REFLECT, change, and adapt were the watchwords of the Bishop's
Growth Conference, held by the diocese of Liverpool at Aintree
Racecourse on Saturday, attended by more than 400 clergy and parish
The choice of venue invited analogies of fences to be jumped,
and races to be run, but there was serious engagement with the
urgency of the task described by the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt
Revd Paul Bayes, as "producing a community naming the name of
Jesus, holding up the Kingdom to a nation drowning in affluence and
inequality . . . but through which the Kingdom of God and its
values run like threads of gold".
One of the Church's core marks was that it was a growing
community, he told the gathering. The Reform and Renewal reports
showed that it was aware of needing to take growth seriously, but
it should do it with the aim of making a bigger difference, he
He described the diocese's "Growth Planning Framework" checklist
for parishes as "an instrument to bring wisdom out of you. It is
through you that the revival of the Church will come."
The meeting was addressed by Canon George Lings, head of the
Church Army's Research Unit, which in 2012 chose Liverpool as the
first diocese to be surveyed on growth factors in the Church of
England. The city's population rose by 2.5 per cent between 2006
and 2012, and average weekly church attendance fell by the same
amount during that period. The proportion of the population served
by the diocese was less than two per cent: "a mission time-bomb",
Canon Lings said.
He gave stark figures on the demographic: 75 per cent of
80-year-olds had some church connection, but only 25 per cent of
In Liverpool diocese, 3000 people were part of a fresh
expression of church, and perhaps the future of the C of E was
about the birth of new, young churches, Canon Lings suggested. He
emphasised that all traditions could go down this road. The
majority were small - about 40 people. They should not be
"re-badgements" of existing church communities, or "something more
But it was not all about new, young churches. The meeting heard
encouragement from Canon Janet Roberts, the Vicar of St Nicholas's,
Blundellsands, which had been through a tough time. Initiatives
such as Toddler Church had brought in 85 families. People were
looking for "a place to belong, a sense of community", and parents
in their thirties and forties were seeking a sense of values for
"We're not doing anything different now, but [it's all
happening] because the church is ready to grow, working with what
they wanted to do."
Anglicans did the ordinary very well, Canon Lings observed. The
Revd Andrew Stott, Team Rector in the 4Saints Team, described the
enriching "ground-up and not top-down" move to team ministry that
followed the loss of one stipendiary from the four parishes of a
cluster, all of whom had a similar vision for church growth.
"On our own we can't, but together we can," Canon Lings
responded. "Sometimes you have to surrender things in order to go
beyond where you are."
The meeting, concentrated into three hours of attentive
listening, was led to reflect on comfort zones and places of
challenge. People departed with a buzz.