Church Growth and the Wider Community Served

The Centre for Theology and Community (CTC) has this identifying statement at its website home page at

We equip churches to transform their communities – through community organising, theological reflection and prayer. We also help them to use their resources more effectively for this mission.

In 2016 The CTC produced two pieces of research: An Analysis of Church-Planting in East London, published in Easter as Love, Sweat and Tears and then came Church Growth in East London.

The first study focused on St Paul’s, Shadwell, planted in 2005 from Holy Trinity, Brompton, and the four churches that it has subsequently planted. An average Sunday attendance of 100 across all five added many more worshippers including 100 extra who had not attended any church at all. Neighbouring churches were largely un­affected in their own decline or growth.

The big difference was through carrying out social action, aided itself by the numerical growth, including foodbanks, debt advice, and com­munity organising, associating with and complementing mosques and schools.

The greater the social action, the greater the recruitment. These churches also became more financially self-financing and adding finance into the general Anglican pot.

This was a charismatic-evangelical expansion and church planting is know to that approach. The second report, Church Growth in East London, suggests however that attitude is more a key determinant for growth than theological tradi­tion.

Growth can happen in churches with very different theo­logies and liturgical emphases with the means and models appropriate. However, actual growth needs to be intentional and follow experience, and built in to the worshipping life of each church.

Yet there needs to be structural change because:

...the degree of intentionality behind growth is related to the likelihood of growth. Those [congregations] that have seen significant growth, it seems, have made structural changes in terms of leadership or ‘models’ of church.

They also have a “clear vision of their goals” and have a “conscious self-reflection” on what it means to be both faithful and effective as locally set.

Once again, acting for the common good - social action - is a key element. Attendance rose since 2007 at St John-at-Hackney due to a more intense and focussed life of worship, putting financial and property assets into its outward focus, and commitment to the common good for people beyond the church.

These factors are being tested further elsewhere in London. One church began introducing Christianity via a new Sanctuary Course using prayer and medi­­tation, housing a lay com­munity in flats around the church, and holds a community-organ­ising assembly in church that corrrects with other local churches, mosques, and schools to promote issues such as affordable housing and street safety.

Now this is about London, that is hos­pitable to growth: an international city with a culture of associating through meeting, with diverse immigrant communities bringing their religious attendances with them. In such context has been tried church-planting and immigration. Yet it still needs a positive attitude.

Other cities, towns and villages may be tougher territories. Age profiles suggest that in many places that added numbers may not replace deaths, but of course adding numbers slows the rate of decline.

Extra people can be seen as a selfish motive, but the change in attitude is also about what can be done for them: how the church meets their needs. They can be in a community with a new supportive worshipping life.

The implication is that church growth or some arrest of decline is possible for more liberal churches. This would clearly depend upon social outreach, and attitude, and presumably effective leadership in generating a positive attitude and use of resources (materials and time) into social action. Some Unitarian experience (Unicoms, November 2015) has been that when a church is well used by other groups, even when those uses are not Unitarian connected, so long as it has available communication material (as in leaflets and (vitally) notices upon its walls about its basis and ethos) with contact details, then there will be some likely through-traffic into its core religious activities. Behind the marketing, then, has to be attitude and action using material assets.

Immigrants and people moving often look for churches based on their own past experience, or offer styles near to this experience. Some 'come in off the streets' expecting one kind of church and find another. this can be relevant for liberal and Unitarian churches if the experience is some 'preach the gospel' charismatic church experience somewhere else. Other people come along having done some previous research on the Internet, where the local experience ought to relate to the marketing. If it does not, then the marketing is undermined as well.

See and sections of this article is based on one by Angus Ritchie in the Church TimesClick for the article, reproduced on the evangelical Fulcrum websiteClick for the article on October 17, 2016 in its Articles section.

The CLC is based in east London. It grew out of local churches in membership of Citizens UK – the national home of community organising. Partner churches are from various denominations and styles. The stance is that churches in deprived and diverse areas can be vital in transforming communities and wider society. It assists with community organising, theological reflection, using resources more effectively, and carries out supportive research to further spread actions and results using publications, training and consultancy.

In transforming communities ( the CLC approach emphasises that meeting and listening precede action, that realism is needed regarding actual situations on the ground, that relational power exists and should be turned-around, that in so doing tension can be properly generated to achieve a more lasting harmony and social justice, that leadership to guide can be built through those who listen, work with others - and develop the potential of others, and that teaching by leaders comes through relationships they build that reinforce generated social action, where unity among the diverse wider community is encouraged in what it can do together.

Fulcrum Website states: "Angus [Ritichie] has ministered in East London since 1998, and throughout that time has been an active congregational leader in London Citizens. Angus is Assistant Priest at St Peter’s, Bethnal Green and an Honorary Canon of Worcester Cathedral. He writes and teaches on Christian social action and apologetics. His latest book (with Paul Hackwood) is Just Love: Personal and Social Transformation in Christ."


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful