From THE TIMES:
The Church of England has been hit by a new slump in its congregations, with the latest figures showing its fifth year-on-year decline.
Also, the Church’s first analysis of its worshippers showed that nearly half are pensioners.
The established Church has lost more than 40,000 worshippers since 2003, shortly after Dr Rowan Williams became Archbishop of Canterbury in December 2002. Average weekly attendance fell from 1.187 million in 2003 to 1.145 million in 2008. In spite of a rise in the number of children and young people at services, the average age of a member of a Church of England congregation is 61, according to statistics published yesterday.
The figures also show a slight acceleration in the rate of decline in the past 12 months, indicating that there may be even worse news in years to come.
COMMENT: In England we are living in the end times of state Christianity. The government and the people of England no longer regard faith groups as moral agents but see them only as political organisations. As The Church of England causes the government few headaches politically (we don’t riot, vote as a block, use violence to get our way or play the martyr card convincingly) we are hardly on their radar anymore. The “man in the street” finds Christianity embarrassing. He has come to this conclusion because of the two stereotypes of contemporary, English Christianity – wishy washy, trendy liberal vicars and happy clappy evangelicals.
Unfortunately the church is run by completely the wrong sort of people to reverse the decline in its membership. Its theologians and leaders are, on the whole, divorced from the vast majority of the people they are supposed to serve and have very little understanding of the lives of people who are not from their social and academic backgrounds. For example, the theologians of Radical Orthodoxy have many interesting things to say about secularisation and the power of the Kingdom, but they are so caught up in academia and the language of academia that their message will never become popularist. And the church hierarchy is responding to the numbers crisis by battening down the hatches. More and more power is being grabbed by fewer and fewer people at the centre and they are using their power to control and conform. This is so wrongheaded and will lead the church into meaningless obscurity.
What the church should be doing is embracing freedom. The grass roots should be allowed to flourish without constant pruning and weeding from above. Imagination and creativity must be encouraged. Mistakes will be made. Wrong avenues will be pursued. But the good will also spring forth from such freedom.
Above all we need to sever the link between the episcopacy and stuffy academia, and between the episcopacy and the conformist middle class. Bishops should be raised up from the parishes. They should be people who have lived among the people of secular Britain, who understand their concerns and aspirations. The last thing we need is more trendy vicars but we do need streetwise vicars and streetwise bishops. Our paradigm for this is Christ and his disciples. A group without political power. A group made up of working people from the unprivileged grass roots of their society. A group always on the road. A group with nothing to lose.
The powerful in the Church of England have not just turned their back on the Holy Spirit, they have assumed its authority for themselves. Worse still, they are stifling the work of the Spirit among the rank and file. This must stop. Cowardly retrenchment is not the answer. In stead, we should bravely and foolishly go over the top and charge the enemy head on with all guns blazing.