Number Crunching

12/12/12 | Posted by HughB

So more information has been released from the 2011 UK Census and it will come as no surprise to most of us that the percentage of people defining themselves as Christians has declined considerably in the last decade – from 72% to 59%. But the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent reports that Church is not discouraged. Some are sceptical about the Census’ finding and, besides, 59% shows that “Christian belief is alive and well”…apparently.

 Going Down!

I couldn’t help but be saddened by the sound-byte given by a senior member of the clergy in Norwich (apparently the most godless city in the nation). Her response was simply to point to the fact that people were filling the cathedral for all their carol services. In fact, she would hate to see how busy it must be for a vibrant cathedral. But what about the rest of the year?

Jesus was once invited to play the ‘numbers game’. He was asked, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:23).

He responded not by talking about statistics and how many were following him. Instead he pointed to what really mattered: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Luke 13:24). And the then went on to warn his listeners that even some of those who ate and drank with him or heard his teaching would be getting through.

Personally I cannot help but wonder if much of the church is spending so much time and energy trying to remain attractive to the world around it, that it forgets that Jesus’ message was always challenging and at times unpalatable. In order to get ‘bums on seats’ even if just once a year, is the church creating yet more people who won’t fit through the door?

Michael Frost says in his excellent book, Exiles,

“here lies the root of the problem of the church today. Victimised by nostalgia and buffeted by fear, the church is focused too much on merely holding the small plot of ground that it currently occupies to confidently reimagine a robust future.”

If the church is to be honest, the findings of the Census are neither to be encouraged or discouraged by, but rather to be accepted as a wake-up call to return to disciple-making instead of keeping the institution running.


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