We seem to be confronted by two inescapable realities. The first is the fact that the majority of our present congregations seem unable to connect with people around them. The current long term members of course love the style and tone of their services, and treasure them deeply.
But many others have long since voted with their feet, having decided that there is nothing there to keep them. And many more nurse a deep spiritual hunger sensing that the style and form of the local Anglican congregation is not for them.
The second reality is that the majority of our present congregations seem either unwilling or unable to change sufficiently in their style and tone to be able to be able to connect with those who have left or never come. In many of these it would be unwise to attempt radical change unless the leader felt a call to martyrdom.
The current members are still members because they like the church the way it is. That is why they still attend. This is certainly understandable. And obviously the church shouldn't be disenfranchising its current, life-long, faithful supporters by suddenly turning inside out a style they deeply treasure. But unless something radical is done the current trend of aging dwindling congregations will continue. So what is to be done?
I'm thinking in terms of a forestry metaphor, where new growth springs up in the shadow of the old, and as the old eventually comes down the new grows up strong and vigorous. This calls for strong leadership, which says, "We value all those who have supported the church so faithfully through the years, but we cannot allow their preferences to impair our ability to reach the current and future generations. To do so would be to sin against God, against our neighbours and ourselves."
It also calls for charity and generosity on the part of those who love things just as they are to be willing to let something happen for others who currently hear the gospel through our current forms and structures. Indeed it calls for us to support such initiatives enthusiastically and pray that God will greatly bless them.
That is no small order, but I dare to believe that a church that could pull this off would be a church that many would be willing to take seriously.
(Canon Harold Percy is Rector of Trinity Anglican Church, Streetsville,
Ontario, and the author of several books on evangelism)