Peter Oborne has a timely and wide-ranging piece in the Telegraph (here), charting a rise in church attendance in recent months.He suggests ‘Their Christian values stand at an angle to the brash, thrill-seeking, instant consumer culture that has become dominant in Britain over the last half-century.’ I hope so.
Oborne tells stories of churches attracting large numbers in the capital but admits that the picture elsewhere in the country is less buoyant. For me the most encouraging part of his story is that there is some evidence that locally rooted churches are seeing an increase in numbers as people seek something more than shopping as a source of purpose and values in life.
He argues that one reason why London might be bucking the trend is that there are fewer churches sharing ministers, so a minister or ministry team is able to focus on a single gathered community, able to create a welcoming and stimulating environment for people of all kinds. There could be something in this.
He acknowledges that a little upturn in numbers over recent months does not assuage the haemorrhage of people the church has suffered over the past generation. He cites the statistics, well known from Peter Brierley and Callum Brown, that show the scale of the collapse in church attendance since the 60s.
But it is encouraging that in the midst of austerity and consumerism the rumour of God is being kept alive and is drawing people who are seeking something deeper. And that something is not just a desire for a ‘spiritual hour’ on a Sunday morning. One and a half million people are engaged in volunteering activity through their local church; this is an army of people seeking to model different values in our me-first culture – and that has to be good thing.