As a lapsed Anglican I am naturally curious about why other people stop going to church. This Post will just take a cursory look at the topic, but there is so much on it on the internet that I may well return to it again in the near future. When I read in that excellent Christian news website “Ekklesia” that the Church of England was losing women members at the rate of 50,000 per annum I was astonished. I then heard American evangelical preacher Tony Campolo saying that because they have to borrow money to go to college US seminarians often can’t afford to work in a church when they graduate. After a 4 year Bachelor’s degree course they then do a 3 year course in a seminary, which means they are in debt to the tune of at least $70,000 when they finish. If they then go to a parish where there are only, say, 70 or 80 in the congregation the income generated will be insufficient to both pay them a salary and pay off their student loans. Heading out into the mission field abroad, which many of them want to do, is even more problematical.
I decided to nose around in my home town of Gloucester in the west of England to see how things had changed at my old church where I was an altar boy and scout leader in the 1950s and 1960s. I was baptised and confirmed in this particular Anglican building. They were very formative years for me. Besides the Sunday school, which I was a teacher in (! I can hardly believe it myself) there were 3 strong lay organisations where church goers could be active in all sorts of ways. I wanted to know whether they were still thriving. Incidentally Gloucester is the first diocese to have a woman bishop (Rachel) and my old parish now has a woman vicar too.
The first organisation I asked about was the Young Wives Group. Instead of being the thriving body I remembered they had ceased to exist at all.
After them came the Mothers’ Union, whom I remember processing round the church with their home made banners. This was an organisation that church women were supposed to graduate into when they felt too old to stay in the YWG or when they started a family. They too were extinct – the older members had left or died and they were not replaced by younger recruits. So, how were the men doing? The Men’s Fellowship too had sunk beneath the waves as older members retired or moved away and were not replaced by younger men. This is just a quick look at my old parish in the suburbs, maybe other churches tell a different story.
I know perfectly well what made me leave the church (see my Post on this. When I find the Post number I’ll insert it here) and I could speculate on why folks are leaving in droves, but I think it would be more useful for me to read the research done on the web first.