A ROBUST defence of the Archbishops' programme Reform and
Renewal was made at a gathering of Evangelicals last week, after
critics questioned its theology and 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's, Nottingham, and Honorary Assistant
Professor at the University of Nottingham
"A lot of the pushback that we got was about the fact that
Bishops suddenly started giving leadership," Bishop Broadbent said.
"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 ever 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 episcope entails." The Synod was
"very out of date. . . 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 Mark Hart, Rector of Plemstall and Guilden
17 April). Dr Hart's paper, From Delusion to Reality,
looks critically at From Anecdote to Evidence, the 2014
report that examines causes of church growth. The Reform and
Renewal programme was based on this report.
Whether the research basis was reliable was "obviously an
important question", Bishop Broadbent said. "But actually those
characteristics are things that come back time and again in English
and German and American research on church growth."
Dr Paul 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
it. Well, we haven't got any other levers; so let's pull the ones
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 reflection . . . 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 Sunday."
He was asked about Dr Hart's contention that the research had
shown not causation of growth but correlation, and whether it as
possible to prove causation.
"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 his view that the anecdotal evidence was
"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 want? Well, my experience is, whenever I
have been in a context where we've been able to do that, people
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
Both speakers were highly critical of those who had questioned
the importance of discipleship (Comment, 30 January). They must be
"reading a different New Testament from the one I'm reading",
Bishop Broadbent said. He was "not ashamed of numerical growth as a
measure", although he always spoke of growth in a much broader
Critics of the report Resourcing Ministerial Education
27 March) had "a fair amount of vested interest in opposing
some of the changes", Bishop Broadbent suggested, and "misrepresent
the commitment to leadership as an undermining of ministry that is
prayerful and dedicated and spiritual and priestly".
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 stood by the commitment to numerical growth. "In the end,
we count people because people count," Dr Paul said.