfortunately be swept away. That is why it is imperative for the Church to know it is coming and for its leaders to be prepared, and to know how to minister in a world depression, before it hits the people. Singing loud choruses to electric guitars is all very well, and I have been there, but it won’t help per se in the times ahead. The derivative bubble is insane, probably the good times are over, and it is no good looking at the organisation of workparties to polish the silver on the Titanic while it goes down, to borrow a phrase from Gerald Celente, of the amusing rants (but they have high accuracy I fear).

    They were planning to open the Greek banks on Monday. There were many jokes of a dark grey nature floating around. It seems to have occurred to them that hoi polloi, poor s**s, would have been queuing to take every eurocent out of their accounts, so now it is Tuesday, but if you believe that you are seriously deluded!! It will take longer than that for the propaganda that they are safe to kick in. 1.75% interest but severe risk of losing the lot; no great customer appeal there!!

  • Ceige

    The ABC has always appeared to me to be a genuine leader through his words and actions.

    As for comments re alpha. Well I did the course and have participated in holding it for youth and adults. Since I came from a traditional church the Holy Spirit weekend got me nervous the first time. However it is far from looney tunes stuff. Actually it helped to assure me of not only how real God actually is but that any act of the Holy Spirit does not take away any self control nor does it contradict scripture. Two good points for discerning charasmatic happenings are of God so to speak.

    • William Lewis

      Good points and it seems to me that God is certainly moving within Alpha. The growth within our local church is largely due to running Alpha courses. It’s not perfect but often an effective vehicle for starting this vital spiritual journey, as I discovered myself some years ago.

      • Ceige

        I agree William… a step on the journey for some of us and the beginning of one for others! I love that verse we must worship in spirit and truth simply because as churches sometimes we seem to forsake one for the other. Engaging with Jesus in a living relationship, and acquiring a depth of understanding about Jesus the Word seem to both be essential although they may happen for different people at different times, in different ways!!

        • William Lewis

          Amen

  • The Questioner

    I’m interested with the church plants – and have experience of the congregation numbers of course being impressive, but there’s no talk of where those people come from. From conversation with people in and around the area of said church plants, often they come from other churches, attracted to a *new* thing with money being thrown at it. It would be lovely if each church with a small congregation was given £50,000 and a team of 11 to revitalise it!

  • Mike Stallard

    Yesterday I received a letter from the local Headmistress of our Comp. She was interested in allowing me to take a small group of volunteers in Assembly Time away for a bit of silence and prayer. Sort of like planting really…
    By chance, I happened to find our Vicar in the village Church and (she does not like me – with good reason!) carefully explained this surprising development. She was writing something, being very careful not to get ink on her Fokolare scarf. She was also wearing her surplice – immaculate! She did not put down her pen, paid little or no attention and showed no interest and very reluctantly gave me the name of the Rural Dean.
    But – hey! – what threads! (Note the slightly historical slang here please).