There’s been a bit of a hoohah about Ofsted checking Sunday Schools as part of the Government’s Prevent strategy.

I’m not going to comment on the Big Brother civil liberty elements of this, or the popularity of the inspectors, but it got me thinking: why shouldn’t there be an Ofsted for churches – a Chofsted if you like. What would they find if they investigated your church? Would you be outstanding, or in special measures?

There will be some who say that you can’t compare churches but they haven’t read the book of Revelation. There will be others who say that it doesn’t matter what a church does as long as it is faithful, but the man who was punished for burying his one talent in the parable thought that he was being faithful and doing what the master wanted, when he clearly wasn’t.

So what criteria should be used? You could choose Biblical adherence, friendliness of the people or even the quality of the sermon as assessed by the mystery worshipper. However, these tend to be inward looking benchmarks, reviewing a church for its own members’ needs.

Perhaps Ofsted’s own criteria are helpful. Swap “churches” for “teachers” and “atheists” for “pupils” and you’ve got a pretty good checklist for how to run things.

Doing this substitution, for an “outstanding” grade we would start with “Churches demonstrate deep knowledge and understanding of the subjects they teach. They use questioning highly effectively and demonstrate understanding of the ways atheists think about subject content. They identify atheists’ common misconceptions and act to ensure they are corrected.”

Sounds good to me.

What do you think?

2067 or 2033?

There’s an article in the Spectator this week predicting the end of British Christianity by 2067 and Anglicanism in 2033.

I think it’s about right concerning the longevity of traditional denominations, but the author is apparently unaware of the number of new churches being created.

Still, it’s clearly time for radical action rather than denial……

New Wine and Old Wineskins

Following on from Logan’s Run, here’s a blog post from Scott Berkun, which discusses the well known concept that science doesn’t advance by scientists finding new evidence and accepting it, but instead by a generation of scientists who held the old theory dying off, and a new generation coming through, who see the new theory as blatantly obvious.

Is there a parallel here for the church?

Who’s asking?


(Photograph ©  Tom)

There are more questions than answers  or at least so sang Johnny Nash.

 Yet I can’t help thinking that the church is sometimes trying to answer questions which God isn’t asking.

 Churchy questions I have heard are:

  • How can we foster a sense of Circuit identity?
  • How can we fill the preaching plan?
  • How do we recruit new leaders?
  • And How do we pay the assessment?

God’s questions are different. The Bible has many suggestions for what they might be, but I would start with these:

  • What are we doing to defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow?
  • What are we doing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the prisoners?
  • What are we doing to seek and save the lost?
  • Where can we serve, rather than be served?

It might be argued that once we answer the churchy questions satisfactorily, then we will be better placed to move on to God’s agenda, but I don’t see any evidence for that.

Instead I wonder whether at worst it is actually displacement activity.

Thomas Pynchon wrote “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

So what questions do you think God is asking?

Logan’s Run


Last week I talked about how the demographics of Methodism are like a pyramid sinking into the sand.

I promised some answers to the seemingly terminal decline. Here at Hexham Trinity we have seen significant growth in the last ten years. It can be done.

You might expect me to talk as I have before, about the need for modern music. John Wesley’s 1780 hymnbook contained 12 hymns by dead people, out of more than 500. If he couldn’t make a go of it without using contemporary music, why would anybody expect me to able to?

You might expect me to point out that research shows the vital importance of working with children and young people when you want to grow the church.

I could also talk about leadership, courage, risk taking and entrepreneurship.

We know what needs to be done, but most congregations don’t do it.

Instead, I’m going to suggest a completely different strategy. The problem with the pyramid sinking into the sand is that the bottom of the pyramid (the Methodists in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond) is much, much bigger than the top of the pyramid (Methodists in their 20s and 30s).

With the best will in the world, any vaguely democratic institution with this demography, will vote in favour of what’s good for people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. It’s not malevolence, selfishness or stupidity – people in every age group know what is decent, normal and appropriate for church – it’s just that as the generations change, so does that normative view of what normal is.

So even when people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond think they are voting for something which people in their 20s are bound to want, they’re not always right.

My radical solution is for those over 30 to voluntarily give up their vote on any matter to do with church.

This would disenfranchise me at 51 from voting, but I think I’m part of the problem, not part of the solution. I’m not nearly radical enough for the changes that are needed.

It could be argued that those under 31 are inexperienced, immature and might make big mistakes. However, when we consider our performance of halving in membership since 1990, it’s hard to see how they could do a worse job. Why don’t we let them have a go? They will quite likely make different decisions from us.

So what have we got to lose? Our traditions and buildings? They’re going anyway as the church dies.

Am I throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Or did the baby grow up and leave the Methodist Church decades ago, but we haven’t noticed yet?

What do you think? Would you willingly give up your say, that the church might revive?

Year Zero


This year’s British Methodist Church membership figures are out, and once again show a fall. Membership in 2013 was 208,679 which is the lowest it has been since 1820. As you can see from the graph above, that’s a decline on more than half in 30 years.

Where are all these people going? Most of them are going to the cemetery. Literally hundreds of Methodists die every week, and they are not being replaced with enough younger people. As you can see from the next graph, the rate is increasing.


Last year it looked as though the decline might be slowing back to 1980s levels, but it seems to have been a one year blip.

So what does this mean? It means the church is dying and we need to do something totally radical about it.

Whenever I show these kind of statistics, and present the urgent need for drastic change, people react in different ways.

Some pretend that the statistics don’t matter, and that “God is always doing something new”, so it will solve itself.

Others say that “it’s not about numbers” and it’s our job to be faithful. But if it’s not about numbers, what is it about? And what does faithfulness look like?

Still others talk about exciting Fresh Expressions they have heard of, but these national statistics include them, and the plural of anecdote is not evidence.

Then there are those who say that any facing of these issues is “talking down” the church, and we should be more positive. Yet the man on the sinking ship warning everybody of disaster, is actually doing people a favour.

So when will the church face the facts? Decline is not inevitable, but while we continue as we are, demography is destiny. The graph hits zero in 2033……

Forever Young


Photo by Dena Flows by Licence

Here’s the latest research from the Evangelical Alliance which shows that despite 26 years full-time with the Methodist Church, I am still younger than the average minister.

In the 1990s I used to cringe when I was introduced at Blackhall Methodist Church as “and now we’ll hear from our young minister……”. it’s depressing to think that they could still say that today.

But will there be young ministers tomorrow? Perhaps the answer comes from these two photographs of Cambridge Methsoc in 1984 and 2012.

Fewer children in church means fewer people of student age in church, which leads to fewer young adults in church and thus fewer young ministers.

If as the article suggests, younger ministers are more effective, then should we not be putting our efforts into discipling the young, rather than catering to the elderly? Of course, it’s easy for me to say that as I’m still youthful – at least in church terms.

What do you think?