There are two books available free on the internet which many readers of this blog would enjoy and from which they would profit immensely. They are by the missionary pioneer, Roland Allen and they have great potential relevance for today.
Writing in the early twentieth century, Allen asked why European missionary work in places like Africa and China was so expensive in terms of effort and resources, yet so meagre in its results. Two questions he addressed are reflected in the book titles.
The first was whether the structures of the church were actually inhibiting the effectiveness of missionary work. Hence, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, and the Causes which Hinder It. Allen noted that the New Testament church had no 'missionary' organizations - it was the missionary organization. And St Paul did not plant missions, he planted churches, which were then capable of replicating themselves without St Paul's constant intervention. Hence the second book, Missionary Methods: St Paul's or Ours?
You may think, 'What has European missionary work of a hundred years ago got to do with Anglicanism in this country today?' But try reading Allen's books and substituting 'diocese' for 'missionary organization', 'clergy' for 'missionaries', 'vicarage' for 'mission station' and 'laity' for 'natives', and you will begin to get the point.
For example, the budget for the Diocese of Chelmsford for 2008 is around £19.15m. However, this does not include costs met locally by Parochial Church Councils, which include heating, lighting, cleaning, building repairs and any paid lay assistance. There are two reasons why the latter should be factored in.
First, no business organization can claim that such costs are not part of its running costs, just because these are not incurred at 'head office'.
Secondly, as Robin Gill shows in The 'Empty' Church Revisited, what closes churches in the independent sector is not, in the end, numerical decline or the lack of a minister, but local running costs and repair bills. We are already seeing examples of this in the Anglican church, and they are bound to increase.
There are, apparently, 618 churches in the Diocese, and my guess is they add at least £3m, possibly more, to the overall costs, bringing the total to a ball-park £22m. On any 'normal Sunday', there are 27,650 adults in church, which means they cost £800 each.
Far from spontaneously expanding, we are shrinking numerically, whilst the already-enormous cost of maintaining what we are doing is increasing. As to missionary methods, I cannot discern that we actually have one as a diocese!
Of course, the church does more than bring people to church, but it is people in church on Sunday who provide the committed core of the Christian community and, importantly, who are relied on to pay the bills.
So we need fresh thinking - or, perhaps, some old thinking revisited. I commend Roland Allen to you.
Revd John P Richardson
6 November 2007
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