A ROBUST defence of the
Archbishops' programme Reform and Renewal was delivered at a
gathering of Evangelicals last week, addressing critics who have
questioned everything from its theology to its methodology.
Organised by the Evangelical
group Fulcrum, the event, which asked whether the Church of England
was "drinking in the last-chance saloon", was addressed by the
Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, and the Revd Dr
Ian Paul, associate minister of St Nicholas, Nottingham,
and Honorary Assistant Professor at the University of
The audience heard an
unapologetic defence of the drive to tackle numerical decline, and
a frank dismissal of some of the programme's most vocal
"A lot of the pushback that we
got was about the fact that Bishops suddenly started giving
leadership." said Bishop Broadbent. "And people said, 'Oh you can't
do that, you haven't got the Synod behind you; you haven't got this
that and the other' - because we have this democratic understanding
of the Church which is synodically governed and episcopally led,
which is a phrase that we trot off without every really working out
what that means.
"When someone starts actually
giving leadership that gets questioned. Now I am unashamed. I think
we have to give leadership because that's what our
Synod was "very out of date",
he said. "It's based on a 1980s or 1970s representative democracy
thing, which really doesn't work."
Several strands of criticism
were addressed, including that put forward by the Revd Dr Hart,
Rector of Plemstall and Guilden Sutton, last week (News,
17 April). Dr Hart's paper, From Delusion to Reality
looks critically at From Anecdote to Evidence,
the 2014 report that examines evidence for which factors cause
churches to grow ( News,
17 January 2014). The Reform and Renewal programme was
based on this report. His paper questions self-reported growth
figures and a confusion between cause and effect in the list of
characteristics associated with growth.
Whether the research basis was
reliable was "obviously an important question to ask", Bishop
Broadbent said. "But actually those characteristics are things that
come back time and again in both English and German and American
research on church growth, and which can be reiterated."
Dr Hart had admitted that the
Church was in decline, Bishop Broadbent said, but "he doesn't
therefore say what you do about the decline, merely that he thinks
the analysis might be wrong."
Dr Paul, who has a degree in
mathematics, said that Dr Hart had suggested that "statistically,
there is not clear evidence that changing all the levers that we
can change is going to reverse the decline in the way we need to do
"Well we haven't got any other
levers, so let's pull the ones we have."
There were, Dr Paul said,
"limits to statistical research. God can't be measured. Actually,
human life is sufficiently complex that it can't be measured in
that kind of tied-down way, either. And my refection . . . is there
is lots of anecdotal evidence. I don't think I've ever been in a
ministry situation where it hasn't been possible, relatively
straightforwardly, to identify stuff that people are doing and the
impact that's having on whether people are coming to church on a
He was asked specifically about
Dr Hart's contention that the research had not shown causation of
growth but correlation, and whether it was possible to prove
"From a mathematical point of
view, statistical analysis will never demonstrate causation," he
said. "When you are only measuring two things you are not looking
for causation. Your research technique isn't able to do that. If
you are statistically measuring two things you have to do a
different kind of analysis to see the link between them."
He then reiterated the strength
of anecdotal evidence.
"What do you want to happen?
You want people to gather together. You want to form a sense of
community. You want to have a sense that people encounter God. You
want them to grow in understanding. You want that they will learn
something which feeds them, heals them, and equips them to go out
to be faithful disciples in the world. Isn't that what you
"Well, my experience is
whenever I have been in a context where we've been able to do that,
people have come."
As a "Healthy Churches"
consultant in Salisbury, he had seen that it was possible to
"change some simple stuff that actually would have an effect. I
think it's amazing how quickly you can make a difference."
Both speakers were highly
critical of those who had questioned the importance of discipleship
January). They must be "reading a different New Testament from
the one I'm reading", said Bishop Broadbent.
He was "not ashamed of
numerical growth as a measure", he said, although he always spoke
of growth in a much broader sense.
