Martin Charlesworth
The new measure of the church’s influence

The new measure of the church’s influence
Just recently I visited someone to pick up a piece of furniture. It turned out that what I was looking for was not in his house but in a nearby store. So we drove there and opened up the store to find what I needed. As it happened the store was an old country chapel in a village. Long closed, the chapel is used as a furniture store. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but on my drive home I reflected on the tragedy that this represented – hundreds of churches closed all over the country. Churches now converted into homes, stores, shops, flats, businesses…

The official statistics of church numbers have been tough reading for several decades. Almost all denominations have been recording steep declines in regular attendance for a long time. Secular pundits are seeking to airbrush Christian values and beliefs out of public discussion. Fewer and fewer people identify 'Christian' as their basic belief system in public opinion research. Hundreds of churches and chapels have closed – especially in the countryside and in the inner city.

In many ways we can say that the influence of the Church is in decline.

However, there is another side to the story. There are two things happening that have the potential to buck the trend and lead to a comeback for the Church in the next few years.

Firstly, the energy and drive of the evangelical movement is still fairly robust in most places. This is fuelled by the ongoing charismatic movement and by creative outreach initiatives such as the Alpha course. Immigration has also swelled the numbers in evangelical churches, especially in cities such as London where church attendance levels are growing, not declining.

Secondly, there is social action. This is of special interest at Jubilee+, of course. However, what we are noticing is that community church social action is creating local legitimacy and favour for churches all over the country. People don’t trust institutions much these days. Few people trust the Church as a whole, or the established church in particular. However, when a church or a group of churches has a really good track record on the ground caring for the poor, then that is a different story.

This article was originally written for the Jubilee+ website. Read more here.
Click here for the Jubilee+ issues page for more on what churches are doing to strengthen their communities.