Church growth in east London: a grassroots view
From a report by The Centre for Theology & Community
This report with research from 13 local church leaders illustrates the challenges and opportunities of church growth in mainly deprived communities across east London.
The context is one where three urban church themes dominate. These are; immigration; economic deprivation and hardship; and demographic transiency and congregational ‘churn.’
“One single service won’t reflect the diversity of the area and so we’re trying to find different expressions of worship that reflect this local diversity”
“For members of this congregation, their faith is the first thing that they reach for and that is the fundamental thing about them. It’s very humbling to find that strength of faith…”
“Housing is a basic human need. There is no point saying to people ‘look at the birds of the air…do not worry’ if they have to worry to pay their rent or feed their kids…Speaking out for the poor helps the Church of England parishes, locally, to maintain credibility.”
“I worked out that 25% of the congregation are facing major change/life issues with regards to work and housing, which impacts their staying in London, and ultimately, our church.”
How is growth understood?
Three themes emerge.
Strategies for growth and results
Growth is not just a numbers game. Growth is a sign of a healthy church, but it’s as much about developing a committed community, and nurturing and developing that committed faith to the body of Christ.
Being faithful and being present. Keep your sights local and remaining faithful to your context in order to see growth.
Committment and discipleship. Strengthening and deepening of faith and commitment to the church community by means of intentional discipleship and worship were priorities.
There was a split between being intentional about growth with a focused plan of action and seeing growth by being present - building relationships and creating a welcoming environment.
Of the 13 church leaders interviewed, 7 reported numerical growth in their congregations within the last 5 years – just over half. These growing churches were from different denominations. A handful of these had grown significantly – 3 had more than doubled in the last few years.
It is interesting to note that there was a strong correlation between those who expressed a lack of interest in numerical growth and congregations which had not grown.
It does seem that the degree of intentionality behind growth is related to the likelihood of growth. Those that have seen significant growth, it seems, have made structural changes in terms of leadership or ‘models’ of church. They have transitioned, or are in the process of transitioning, from the so-called ‘pastoral’ church to the ‘programme’ church. In this model, potential for growth is recognized. Coupled with a clear vision of their goals, as well as being contextually faithful, this conscious self-reflection in some instances has reaped numerical reward.
Download the report from the CTC site here.
Churches need an intentional strategy for growth. The evidence is that growth which is both numerical and holistic is most likely to occur where it is intentionally pursued.
It needs to be holistic - growth in numbers and growth in impact and service.
The practices of community organising can help churches grow. Community organising has a track record of helping churches move from a focus on maintenance to effective mission. The “hallmarks of an organised church” include integrating theology, spirituality and action, intentionally developing new leaders through action and having an instinctive willingness to work with those beyond the church’s walls.
Good practice builds theological and practical confidence.
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