Those who had criticised the
Resourcing Ministerial Education report (News,
27 March) had "a fair amount of vested interest in opposing
some of the changes", Bishop Broadbent suggested. They
"misrepresent the commitment to leadership as an undermining of
ministry that is prayerful and dedicated and spiritual and
Here Dr Paul, disagreed,
arguing that the report's recommendations could spell "disaster"
for residential training.
The Reform and Renewal reports
were "a mixed bag", he said. A number were "unhelpful and heading
in the wrong direction", including the Green report, which "did
appropriate, in an uncritical way, management speak".
But he defended the commitment
to numerical growth, and was highly critical of a
recent article by Giles Fraser that suggested that a Church
that successfully proclaims the Christian message was "likely to be
empty and not full", and that the worst churches "judge their
success in entirely worldly terms, by counting their
"In the end, we count people
because people count," Dr Paul said. "And the idea that Jesus
wouldn't want people to hear the good news and encounter God and
have their lives changed, seems to me rather bizarre."
Both speakers were critical of
the response to the programme vocalised by Professor Linda Woodhead
"She's a good sociologist,"
said Bishop Broadbent. "But Linda's approach seems to be to say
'Actually, if you ask people questions about what they want the
Church to be, you will find that they come up with different
answers from discipleship and change and therefore we ought to take
account of that.'
"She's not wrong about that.
The popular imagination doesn't want the Church of England
necessarily to be making disciples and calling people followers of
Jesus Christ. Unfortunately I don't think we can avoid that."
He went on: "What underlies
this, is there is actually a response to a desire to change
the Church in terms of renewal which says we should carry on being
understated Anglicans because that's what we do best. And the worry
about it is it is actually drifting into being unstated Anglicans
where we don't actually talk about our faith at all. We just key in
with society and its norms and the generous ways in which society
gets on with itself. . .
"My argument with Linda
Woodhead is not that she's not asking good questions about what
makes for a good society and what the Church can contribute to
that, but that she's not asking the questions about what it means
to be Church and explicitly calling people to discipleship in Jesus
Christ because she doesn't like that question."
There was agreement from both
speakers with the motion suggested by Fulcrum. To illustrate his
talk, Dr Paul used an image of the Cambridge boat team sinking in
1978. The answer, he suggested, was not to "row harder" but to
allow God to fill the sails: "If we work hard so we create the
conditions by which God can do his work then growth will come."
Bishop Broadbent spoke of the
"prophetic impatience" of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had
"made a fair amount of protesting noise that we actually weren't
dealing with reality".
He also warned: "Unfortunately,
there are bishops around the place who think: 'Well actually, we've
just got to cater for this ongoing decline in our Church.' And I
worry about that."
Dr Paul said that he had been
"staggered" by how quickly attendance fell in one diocese after a
Bishop who had overseen growth was moved to another diocese, and
another with "a very different style, different priorities,
different background experience" took over.
There was sympathy from both
speakers for those on the ground charged with implementing the
"If you are in a struggling
context where you have a lack of resources, where you haven't seen
growth, where you work really hard, and are baffled as to why
things aren't happening, to have a bishop come along and say 'Now
we all need to be growing', probably isn't what you need," said Dr
Paul. "You need some encouragement, some support, some critical
friends, a whole load of other stuff."
"I don't think we should diss
those parts of the Church that are struggling," said Bishop
Broadbent, who confessed to being "allergic" to Rev (the
television series had "depicted what I know to be heroic workers in
the East End of London as though the people who were doing it were
a bunch of complete fools".)
He went on: "Talking success
should not be done at the expense of affirming the heroic stuff
that is being done when people are finding it difficult and then
also lifting people's horizons.
"We want to help clergy who are
struggling to understand that there is good news, and that God is
not going to let them down."
Although the Church of England
was a "belligerent and unbiddable beast, and there are all kinds of
people who will not want us to go in the route we are going," he
had been been "cheered to the echo" by the Winchester diocesan
synod, when presenting the Archbishops' programme.