THE factors that help or hinder the growth of the Church of England’s 5000 mid-sized churches are being investigated in a new survey that will be presented to the secretary-general of the General Synod, William Nye, later this year.
Mr Nye has previously acknowledged that such churches have been “overlooked” by the national church institutions (News, 26 July 2019).
Seven incumbents of mid-sized churches — defined as having average adult weekly attendance of 20 to 60 — have designed the survey, which asks respondents about central initiatives such as Follow the Star and Thy Kingdom Come, and factors that may have held their ministry back, including finance and the maintenance of buildings.
Arithmetic done by staff at Church House suggests that, if each of the 5000 mid-sized churches gained an extra five people, the Church of England’s decline would be reversed. About 200,000 people worship in these churches, which serve a population of 16 million.
The Vicar of Malvern Link with Cowleigh, the Revd Phillip Johnson, one of the seven priests behind the survey, said this week that the group had crafted “questions we would love to have been asked”. Churches in the middle group were often not on “dioceses’ radars” he suggested: they were not small enough to cause concern, nor big enough to attract attention. “It’s not malicious: they just tend to be ignored, as they are ‘fine’.
“[But] it’s quite quick to go from 30 to 20 to ten, and also hard to go from 60 to 70 to 80. What are the things that start spiralling churches down, and what can we do to avoid that? But, also, what can we do to help churches who are 50 or 60?” One of his own hypotheses was that more support with administration could be an important factor, freeing up clergy time. There was also a need for discipleship programmes aimed at mid-sized rather than very big churches.
There was a “right size for every church”, he said. “Some churches could be bigger and should be bigger and flourish really, really well in those spaces. Others try to make themselves bigger, and what happens is you have church of about 65, and it can go up about 90, and then drift back to 65, because, actually, it is the right size.” It was “dangerous” to put pressure on churches to grow “without defining what a good size would be. . . Not every church needs to be 200 or 300 people.”
Pastoral care in mid-sized churches was often “excellent”, he said.
The survey will be online until mid-February, and can be completed by the incumbents of mid-sized churches. It will be complemented by interviews with individual incumbents, and presented to Mr Nye later this year.