The church like any other public body is required to examine its performance and make recommendations for improvements. The church's 'parliament' or General Synod as it is called, via its three houses of bishops, clergy and laity, debate and vote on matters much like the democratic process of the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.
At a more local level it is good practice to run our own health checks in our parishes. It gives the ministers and PCC a clearer vision of how we are doing and what needs to be improved.
Too often I feel we concentrate on church growth just in terms of numbers attending the individual types of services we offer. I was therefore delighted and encouraged to read an article that expressed so simply but equally profoundly what we need to be doing in our plan for the future. The following inspired and affirmed my thinking.
In a recent newsletter, the principal of Ripon Theological College Cuddesdon, (Revd Canon Prof Martyn Percy) gave a brief overview on the challenges the church faces today. As always Martyn has the gift of seeing right to the heart of contentious issues, distilling the underlying truth and presenting his considered view. I have taken some notes to share with you.
He writes 'The church in every age has faced fundamental challenges. Many would cite the challenge of secularisation or consumerism in our time as one of the tougher trials the church has had to negotiate. I am not so sure, however. But I do think there are two distinct challenges facing the church today. The first of these is simple: distraction. It is easy to get deflected from the main purpose of the church through divisive debates. And no-one can seriously imagine that the public mission of the church has been helped by our recent debates on sexuality and gender. But perhaps, paradoxically, constant talk of mission and growth is also a distraction. No-one denies the urgency of mission and also for the church to address issues of numerical growth. But the church does not exist to grow. It exists to glorify and follow Jesus Christ. After which it may grow or it may not. But it is imperative that faithfulness is always put before any search for success.'
Martyn goes on to say that church talk of mission and numbers drives more people away than it ever draws near. The second biggest challenge to the church that he identifies is one that we may not even have considered.
'This may come as a surprise and possibly a shock. It is 'coping with the overwhelming abundance of God'. For at the heart of the Gospel is a God who can give more than we can ask or desire. Who gives without counting the cost. It may seem an indulgence to dwell on God when there is so much to be done in the church and for the world but our true focus and the very ground of our being remains constant - God. Less talk about mission and growth and more talk about God is what the world needs and hungers for. The church will continue to face many challenges but worship, the call to holiness, serving God cud one another remain constant.'
Halleluiah! We should take seriously the wisdom and common sense expressed in the above extract as we carry out our health check and move forward with our mission action plan. Every blessing for a holy Lent.