Thursday, 8 September 2011

What is the future of the church?

The Briefing magazine arrived in the post today.  It contained the third article by Peter Orr on 'What Jesus is Doing Now?' (Peter, I can't find the second one, I think we may be missing a copy of the Briefing).  There is also an interesting article on the future of the church in the UK.  It does not make mention of the unique church scene in Northern Ireland.  I am looking at it from the perspective of living in the Republic of Ireland.  I thought I would offer a couple of reflections.

One shocking thing is the comments on young people.  Thirty-nine percent of churches have no-one attending under eleven years of age.  Fourty-nine percent of churches have no-one attending between the ages of eleven and fourteen.  Fifty-nine percent of churches have no-one attending between the ages of fifteen and nineteen.

I am delighted to be a part of a church that has a healthy age demographic but there can be no room for complacency.  One of the challenges that we face is how to give the young people a sense of ownership of the church.  Indeed there is one age-group (late teens) where we seem to have small numbers. I wonder if the danger for some churches is that we have youth ministries that are separated from everything else that goes on in the church.  Of course young people themselves can be difficult to integrate and get involved.

It is notable that an area of great decline is that of liberal Protestants.  He mentions two denominations that are 'in terminable decline.'  Now I am not suggesting that people choose their theology for pragmatic reasons, but I wonder if liberal Christianity simply fails to inspire.  I also wonder if there is a lesson here for those who are amongst the liberal wing of the emergent movement.  Is the problem with mainline liberals their theology or their style?  If it is simply that people are tired of a dull formalism then new expressions of church may have a future.  If it is because a liberal message lacks power and conviction then simply changing the style of church will be of little long term value.

This article is accompanied by a delightful chart.  It divides the evangelical churches into various tribes.  Personally I am influenced by people in a few of these groups.
Conservative, non-separatist evangelicals (e.g. Stott and Packer), are growing.  But only account for around 8% of evangelicals.
Conservative, separatist evangelicals (11%) (e.g. Banner of Truth, Martyn Lloyd-Jones), are stable.
Pentecostals (23%), are growing.
New churches (12%) are stable.
Charismatic (16%) and declining.
Open/traditional evangelicals (27%) (e.g. NT Wright), are declining.
Emergent (3%) (e.g. Greenbelt, Brian McLaren), are increasing.

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