Why the English stopped going to church
The Evangelical Alliance reports that the numbers of 20-somethings attending church is in steep decline, falling 62% from over half a million in 1985 to less than a quarter of a million two decades later.
Thankfully that does not appear to be the case in congregations I know where there is lively expository Bible ministry.
Statistics say that the largest section of the population is those who don’t go to church but ‘vaguely believe.’ I glimpsed one cartoon recently which had a vicar saying ‘We’re hoping to tap into the largest single Christian group in the country’ as he stood next to a notice board for the ‘Non-Obligational Church’. It advertised services ‘as-and-when’ and ‘pray as you go.’ Although this is tongue-in-cheek, many are beginning to think that the less clear we are about what we believe, the more people will be able to relate to us — that fuzziness is the way forward. Is being too definite about our Bible beliefs the problem?
What to preach
Not according to the historian Michael Watts. His lecture ‘Why did the English stop going to church?’ makes provocative reading. According to his research the high level of church attendance during the 19th century was the product of clear moral education provided by the Church of England and of the evangelism of the nonconformists, which stressed heaven and hell and salvation through faith in the sacrifice Christ made for sinners. What was the reason for the decline? Watts writes: ‘Liberal Christianity did not fill the churches, it helped to empty them. By soft-pedalling the doctrine of future punishment... English Christians… jettisoned what had been … their most effective argument in winning converts. The liberalisation of Christianity was intended to make the faith more relevant to men and women of the modern world. It had instead the effect of making the churches irrelevant to the needs of 20th-century men and women’.
In his sermon on Galatians 3.13 Charles Simeon said: ‘The most important truths of Christianity are often denied’. He goes on to identify these as: (1) lost sinners face eternal punishment (not simply annihilation); (2) not our works, but Christ alone can save us; and (3) ‘they who believe in Christ, and they only, will be finally saved’. Very clear!
How to pray
With A Passion for Life imminent, Rico Tice is emphasising the need for prayer. So many of us start praying for someone or something only to give up after a few days when we don’t see immediate answers. The story of St. Augustine’s mother, Monica, will encourage us to be constant in prayer, even despite setbacks.
At the age of 16, still unconverted, Augustine sneaked away from his godly, prayerful mother in Carthage and sailed for Rome. Augustine himself wrote later: ‘And what did she beg you, my God, with all those tears, if not that you would prevent me from sailing? But you did not do as she asked you.’ Augustine got to Rome and, firstly, of course, fell into a life of debauchery, only later, having tasted the emptiness and bitterness of sin, to be thoroughly converted to Christ. He thanked God as follows: ‘You converted me to yourself, so that I no longer placed any hope in this world, but stood firm upon the rule of faith. And you turned her sadness into rejoicing, into joy far fuller than her dearest wish, far sweeter and more chaste than any she had hoped to find.’ Pray on!