A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to meet with three women testing a vocation to ordination in the Scottish Episcopal Church. All of the women were young, intelligent, and deeply committed to the church. One of them — the one furthest ‘down the line’ towards ordination — said to me, ‘do you believe that the church can grow, or is it inevitable that most congregations are shrinking and dying?’

Her question was passionate and urgent, and her relief palpable when I said ‘of course it can grow. It does grow. We have to believe that, and it is true.’ She and I have both seen congregations growing. It can happen. We know it is true.

But she had begun to fear because so many people claimed otherwise. So many people talk of the church’s failure, or try to bully their way into theological dominance by threatening the inevitability of the church’s demise unless we all choose to share their viewpoint.

The question of church growth is not ultimately about numbers or demographics or annual returns. It is about the shape of what we believe.

Do you believe that Christianity matters?
Do you believe it is true?

If we believe it matters and it is true, then we have to believe that the church can grow.

If we believe that it matters and it is true, then the church will grow, because the passion of our belief will communicate itself. The church will grow because it will be a place of God’s love and compassion and beauty, a place of healing where human life is redeemed.

If I did not believe this, I could not do what I do each day. I could not be a priest, and I doubt whether I could be a Christian.

What we believe matters.

If we believe that it is inevitable that congregations are shrinking and that the church must inevitably die, then it probably will. If we believe that God is irrelevant for most people and Christianity is nothing more than pastime for the curiously minded, then that too will become ‘true’– not because God is irrelevant, but because we will no longer be speaking of God in any meaningful way.

Congregations come and go. Buildings come and go. There is death and resurrection.

But if God is worth believing in, God is worth sharing. And that is all it takes for death to become life, for the church to be healthy and strong — and for young women testing their vocation to sleep well tonight, trusting in God’s future rather than the prophesies of doom.

8 thoughts on “credo”

  1. Yes. I remember a turning point for myself, and, I have always felt, one of many turning points, arrived at by many committed people, for St Paul’s. I realised I had to challenge the belief of those much senior to me in the church – they believed my congregation was dying, and were acting accordingly. I simply refused to see it, despite evidence to the contrary. I had an exhausting few days, acting far, far out of my brief, to achieve what was, it seemed a very tiny thing which would only affect one family. I had troubled a great many people, which I hate to do, and added to the burden of an already seriously busy man who shared my sense of what was important.

    After it was all over, I was praying in the church, and was suddenly filled with a sense that what I had done was offering an earnest to others that their families would be cared for, too. I had a sudden sense that God was overwhelmingly pleased.

    In the end the whole issue had come down to the question of: ‘Is this a living or a dying church?’

  2. The Church will survive and grow as long as there are people with your passionate faith and your gift for sharing it.

  3. I second Eamonn’s point. I also think that we can trust in two almost paradoxical things at once – the continued existence (and fluctuating fortunes) of the Church and that if Church no longer reveals God and God’s love then some other equally valid way will develop. A nun taught me that as she was watching her convent slowly ebb out of the building into a community role where quite different vocations were being developed.

  4. Yes I believe it. The whole of our developing Diocesan Strategy in St Andrews is rooted in the belief that the church can move from decline to growth. We have been exploring the reasons for our decline – not to wallow in it but to understand those areas where we have actually been complicit in allowing it. Some of our churches are already growing and we have just run a ‘Sources of Growth’ Workshop which explored where a faithful and optimistic church might look for growth.

  5. The workshop sounds interesting. It would be good to hear more about it (and to that end, I will go pester +David on his own blog.)

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