One percent decline each year, disproportionately elderly age profile, out of step with the digital world... so the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York recently described some of the stark problems of the Church of England.
Undoubtedly these problems are found in the Church of England. But let’s tell another story too, St Chrysostom’s story:
On the third Sunday of January 2000 the total number of people attending worship at St Chrysostom’s was 35. On the third Sunday of January 2015 the total attending was 84. This represents an an increase of 140% over the 15 years.
Last year our records of church attendance show the average number attending on a Sunday increased by 5%, and now stands at 82. We are a growing Church of England church in a highly transitory, deprived community.
The majority attending worship at St Chrysostom’s are under 40 years old, and a significant proportion are under 30. We serve a parish of significant deprivation and our congregation is very ethnically mixed, and inclusive of LGBT people.
We may not be fully in tune with the digital world at St Chrysostom’s – however we do use it to spread our distinctive message. We are pleased to have 166 members in our Church Facebook group (why not join?), 228 followers on Twitter, and last year we had our largest number of ‘hits’ on our church blog: 34,793.
Various schemes are being suggested to address the issue of decline in the Church of England. Many of them are very different from what St C’s offers!
So what would we suggest has worked for us at St Chrysostom’s? High on our list are: Developing a culture of welcome and inclusion, traditional Catholic liturgy (inclusive of women and men) with a sense of joy, open minded preaching and looking outwards – serving the local community in whatever way we can.
I would say your culture of inclusion was what helped me find a way back to being a practising Christian for the first time in over 20 years. It’s something that is both an action, and atmosphere at St C’s. The thing which kept me coming back was joy, again an action and an atmosphere. I also find the liturgy wonderful. It’s serious, but accessible, and deeply spiritual. All these things are important. I’d also say your culture of encouragement. I was encouraged (although not coerced) to try things I hadn’t tried before, like serving at the altar. It felt like many things were possible. I liked that. It was great to be with others who lived that out as well. I miss St C’s now I’ve moved out of the parish, and it’s good to keep in touch both in person and in cyberspace.