The Economist recently did a feature on the future of Christianity and Anglicanism in Britain, which cites King’s Cross Church (KXC) in central London as an example of growth.
Here’s a few snippets:
Overall the drift down in church attendance continues, as new figures later this month will show. The proportion of people calling themselves Christian fell from 72% in 2001 to 59% in 2011. Those saying they have no religion rose from 15% to 25% in that period (including 177,000 claiming to be Jedi). The number of churchgoing Anglicans fell by 12%, and in 2013 stood at 1m. Some 19m baptised Anglicans do not attend church.
Hints of revival in parts of the Church of England point to broader changes. Traditionally, the established church has had an obligation to serve everyone who lives in a parish. Its churches have been the centrepiece for local and national events. But many Anglican churches that are growing, as in King’s Cross, are “network” churches. They meet in pubs and offices outside the parish system. Most are evangelical, emphasising a personal faith based on conversion rather than a cultural affiliation to a denomination. They believe in tithing—giving a tenth of their income to the church—which increases their influence as other congregations shrink and expectations of financial giving fall.
Evangelicals say the church is right not to be swayed by changing social mores. They emphasise being counter-cultural and point out that many churches which are growing run against the liberal flow. “What is dying in England is not Christianity but nominal Anglicanism,” says David Goodhew of Durham University, author of “Church Growth in Britain”. The share of evangelicals in the Church of England rose from 26% to 34% between 1989 and 2005, says Peter Brierley, a church demographer, and could now be nearly 50%.
Not all growth is evangelical. Attendance at cathedrals rose by 35% between 2002 and 2012. But four of the five most senior bishops in the Church of England, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, are from the evangelical tradition. They differ from their American counterparts, says Mr Spencer. “They are less focused on creationism and abortion and less right-wing politically.” Archbishop Welby and Nicky Gumbel, vicar of Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), London’s most influential evangelical church, both have Cambridge law degrees. HTB has planted many churches in London and is doing so in the rest of England. They are conservative on issues like gay marriage, prompting accusations by liberals of bigotry.
To be fair, there is not much sign of bigotry at King’s Cross Church’s weekly drop-in for prostitutes, nor its programme to keep kids on rough housing estates away from gangs. Many evangelicals want to restore the tradition of conservative social engagement set by William Wilberforce. They sigh at their characterisation as hateful homophobes. “Everyone thinks they know what the church is against,” says Pete Hughes, the church’s youthful pastor. “We want to be known for the things we are for: proclaiming the love of God and showing it in our actions.”
The declining importance of denominational affiliation continues to put pressure on the parish system. With 9,000 of its 16,000 churches in rural villages, “it is not fit for purpose”, declares David Voas of Essex University. Network churches are “like a virtual community”, he says, better suited to the modern era.
As to the possibility of disestablishment, most think it is unlikely to happen. Politicians are barely involved any longer in choosing bishops. A majority of people say they want a Christian coronation for the next monarch, and no government would tie up parliamentary time unpicking the links between canon and civil law. So the Church of England will probably struggle on. Yet if it is to survive, this most traditional of English institutions must do more to adapt to a post-Christian world.