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Social action can lead to congregations growing numerically and spiritually. This report, focused on the Church of England, explores how. (2020)
Over the past decade, the contribution that the Church of England makes to society through its social action has increased, reflecting an increase in the demand and expectation for it. At the same time, church attendance in the country has continued to decline; by most key metrics, attendance at Church of England services fell by between 15% and 20% from 2009–2019. This is the paradox facing the Church of England in 2020: the national church of a nation that is increasingly reliant on its social action and yet less and less spiritually connected to it.
This research, done in partnership with the Church Urban Fund, draws on three years of extensive qualitative and quantitative research, including 350 interviews in over 60 parish communities across England and new analysis of existing parish data. It explores the relationship between social action, church growth and discipleship in the Church of England. It finds that social action can be a route to church growth in both numerical and spiritual terms. Further, social action is one of the key ways in which congregations can build wider networks of relationships resulting in people initiating a faith journey and joining the church.
Crucially, social action leads to church growth when it enables congregations to develop meaningful relationships with those they would not otherwise have done, or who might not otherwise have come into sustained contact with the church.
The report identifies key characteristics of churches that are growing in number and discipleship through their engagement with social action, from which it develops the following recommendations.
· That the Church of England explore new ways of measuring church growth and impact.
· That churches should be encouraged to see their social action projects as primary sites of invitation and be expectant of the relationships that can grow through it.
· That congregations and church leaders should be equipped to think about social action, discipleship and church growth in an integrated way rather than as three independent concepts, particularly through the training of ordained and lay leadership as well as the preaching of the church.
· That a Church of England volunteering service for people of all faiths and none should be established.
To read the stories of the people behind the research, click here.
You can also access CUF’s Growing Good Toolkit here, a free six session course helping churches explore the connection between social action, discipleship and growth.
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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.