I was talking to Richard Coekin at a Diocese Conference recently. He’s developed a network of churchplants across London. Fifteen churches. Pretty impressive. I asked him how they go about reaching the unchurched – obviously they’re pretty good at it.
In answering, he pointed out that only about 25% of their people have come as ‘unchurched’. The rest switched from some other church involvement. To his credit, Coekin was humbly downplaying the success they’ve had in mission.
That network of 15 new churches looks a bit different, once you know that, doesn’t it.
But when you compare it to our new churches in Sydney, I’m guessing 25% is a much higher figure than any we can boast of. I hope someone can correct me, but I haven’t heard of any of our Sydney Anglican churches that have grown through 25% or more conversion-growth.
In fact, I’d be impressed if anyone had 10% conversion-growth around here.
Now here’s the problem: this means that for most of our success stories, the churches we look to that have experienced significant growth, that growth is largely illusory. It has come at the cost of other churches shrinking. The net result citywide is negligible.
Trouble is, we have this habit of talking about this ‘growth’ as if it were an achievement. Let’s say it loud and clear: when people join my church from another church, it’s not an achievement. It’s just a transfer. No one gets saved. As long as we talk like that’s a success, we avoid facing the real issue. The BIG issue. The stubborn issue that is not going away.
After all our mission efforts, we’ve hardly reached anyone. That’s the stark reality that gets masked by all our talk about growth. Our ‘market share’ of Sydney’s population has remained more or less static over ten years.
And that is so painful, I’m wondering if we can bear to talk about it openly. I hope we can, cause until then we’re not going to see any change. We need Richard Coekin’s hard-nosed realism and humility if we’re to deal with this problem.
3 OBVIOUS THINGS WE NEED TO DO DIFFERENTLY
1. Let’s stop talking about the % growth of congregations. That stat is worthless and even misleading.
2. Let’s discipline ourselves to talk specifically about conversion growth – growth through unchurched people joining our churches.
3. Let’s keep talking about the city-wide stats, not just the local successes. That will stop us getting too excited when the deck-chairs get rearranged. How is the whole ship travelling?