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Church Growth in Britain (Ashgate Contemporary Ecclesiology) Paperback – 28 May 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; New edition edition (28 May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1409425762
  • ISBN-13: 978-1409425762
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 1.6 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 571,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

'Goodhew rounds off this very interesting collection by arguing that the religious landscape of the UK is more complex and dynamic than previously thought. I agree and recommend this text as core reading for anyone with an interest in the unfolding dynamics of Christianity in the UK.' ----- Theology

'This is an important study that should certainly be read by anyone in a leadership position in the church.' ----- Church of England Newspaper

'For years, the media have fed us a diet of stories and comment to the effect that the Church in the country is in terminal decline. This excellent book, by a team of leading international researchers, challenges this dominant narrative by providing firm evidence that the truth is much more complex: alongside decline in some areas, substantial church growth has taken place in Britain in recent decades.' ----- Church Times

About the Author

David Goodhew is an Anglican priest and Director of Ministerial Practice at Cranmer Hall, an Anglican theological college which is part of St John's College, Durham. A former fellow and chaplain of St Catharine's College, Cambridge and an experienced parish priest, he has published widely in the field of modern British church history and South African history, including the first monograph-length study of a South African township, Respectability and Resistance: a History of Sophiatown


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Format: Paperback
I must declare an axe-grinding interest: David Goodhew presents the studies in this collection as refutation of the secularization thesis and cites me frequently in order to disagree with me. Good manners suggests I should leave it to others to decide how well Goodhew represents my views but I cannot resist correcting the previous reviewers on two important points.

First, this is not a sociological perspective: only 2 of the 16 contributors are sociologists: the rest are religious professionals, theologians and historians. Second, were they sociologists they would not so often confuse `the growth of some churches' with `church growth' (which implies that the UK is becoming more religious). There is a great deal of value in this collection of studies of growing churches and each essay can be read with profit but the evidence presented comes nowhere near to filling the role that some readers (and its publishers) which to accord it. The general weakness is that evidence of growth is cited without reference either to changes in overall population or to the possibility that apparent growth is simply transfer. For example, Goodhew's study of York refers repeatedly to church growth but its own evidence shows only that - if none of the people who attend newly created churches had previously attended other churches - the proportion of the York population that goes to church now is about the same as it was in 2001. What he presents as growth in church attendance is, on the most generous assumptions, only keeping up with population growth. The same applies to Wolfe and Jackson's claims for London. They describe a growth in church attendance of 15 per cent over the last twenty years as an `Anglican resurgence' when the adult population has grown over the same by about 20-22 per cent. That seems like a proportionate decline.

I strongly recommend this book but I also recommend that readers note the absence of good evidence for net growth.
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Format: Paperback
According to Goodhew's introduction, `it is likely that over 5,000 new churches have been started in Britain in the 30 years since 1980' with particular growth `in areas of migration, population growth and economic dynamism' (7-8). Every chapter in this volume does an excellent job of nuancing this picture and contributing to Goodhew's case that this growth is not simply down to the decline in other denominations. Yet however significant this development might be for the Christian Church, the volume is hampered by an overstatement of this significance. There is no denying that the growth of mainstream and new churches in Britain is incredibly significant, and it is refreshing to see scholars turning their attention back to these churches. However, whilst adding much of value to the debate, this volume cannot simply wish away the observable decline in belief, practice, and affiliation which is taking place at a national level.

Ultimately, this criticism can be traced to a uncritical account of secularization. To take a representative example, Paul Chambers castigates `most academics' , who are apparently unduly `concerned with focusing on statistical measures of religious belief and church membership' (233), whilst he himself utilizes dubious census results based on `identification' with Christianity, to make the totally unrelated claim that `religious belief [...] remains buoyant' (221), seemingly not appreciating that secularization predicted precisely this move from public institutional religion to private individualized `beliefs'. In pointing out this flaw, I am merely playing devil's advocate.
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Church Growth in Britain is a timely analysis of church life since the 1980s and brings together a lot of data and anecdotal evidence. With substantial evidence it challenges the 'secularisation thesis' that the Christian religion in this country is in terminal decline. Essentially what is claimed is that although national attendance figures have continued to slump this only part of the picture. It does explain the thousands of churches which have been opened and planted. The vibrant growth has yet to overtake the decline curve. Where as this book easily could have set a narrative of evangelical 'up' and traditional 'down' this was not the case given. A good deal of attention was given to the Diocese of London which has enjoyed 70% increase over 20 years and the nature of the leadership of David Hope and Richard Chatres which enabled this. Here it seems that a serious partnership between evangelical minded and catholic leaning Christians has proved fruitful. Other factors in growth appear to be immigration and ethnically friendly churches. This book is a good read for anyone interested in the future of the church but will be of particular interest for those in ministry.
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According to the BBC, CofE, CofS, RC, etc. Christianity is in terminal decline in the UK. The problem many have with this thesis is that it is not experientially true for, I suspect, most Christians in the UK today. In my 30 years of faith from atheism I have seen strong, deep and wise churches which attract new people, build faith and grow, working well across the UK.

This is an edited Sociological book of strong academic credence. It outlines the glocalisation reasons why church growth is hidden in the UK, and where and why it is happening. It is one-sided, not from bias, but as there are endless tomes on church decline in the UK, so this is an analysis of the contrary experience of perhaps over half of the UK's churches. For example, there is evidence that for every church which closes in the UK another one opens.

One of the problems is that new churches do not like to be counted. In my Baptist days we faithfully counted membership every ten years and submitted the figures, as did 85% of churches. Now this is down to just 52% - which itself is an estimate. My current church watches the watchers suspiciously, so is strong, dynamic, loving and growing. But it is up a side-street, way away from smaller fellowships in very visible High Street buildings.

You cannot measure that which cannot be measured. So the authors of the chapters have tackled this as a series of case studies. Some of these places and people I know, so I would attest to the truth of what has been presented. This is a clear indication of a different UK Christian scene from that evidenced by the declining state-affiliated mainstream.

This is not a how-to-do book. It is a this-is-how-WE-did-it book. It looks at growth in such as London, York and Edinburgh.
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