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What I learnt in our Shrinking Church

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I was surprised by the HUGE reaction to my blog post, Shrinking Church?

A good thousand people read the post. About five times that looked at the Liturgy facebook discussion; I cannot tell how many engaged on other places where it appears (eg Episcopalians on facebook,…). I have looked through over two hundred comments – so much to learn from this!

In no particular order, here are some of the insights of you who commented:

  • Having lamented the difficulty to find statistics for the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, one commenter pointed to The Episcopal Church’s 10 year summary of attendance/ membership demographics that was included in the 2019 Parochial Report summary published a few months ago.
  • Highlighting that membership of any organisation is shrinking (the “Bowling Alone” phenomenon).
    • I disagree with the comments that younger people are commitment-phobic; younger people are committed – to deal with Climate Change, to different ways of living, to different ways of eating and producing food, different approaches to energy, etc. The way younger people organise commitment may be changing…
  • Church “planting” has consistently been under-encouraged, under-funded, under-prioritized: “There haven’t been major initiatives to train, empower, send forth creative, entrepreneurial, tenacious leaders to gather communities.”
  • A church community that is humming with young people highlighted that they do not do anything fancy to the liturgy (a common misconception is that abandoning and pepping up our agreed liturgy is needed to attract younger people). This community: “1) we act as if the Gospel matters… we do not preach “moralistic therapeutic deism….2) We make it clear that all are welcome with their doubts, with their traumas, with their identities (whether or not they are clear about them yet), with their tender and precious faith…. 3) We talk about our faith together and help each other connect the Gospel (including the great gifts of the Hebrew scriptures) with our vocations in the world. Part of that process is good preaching….” Young people “often have a very hard time finding these things in normal congregations outside of the campus bubble. Sure, they would love to find people their own age, but what I hear them comment on mostly is insipid preaching, lack of a sense of urgency (does it matter that we’re doing this?), and shallow practices of hospitality.”
  • If we take a business obsession with growth on solving this problem, I don’t think people will come. I think people want a refuge from that kind of desperate thinking that our country inculcates in its economic culture.”
    • “Lights under a bushel leave people stranded in the dark.”
  • In response to my point that, with the majority in church in the second half of life, there is surprisingly little to no focus on what this particular stage in life holds [as well as older people feeling they are not of value because of the institutional and leadership obsession with youth]: “Well said Bosco. As a rapidly ageing woman I can’t find any church that is the slightest bit interested in the challenges, delights and wisdom of soulful ageing. Just more talk of enthusing the young (!) and keeping the institution going.”
  • From a retiring priest: “Farewell to ecclesiastical management-speak talking up decline. Time to see the gifts of the desert: silence, desire, restraint, encounter.”
  • In another conversation with a different (non-NZ) priest: In our Covid19 lockdowns, we ourselves have illustrated that, even in the most difficult times, going into a church building is unnecessary. This priest also highlighted something I had missed: there has been little to no public influence by church leadership during this Covid19 pandemic. In the public space and narrative, church is generally irrelevant.
  • When I shrunk away from Institutional Christianity– my faith grew!”
  • I was pointed to the recent Why Donewiths never darken the doors again – Donewiths (those who have left church) tend not to return. “Underneath the feeling of disconnect that Donewiths experience is the longing to discover more of their own identity as human beings in a complex world and as hesitant, stumbling followers of Jesus. When churches pay more attention to what we do than who we are, when they become absorbed with function rather than learning how to belong together, then those who struggle with the church find themselves looking for the exit door.

If you want to look at earlier reflections, including some of what I think are the causes, and what might be part of discussions towards solutions, go to:
End of the Anglican Church?
End of the Anglican Church (part 2)?
End of the Anglican Church (part 3)?

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