LATEST research on church growth demonstrates that the Church of England “will have to evolve”, the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, has said.
In his foreword to the report Growing Good: The future of the Church?, produced by the think tank Theos and released on Monday, Archbishop Cottrell said: “The task of imagining what the Church of England should do — of asking how it should serve as the national Church — is one that is never quite complete. As the context evolves, so must our Church.”
He hoped that the report, the final one of the GRA:CE Project, a partnership between Theos and the Church Urban Fund (News, 21 February; 15 February 2019), would “make a defining contribution to the Church in the coming decades”.
The report, by the researcher Hannah Rich, combines qualitative and quantitative research. Interviews were carried out between June 2018 and December 2019 in 66 parishes and with 337 individuals, encompassing more than 100 churches and including parishes in every diocese of the Church of England. To this was added an analysis of existing parish data.
The research explored the relationship between social action, church growth, and discipleship in the Church of England, and the report makes suggestions for enabling lasting growth.
Four characteristics of church growth are identified: churches have a strong sense of presence and connection with their local area; they have a sense of perseverance owing to growth occurring after years of engagement with a community; they show hospitality and generosity; and they participate in social action, which can draw people in who may never have previously considered exploring faith.
The report recommends that churches first “explore new ways of measuring church growth and impact”, as “existing measures do not adequately capture the contextual and local factors or the changing shape of church life.”
It further recommends that “congregations and church leaders should be equipped to think about social action, discipleship and church growth in an integrated way rather than as three independent concepts.”
Churches seeking to grow should “equally see their social action projects as primary sites of invitation and be expectant of the relationships that can grow through it”. To help make this happen, the report urges that “a Church of England volunteering service for people of all faiths and none should be established.
“This would connect people of goodwill to local projects, channelling the untapped reserves of goodwill witnessed during the pandemic and opening up opportunities for new relationships between the church and the wider community.”