Why aren’t we growing?

Great question for our church, and for churches in general. Some business analysts down in Sydney have been doing a big study looking at the state of the Anglican church down there, and there is a write up/analysis of some of the findings at the new Briefing Website.

The first finding that caught my eye was:

The high degree of social mobility in our cities makes the environment even more tricky for Sydney Anglicans—and indeed for all churches. Nearly 40% of our congregations will leave every five years, simply because they have moved house.

This is certainly our experience in Clayfield. And as the study points out, while you do also get the corresponding 40% who move into your area, it has quite a destabilising effect on the congregation.

Don’t think there are any easy answers, although encouraging people to stay put for the sake of the Gospel is definitely something that needs to be done more.

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7 Responses to Why aren’t we growing?

  1. Anthony Douglas says:

    Another major point (can’t remember if it made it to the Briefing’s write up) was that we have based our growth on cradle-to-grave – make sure that we hold on to the kids of Christian families so that we benefit from following the population growth, and then converts come on top of this. However, something went wrong when no-fault divorce came in and led to 40% (that’s a magic number, that one…) of marriages ending in divorce. And that’s destabilising to Plan A for Church Growth…

  2. Andrew C says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I think the modern church is kind of squeezed out of most of the real benefits it used to offer. Positive thinking, psychotherapy, welfare, entertainment, the arts, ethics, science and good society (ale and conversation) are all professionalised and bedded down as industries. There is, however, one thing that I think the church can still provide or support, and that is a spiritual transformation through repentance, access to humility, to grounded living by dying. There is this moment where one’s life is clearly ruined, and you survey the wreck and say ‘Well, that was me, my pride and joy, right there, and its ruined’ and let the idol ME drop, and find your empty self sustained and surprised by grace and peace. (Even this experience is commodified in AA and similar, but what they worship as unknown you are able to make known.) Keep preaching repentance as the means of grace.
    The second thing I think would be helpful is to promote as much of all those other ‘squeezed’ benefits in the church as you can. I’m sure you already do this, but we ran a little exercise in church of ‘speed dating’ where everyone chatted to everyone about their hobbies and pleasures in life. At the least, people are surprisingly interesting to each other when discussing things they love. And people might find each other (the two or three linuxers in any group). Related activity was a variety night in which people brought along their handicrafts, hobbies, or performance pieces. One old chap brought a set of pistons for his old Daimler that he had hand turned! Both these activities were much much easier than the more organized activities we run.
    But look, we found it takes about 5 years to feel like you have made friends that count. If you move every five years, you never get there. You’re in a tough area where people are very able to access services that compete with the church. I think the suburbs with more excluded people might be easier to grow in.
    Andrew C
    PS. I had a sense from Simone’s comments that Nathan’s first adventure in non-conformity had not gone well. Please secretly give him my encouragement.

  3. Laetitia says:

    Some thoughts:
    (1) Don’t worry about numbers – worry about quality and the numbers follow.
    (2) You may never see the numbers – it doesn’t mean they aren’t there – have you heard of Mr Genor?
    (3) Creation is not a side issue – many leave the church in their teens (mentally checked-out even if physically there because Mum & Dad enforce it) because their church has no answers and fobs them off with lines like, “That’s a side issue,” or “We don’t deal with controversies like that.” Say what? We won’t deal with origins but expect people to believe in a virgin birth and resurrection?!
    You and your church may be cool with origins and teaching it faithfully – I’m making a statement about the church in general here. But if you want extra resources or a guest speaker, talk to Creation Ministries International http://creation.com/
    (4) Funny YouTube clip – What if Starbucks Marketed like a Church? A Parable. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7_dZTrjw9I

  4. apricho says:

    Thanks for your comments guys. I plan to think through some of the other findings from the research project in future posts
    @ Anthony, yes that finding about family breakdown was discussed in the briefing. And it has, to some extent been my experience in real life ministry too. Marriage breakdown has wide ranging effects, including in communities like church. I wonder too, if as a church we haven’t really known how to cope with marriage breakdown which has compounded the negative effect.
    @Andrew. Interesting point about the squeezing of the church out of many areas where they used to provide encouragement/services for people. I think you’re right that continuing to provide a loving community/family is a key thing that is attractive, and hopefully a unique product of the gospel. Playgroup has always been one of our best ministries in this regard.

    I’m not sure if we are in a ‘hard’ area or not. I actually suspect that all areas in australia are hard for ministry in their own way. The mobility of people in this area is a challenge. Although as the research project pointed out, it is also an opportunity because you get lots of people moving in to the area.

    I will pass on your encouragement to Nathan – I actually think he had a pretty positive experience of non-conformity. The Librarian who organised the ‘quotes’ event is great, and would have been very encouraging (she thought it was hilarious). It was more as parents it was a little embarrassing…

  5. apricho says:

    Hi Leatitia, You are absolutely correct that growth in numbers and gospel growth are not the same thing. However, as Tony Payne points out in the Briefing article, we want to be doing everything in our power to reach more people and see them start following Jesus and joining his family – that means numerical growth. As such, the question about numbers is always worth asking even if you conclude that you are doing everything you can to plant and water, and God in his wisdom is simply not giving the growth.

    Agree that you need to give people useful answers to the real questions that are troubling them. Might have to agree to disagree about whether Creation Science is the best/only way to give people satisfying answers to questions about the Bible and science.

    And love the video. Just talking to someone this week about how, if you expect/want to have visitors at church don’t preach about them. Must be very off-putting if you aren’t a Christian and the congregation is being urged to go out and convert non-Christians.

  6. Melinda Waldeck says:

    The social mobility issue has also been my observation at Unichurch. (Obviously being a church catering to uni students there is an increased turnover) I went there yesterday morning on my yearly visit and sitting up the back and looking around, I only knew 50% of the people from when we members, and we only left 3 years ago! (although a church plant has happened since we left, which would account for some of this movement) The thing I found really interesting was, of the 50% I did know/were there 3 years ago, the majority were members when we first started going 8 years ago.

    • apricho says:

      Yes, UniChurch would be an extreme example. Our area in Clayfield seems to be above the 40% over 5 years that the Sydney Anglican research found. But I suspect in some country areas the turnover is much smaller. I think the age demographic also plays a big role. The older your family gets, the more difficult it gets to move all the time.

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