Here is the text of my latest Credo column for the Newark Advertiser.
A few weeks ago I had the immense honour to be inducted as the National President of the Congregational Federation for 2022/23. I still can’t quite believe that they’ve chosen me.
Nonetheless I now have the chance over the next year to visit and talk to as many as possible of the 235 churches in the Federation, spread around England, Scotland and Wales. I have chosen as my theme for my Presidential year the single word ‘Hope’.
Why Hope at this time?
It’s easy to think that trying to be church in the 21st century is hope-less. We see churches shrinking, we see churches sadly closing and we risk falling into despair. It is expected that less than 50% of people in the UK will have identified as Christian in last year’s census.
It’s certainly the case that those fondly remembered times when UK was a church going nation, when everyone went to church on Sundays, when the pews were packed – those days have gone.
But I contend though that things aren’t at all without hope.
Let’s look at a couple of statistics.
Firstly – weekly attendance at Football League matches – Premiership to Division 2 – was 740,000 in 2019. Professional Football in this country has probably never been in such a healthy state. Nearly ¾ of a million people go to it every week. If only the church was so popular.
But here’s another number. In that same year – 2019 – the average weekly attendance at Anglican Church Services in this country was 850,000. And that’s just Anglican services. But of course the church is a basket case – as the figures show no-one is interested in the church.
You see although it is true that church attendance is declining overall and has been for decades, and although it’s true that a belief in God is also declining, there are still an awful lot of Christians attending church and an awful lot more than those that attend church that self-identify as Christians.
Stuart Murray wrote a book a few years ago called ‘A Vast Minority’. A very clever title that. It’s about the fact that Christians are now members of a minority religious community. But there are still an awful lot of us about – it’s a minority – but it’s a Vast minority. In the book he said this
‘We can choose to be a creative minority, a prophetic minority and a hopeful minority – a community that unmasks idols, pioneers new possibilities and engenders authentic hope.’
But let’s not confuse Hope with complacency. Because if the church is to have hope it needs to change too. Too often people in churches say:
I remember when… (fill in the blank)
We’ve always done it like this
There aren’t enough of us to make a difference
It’s time to stop thinking like that.
Whenever the golden age of churchgoing was the world is no longer like it was then. And churches need to adapt to that change if hope is to be fulfilled.
Mark Taylor – Minister Newark Congregational Church