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HomeNewsRev Julian Mann: Embracing modernity is no answer to falling church attendance

Rev Julian Mann: Embracing modernity is no answer to falling church attendance


‘Embrace gay marriage’ – or ‘at the very least blessing services for same-sex couples’ –  is one possible marketing strategy for the Church of England following the release of its profoundly sobering attendance figures for 2015.

The CoE admits that usual Sunday attendance across its churches is down on a decade ago by about 120,000 people to 752,000.

Whoever else may pop into a church for a mid-week activity or group, the usual Sunday congregation is the core that sustains a local church – prayerfully, financially and with their active volunteering.

The situation on the ground is serious. So why not hop onto the politically correct bandwagon to get in some more punters?

Two problems:

1) That was part of the motivation in the CofE leadership for pushing for the ordination of women in the 1990s. We’ve got to catch up with societal trends in order to reduce our numerical decline. The Church needs to ‘get up the programme’, to use a later Conservative Prime Minister’s phrase about women bishops.

Twenty years on, the ideological accommodation strategy has manifestly not worked. The downward trajectory has continued.

2) A church can be full of people every week but that is no guarantee that the Person whose opinion really counts, namely the Lord God Almighty, is pleased with it.

The Revelation to John in the New Testament is a powerful antidote to the ‘cut the price so more will buy’ approach to church growth. At the end of the book, the Lord Jesus Christ issued this warning to the seven churches of 1st Century Roman Asia in the light of the Day of Judgement, which his Second Coming will bring about:

‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city (that is, in Revelation’s terms, the New Jerusalem where the living God will dwell eternally with his redeemed Christian people in his renewed creation). Outside are the dogs, those who practise magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practises falsehood’ (Revelation 22v14-15 – NIV).

So a church can be full to bursting with people contributing financially and volunteering enthusiastically but if they have not ‘washed their robes’ – that is, if they have not repudiated human rebellion against God in its various manifestations – then they will be on the outside after Judgement Day.

God’s is the verdict that really counts. ‘Cut the price so more will buy’ even if it succeeds as a temporal church growth stratagem will not cut it in eternity.

(Image: Quinn Dombrowski)

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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