Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
I’m recording this from a sweltering day just outside the chamber of General Synod. It ends tomorrow. Its been the usual mixture of the important and the banal. We’re all hugely proud of Emily (Synod’s youngest member) for a great speech in the debate about assisted dying. Others on the Hereford team have made great contributions both inside and outside the chamber.
A lot of it feels like the necessary procedural activities to run the institution of the church in good order, perhaps rather too much internally focussed and not enough external. Its interesting what stays with you after these meetings and what will prove to have a lasting impact.
For me, as Synod draws to a close, its from a fringe meeting I hosted presenting the findings of the Talking Jesus research. This is a survey of the religious views of the British population. I think it will have a lasting impact because is bears significantly on the churches fundamental problem. All our problems institutionally stem from the simple fact that we are not effectively passing on the faith to the next generation and not enough people are coming to faith in Jesus Christ to replace those who are being promoted to glory. Most of our strategies and pastoral re-organisations are responses to this difficult situation. But they often deal with the consequences of the problem, not the problem itself. Amalgamating parishes, cutting clergy and balancing the books is made necessary by the evangelism deficit. Its not desirable, and if we were helping more people to living faith, and thereby to join worshipping communities, it wouldn’t be necessary.
This research is helpful because it asked basic questions of a large sample of people to give us some idea of how many of us there actually are to do the evangelistic task, and more importantly how people come to follow Jesus from a position of not believed.
If you define a practising Christian, and I emphasis practising, as someone who attends church at least once per month and reads the Bible or prays at least weekly (a fairly low bar in my view, but that’s how the research defined it) it ends up as 6% of the population, or just under 20,000 people in the diocese of Hereford. About 1/3 of those are in the Church of England. 53% of them are women and 47% men.
In the population as a whole 45% actually believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and 53% of people know a practising Christian. That means a lot of people have no contact with the church or Christians at all, which emphasises the importance of the work of pioneer ministry, contacting those who have no contact with the church or Christians.
Rather like our response to the NHS, people generally like Christians, but don’t like the church very much for the sorts of reasons you’d expect, the main ones being we’re perceived as being hypocritical and narrow minded. But when Christians are brave enough to discuss their faith, 75% of people welcomed the conversation. What they especially welcomed was conversations that began with questions about their own beliefs, rather than broadcast mode us telling them what to believe.
So overall, the news is quite good. People are much less hostile to faith than you might think, welcome spiritual conversations, and if we start with listening rather than broadcasting, such conversations can be fruitful.
Two final bits of data. 80% of people who become committed Christians do so by the age of 24, so focussing some of our limited resources on children and youth ministry is kind of important. But with adults, one of the main pivots is a major life event, either positive or negative. People are more open to Christian things when children are born, or when loved ones die, or following traumas like pandemics. So now might be the time to pluck up our courage and ask our non-christian friends where their spiritual beliefs are post pandemic. I invite us all to pray the prayer I’ve invited us to pray before. “Lord, please use me today to share your love with someone who doesn’t know you yet.”
As Jesus said, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send workers into his harvest field.