What must the Church of England do to stop its decline?

Twenty years ago, those who had no religious interest would often describe themselves as CofE when questioned about their faith allegiance. That has changed; such people are now far more likely to opt for the ‘no religion’ category.

What must the Church of England do to stop its decline?

Writing in the Church Times (Jun 17th 2016), Canon Alan Billings puts this trend down to widespread disillusion with the Church of England, fuelled by its attitude to homosexual partnerships and its poor record on child abuse. He calls on the church’s leaders and members to take time to listen to those of ‘no religion’. ‘In truth we known next to nothing about them.’

Only by seeing itself as other see it, can the Church of England change its culture and regain some moral influence in the land. The Billings article prompted a response from Adrian Alker, chair of PCN Britain. In the letter below, Adrian says that disillusion with the Church of England is based on much more its poor moral record.

Alan Billings, like so many other observers, draws attention to the rise of those who say they have ‘no religion’. He might also have referred to many others who, in surveys, claim to be ‘spiritual but not religious’. He is right to point to the shrinking of the Church, its defensive mechanisms and its untenable position over the issue of same sex marriage. Whilst Billings laments the Church as an unreliable moral guide, he might also have more emphatically have said that the Church and its leadership have failed to engage with those who raise the bigger questions about the existence and nature of God and the doctrinal formulae which frame our worship and stultify our services. It is simply not true that we know next to nothing of those who profess ‘no religion’. Speakers, theologians, festival and conference goers, members of many organisations like my own, have raised issues around the credibility of Christian belief for decades. Rather the Church does not want to hear the reasoned voices of many former and indeed present Church members who are convinced that unless the Church radically rethinks many of its doctrines, is more honest about what is believable and seeks a spirituality which embraces an openness of thought, reason and experience, it will not re-establish itself as an institution worthy of its place in our contemporary society, as Billings and all of us desire.

Revd Adrian Alker, Chair, Progressive Christianity Network

Adrian develops this theme at greater length in a blog we reproduced in July called Spiritual But Not Religious.

Image: Empty pews at Internet Archive headquarters, waiting for future ceramic archivists, by Jason Scott, 22 May 2013, 21:55 (Wikicommons)


1 On 16/08/2016 Edward Conder wrote:

I suspect that it is not that “the Church does not want to hear the reasoned voices” and rethink its doctrines,  but that it dare not initiate such a reappraisal.
It needs to evangelise to recover its position, but can not imagine any approach to evangelism which does not incorporate the threat of retributive justice - the eternal flames etc.  It is on this concept that the Church has built its empire and it dare not abandon it.
Might we then say that the church roof is largely supported by the flames of hell - or is that stretching the analogy too far?
If those flames were doused by “reason and experience” would the Church’s position and authority be fatally undermined?

2 On 17/08/2016 Richard Thompson wrote:

It really is time to return to Daphne Hampson’s 1996 book ‘After Christianity’.  It is a work that can easily be dismissed by many (and some I suspect with contempt) because it is dangerously outrageous and undermined by painful personal issues which are revealed(unintentionally?) by the author.
.... but I would thank Daphne most sincerely for the faith affirming Treasure within, abundant in compassion and Love


3 On 17/08/2016 Tony Greenfield wrote:

I am amazed that you think that the C of E has ever had a single thematic doctrine. Individuals have been challenging an imaginary norm since 1662. Some remained with the Church while others left to form new organisations with varying degrees of success.

I would be interested to know if any Church following your progressive agenda has grown numerically or had a significant impact on their community. My research over the past 4 months has come up with no results, it appears to be fools gold but I am open to being persuaded otherwise.

4 On 24/08/2016 Adrian Alker wrote:

Well tony, although I didn’t say the C of E has a single thematic doctrine, for all intents and purposes it has, as revealed in the catholic creeds. Such statements of faith evinced in the recital of the creed, in the eucharistic prayer and in rites of passage reinforce a belief mechanism which allows little room for creativity in liturgy and explorations in spirituality during that time of worship which most people will identify as what the church ‘does’. I think that worship can be a converting experience and can lead to growth but it needs to be freed from the overarching dogmatic overcoat. There are large and successful progressive churches - you could begin by looking at the website of my former church, St Marks Broomhill, Sheffield.

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