Church Growth in Britain: 1980 to the
David Goodhew, editor
Ashgate Press £17.99
Church Times Bookshop £16.20 (Use code
FOR years, the media have fed us a diet of stories and comment
to the effect that the Church in this country is in terminal
decline. This excellent book, by a team of leading international
researchers, challenges this dominant narrative by providing firm
evidence that the truth is much more complex: alongside decline in
some areas, substantial church growth has taken place in Britain in
After a very helpful introduction by the editor, David Goodhew,
the first part of the book looks at in- stances of "mainstream
churches" that have flouted the received wisdom of inexorable
decline. John Wolffe and Bob Jackson describe the considerable
growth of the Anglican diocese of London, the largest Anglican
diocese in the country, where electoral rolls have grown by 70 per
cent since 1990.
Alana Harris looks at Roman Catholicism in the East End of
London; Ian Randall charts the significant growth in membership of
Baptist churches in recent years; Lynda Barley records the
fascinating rise in attendance at cathedrals; and Rebecca Catto
looks at what has been termed "reverse mission" to this country
from the Global South.
The second part of the book looks at growth in "New Churches".
Perhaps the most striking part of this is the rise of
black-majority churches, catalogued by Hugh Osgood, Richard
Burgess, and Amy Duffuo.
These are Christians whom most statistics tend to miss, since
such churches tend not to count and publish the number of people
who attend them; but, as the editor points out in his introduction,
there are now more than half a million Christians worshipping in
them every Sunday, when 60 years ago there were virtually none.
George Lings gives us a helpful overview of church-planting and
Fresh Expressions, now attended by tens of thousands.
Goodhew tells the story of York, where a congregation has been
founded every year over the past three decades; while Colin Marsh
looks at Birmingham, where such "new churches" are beginning to
overtake "mainline" ones. In the third part of the book, Kenneth
Roxburgh, Paul Chambers, and Claire Mitchell turn attention to
church growth in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland
The fact is that the contemporary British Church is much more
interesting than those who have tried to persuade us that
Christianity is suffering death pangs would suggest. There is, as
the editor reminds us, no cause for ecclesiastical triumphalism. As
he goes on to point out, however, many contemporary British
theologians, church leaders, and churches have "consciously or
unconsciously internalised both the secularization thesis and its
eschatology of decline, thereby creating an ecclesiology of
This extremely helpful book should encourage them to see that
decline is not the whole picture, and neither need it be. Though it
leaves many questions unanswered, and shows the urgent need for
such growth to be researched further, it holds out the prospect
that, as the editor puts it, if "sociology and social history have
stunted theology, they could liberate it, too".
Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.