WHEN David Sheppard took over as Bishop of Woolwich from John A.
T. Robinson in 1969, his predecessor had bad news. "Bishop Robinson
said he did not think there would be any visible Church in the
inner-city in ten years' time!"
The actual trajectory of the Church (Anglican and non-Anglican)
in London has been very different - one of marked growth in recent
decades. That trajectory is a salutary warning to ecclesiastical
I have much for which to thank the former Archbishop of
Canterbury Lord Carey. He sponsored me for ordination almost 25
years ago. I suspect he will be evaluated more positively as a
church leader by history than he has been by his critics. But his
comment in the Daily Mail last week that the Church of
England was "one generation away from extinction" (Press, 22 November)
is like Bishop Robinson's prophecy from the 1960s. It is
Some parts of the Christian Church and some regions of Britain
are seeing severe decline. But Lord Carey and the Daily
Mail (and other papers that picked up the story) ignore the
other parts of the Church and other regions that are stable or
growing (Features, 7 September
THE most striking example is London. Dr Peter Brierley's
London Church Census will be published in detail in the
next few weeks. But the findings that have already been released
are startling. The usual Sunday attendance of London's churches
(counting all denominations) has already grown significantly in the
past 20 years.
In recent years, it has risen sharply. Church attendance in
Greater London grew by 16 per cent between 2005 and 2012, from
620,000 to 720,000. This represents nine per cent of the capital's
population, as of 2012. The number of places of worship in London
has grown by 17 per cent, from 4100 to 4800, in the same
The research reports that growth is most marked among churches
rooted in black, Asian, and other minority-ethnic communities.
Black people are far more likely to attend services than white
people (19 per cent against eight per cent). In inner London, 48
per cent of worshippers are black.
The London Church Census is backed up by work from Dr
Andrew Rogers, who has found 240 new black-majority churches in a
single London borough, Southwark (News,
28 June). This is remarkable in itself. But it is worth noting
that Dr Rogers has not even looked at the activity of the many
churches that are not classified as black-majority.
THINGS are less positive outside London. But it would be a
mistake to see London as another planet. There is significant
church growth going on across a broad swath of Britain. There are
three key avenues of growth.
First, "new" and Pentecostal churches are growing - more than
500,000 people now attend Sunday worship at such churches, by the
most recent figures for England.
Second, churches rooted in minority-ethnic communities are
growing, and, while concentrated in the biggest cities, they are
beginning to move into other parts of the UK. For example, the
Redeemed Christian Church of God arrived in the UK in the 1980s; it
now has more than 400 congregations.
Third, churches are growing most vigorously along "trade routes"
- arteries of communication, employment, and migration. Thus, there
is significant church growth in London, York, and Edinburgh. It is
harder work off such routes, in, say, Halifax, Grimsby, and
Most of this growth is happening outside the Anglican Church.
But even the Church of England is not immune from such
developments. The diocese of London has seen marked growth. In the
past 20 years, its electoral-roll figures have risen by more than
70 per cent.
Yes, of course, not everywhere is like London. But London is not
a peripheral entity that can be ignored. Research on Fresh
Expressions and church plants by a team led by Canon George Lings,
from the Church Army's Wilson Carlisle Centre in Sheffield, has
shown much activity across England. Further work due out shortly by
Canon Lings looks set to accentuate that picture. A sizeable
minority of Anglican churches are growing.
DOES all this mean that everything is fine? Of course not. It
does, however, mean that we should not echo Private Frazer in
Dad's Army, by crying "We're all doomed!" And we must
block our ears to newspaper editors on a slow news day, seeking a
headline to curdle Middle England's blood.
There is more than this. We live out of the narratives told to
us and which we tell ourselves. If you tell a child that he or she
is no good, he or she will start believing it. Many in the media
and Academe have long parroted that Christianity in Britain is
"doomed". Many - including not a few church leaders - have
internalised this narrative.
Yet the narrative of secularisation has its flaws. It was
conceived and works best in Northern and Western Europe. In many
other parts of the globe, the Church is stable or growing. In
Britain, it works best among the white community, and in areas
furthest from the capital. It works best with what are called (with
decreasing accuracy) the "mainline" denominations. Other Churches
(such as Pentecostal, Orthodox, and "new" ones) do not fit the
The Church in inner London did not die out after the 1960s.
Since then, it has survived, and is now growing fast. Bishop
Robinson saw ecclesial change in south London, but mistook it for
collapse. He could not have been expected to foresee the extent of
the globalisation of the London community, which is driving much of
this growth. But, even in the 1960s, there were signs of
resurrection in the Church.
Christianity is a faith centred on death and resurrection. It is
not hard to see the death going on in parts of British
Christianity. But there is resurrection happening, too. We should
live out of the narrative of resurrection, not that of newspaper
headlines. We should do so because we trust in the resurrection of
Jesus. But we should do so also because the empirical evidence
points that way.
The Revd Dr David Goodhew is Director of Ministerial
Practice at Cranmer Hall, St John's College, Durham.