Over the past few weeks the media has been carrying reports on the drastic decline of the mainstream denominations in the UK. Over the next few years Scotland will see the overall membership of all its denominations reduced to some 300,000. The Church of England is struggling desperately to raise the number of clergy whilst more and more parishes continue to amalgamate. Many of its cathedrals are facing major financial problems. The number of active ministers in Methodism (and its pension fund) is in continuing decline as those retired increasingly outnumber those in circuit work. Last year only 25 men opted to train for the Catholic priesthood in England and Wales, in comparison with over 150 in 1985.
Every denomination is becoming acutely aware that the reckoning is at hand – only a few years ago it was ignored. However, the responses are still ‘more of the same’ (or with small adjustments such as married men possibly being allowed to become Catholic priests) and naïvely short-term. There is nowhere any prayerful and realistic attempt to envision in the long-term how the church in the West must change, not only to embrace a huge reduction in membership and ordained leadership, but in order to respond to massive cultural and generational shifts.
I am not pessimistic. The kingdom community is still present and powerfully involved in every sphere of the life of society. However, we as a church need to recognize that fact. It is a divine imperative that we begin to discern where we are being led and what changes that will require. I believe – hence this blog – that the way forward is the emergence of a servant or ‘diaconal’ church with fundamentally different theological and ecclesiological foundations than at present. It is high time we got real and began to address what such a church and its mission might look like!