National church statistics provide a snapshot of how the Church
of England is doing. They tell us that there are about a million
people who attend church.
But there is another statistic that is often overlooked. One
recent survey, carried out by YouGov and reported in the Church
Times, (Comment, 26
April) found that, although one third of the population
described themselves as Anglican, only 17 per cent of these were
regular worshippers. This tells us that 83 per cent of Anglicans
don't come to church.
Our church, Great St Mary's, is at the centre of Cambridge, and
we have many visitors. The 83 per cent who don't come to services
are just as much part of the church as the 17 per cent who do. We
have tried many ideas for ministering to them; some have failed,
but others have worked. Gradually, we have built up a picture of
what a church for the 83 per cent looks like.
IT IS an all-week church. We do not expect to see our 83 per
cent on Sundays, but they do come in during the week for a variety
of reasons. We have two churches near to each other, Great St
Mary's and Michaelhouse, and both stay open all day.
They are both clearly churches, but within them there are
different parts for different purposes. So we can offer a worship
area for formal services, and another for experimental services; a
chapel set aside for private prayer; a shop and reception desk; a
video studio for educational presentations; and at Michaelhouse
there is a café, an art gallery, and meeting rooms. We seek to
embrace many activities.
IT IS a community. It is sometimes said that people no longer
want to be part of a church community: they go to cathedrals rather
than parish churches, where they can enjoy beautiful worship
without the hassle of community life.
We don't agree. We think that people want the comfort and
support of a network of relationships. It is just that they want to
decide for themselves how and when this happens, and not be told to
fit in to congregational life.
Hospitality encourages people to meet each other and find
communities that they can shape in order to meet their needs. We
have people in church as much as we can, and these get to know the
regulars, make tea for those who are homeless, talk to those who
are lonely, and answer endless questions.
IT IS a partnership. We don't do ministry for others, but with
others, and we don't try to stay in control. Our part is to discern
opportunities, find colleagues, and work in partnership.
We have thought long and hard about how to set up a truly
collaborative management structure. We now have four distinct
semi-autonomous "ministries". There is Great St Mary's, with its
worshipping congregation, run by the PCC. The Michaelhouse mission
centre, with its mix of activities, is directed by a community
Our multifaith chaplaincy service for the university staff and
researchers, which operates out of a chaplaincy centre, has the
character of a university department. And, this year, a new
heritage education centre is opening - a collaboration between us,
schools, and the tourist office.
The key group is not the PCC but a "foundation group", which
includes clergy, churchwardens, and representatives of each of the
four ministries, to provide mutual support and a shared
Money is always a challenge. At present, our income comes, in
more or less equal parts, from the giving of the congregation,
business activities, and payments from outside groups who work with
us or benefit from what we do. Each of our four ministries is
expected to raise its own funds.
WE ARE still a worshipping church. But we look for new
approaches to worship which can engage that 83 per cent who don't
attend formal services. For them, worship needs to make sense of,
and fit in with, other parts of life.
Like many churches, we have a great choir. Eighteen months ago,
the organist left, and the director of music decided not to replace
him. Instead, he asked his young organ pupils, who were drawn from
the choir, to take on much of the playing at services. He used the
money saved to set up a teaching programme.
Singing for services remains the core activity, but there is
also high-quality teaching, and there are regular concerts,
recitals, and social events. Bringing these together has
transformed our music ministry and enriched our worship. There are
now 100 children in the choir, and a waiting list to join.
We realise that we have special opportunities, thanks to our
history and location. But then each church has its own unique way
of relating to the community around. Each has a core group who
worship on Sundays - but also many more who are connected to the
church but just don't feel the need to come to services.
If we can rethink what we mean by church life, and start to
recognise churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike as full and equal
parts of Christ's body in this place, then I am convinced that we
can set up new forms of church life and vitality.
Canon John Binns is Vicar of Great St Mary's,