Friday, 18 April 2008

Decline is Not Inevitable

In an address to the London Press Club last year the Archbishop of York mocked the illogical use of statistics by those who say the Church of England will disappear in the medium term by paralleling newspaper readership and church attendance. Apparently, according to recent statistics, decline in readership of newspapers in Britain due to the internet can be extrapolated to point to the extinction of printed news by 2043. It is a false extrapolation of the statistics, ignoring the likely response newspapers will make to the decline. Furthermore, the extremely high readership of newspapers of a few years ago might always have indicated a ‘correction’ would occur at some time. As he said, “Such doomsday statistics, as I believe they are, highlight that tendency to extrapolate the worst case scenario from the most celebratory of times.”

And so it is with those who look at the statistics of decline in the Anglican Church of Australia. Extrapolations from the halcyon days of the 1950s to our extinction in 40 years time from now ignore the range of responses churches are making to the decline, and forget that the 1950s was always going to result in decline at some point as the demographics of our church shifted against the demographics of society. (That is, we aged quicker than society in general.)

The important point is that continuing decline is not inevitable. Indeed, for those churches willing to face the facts and respond with trust and courage splashed with a little intelligence, there is a good prognosis for a flourishing life of faith. Now you won’t get that from The Advertiser with its penchant for headlines and simplistic analysis. But let us not be distracted by the lack of sensible analysis in the popular media. We have a real opportunity because there are many people who want Christian faith, and a Christian faith that has depth and a sense of reality and proportion about it. And that is our (middle-Anglican) natural ground. Moreover, there are many people around us who know virtually nothing about Christian faith, and who would respond to the gospel if given a chance.

1 comment:

  1. I think though, because of the Mass-Media "The Church is Dead" myth and the fact that people look sometimes at their own churches and see minor decline they buy into the myth. We need to celebrate the life and the growth of the Church to see why we are growing in those places and to see if there is something generally significant in what they are doing. The significant thing is not that the growth is happening in churches that are "Evangelical" but it is happening in churches that are looking at taking serious a variety of ministries and looking at how they all fit in to grow the Church. So how a Youth Worker might be a complimentary ministry to the Parish Priest rather than a junior version of the Parish Priest.