Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

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reprinted from the December 2001 edition of Essentials   EFAC Conference
Wanniassa ACT
28th April 2001

The Future of Denominations in a Post-Denominational Era

  Introduction Bp Ray Smith
  What is the future of mainline denominations? Do they have a future? Does the Anglican Church of Australia have a future? is Bishop of the Georges
  Every evangelical Christian member of a mainline denomination ought to be concerned about the future of their denomination for at least several reasons. River Region in Sydney and is President
  First, a growing number of mainline denominations in the Western world, including the Anglican Church of Australia, are drifting into a religious pluralism which openly denies foundational Christian beliefs as well as Biblical values. They are also gradually embracing secular moral standards along with all forms of spirituality from neo-paganism to New Age. of EFAC Australia
  Second, if the present decline in membership continues, the Christian population will be significantly smaller in the first quarter of the twenty-first century. As a consequence there will be fewer living agents and resources to invest in mission and ministry. The capacity of the churches to respond to the expanding need for the Gospel in Australia and abroad will be severely limited.  
  One encouraging sign is the growth of churches around the world that are Biblically orthodox and evangelical. Growth is occurring in the third world, particularly Africa and South America. Often the growth is taking place in spite of abject poverty and severe persecution.  
  In Western countries including Australia it is mainly the evangelical and more Biblically orthodox churches that are on the lively and growing edge. However before we get too carried away, we need to note that Australia has been designated a mission field by international missionary agencies because around 60% of the population do not identify with Christian churches. The latest NCLS research reveals that despite growth in Biblically orthodox churches, overall, church membership is declining. Coupled with this is the problem of an aging church population along with a failure to attract younger generations and migrants.  
  Drastic measures are called for to remedy the situation but unfortunately many lack the will to take the action needed, some because they do not see that there is a problem and others because they feel helpless to do anything.  
  From a Biblical perspective churches remain authentically Christian and spiritually healthy through being faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ and holding fast to their Scriptural faith. From a sociological perspective the denominations most likely to grow are those which are able to change in order to reach the younger generations and recent migrants.  
  The aim of this paper is to explore how in the next twenty- five years the Anglican Church of Australia can position itself to proclaim the Gospel to new generations of unreached Australians and migrants.  
  1.What is a Denomination?  
  A denomination can be described as a mainline church which has developed from either a Western national church or a broad Christian movement. It has an established organization and tradition, and identifies with the worldwide body of professing Christians known as the Catholic Church. Denominations can be contrasted to Christian fellowships which usually stand apart from mainline denominations and their histories.  
  Denominations are also social entities with a membership that can be seen and numbered. They are not to be confused with 'the Church Christ is building' (Matthew 16:18). Membership in 'the Church Christ is building' is through spiritual birth and conversion. Denominations contain members of 'Christ's Church' but also nominal members.  
  2.The Anglican Church of Australia  
  The Anglican Communion is a worldwide fellowship of independent national and regional churches that trace their origins back to the Church of England. Today each of the thirty-eight provinces that comprise the Communion are held together by their common heritage, subscription to a broad statement of faith known as the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) and the recognition of the Archbishop of Canterbury as their symbolic head.  
  The Anglican Church of Australia is a fellowship of twenty-four independent dioceses, within the Anglican Communion. These dioceses are bound together by an agreed Constitution governing doctrine and practice. Ordinances of the General Synod, the national governing body, are only binding on a diocese when accepted by the diocesan synod.  
  Dioceses are geographical regions which are divided into smaller areas called parishes. Under the parish system ministers are appointed and local governing bodies are elected. Their purpose is to disciple and care for church members, and to declare the Gospel to the unchurched in an area.  
  According to the 1996 NCLS data and other sources Anglican churches as a whole typically exhibit the following characteristics:  
  ~ small congregations  
  ~ Anglo-Celtic membership  
  ~ more women than men  
  ~ aging persons  
  ~ a higher proportion of educated persons than found in the general population  
  ~ few newcomers  
  ~ declining membership  
  ~ a low proportion of persons from 25-45 age group  
  ~ nineteenth and early twentieth-century worship forms, music and ritual  
  ~ buildings and facilities of a previous era, some dating back to the nineteenth century, often in need of repair and costly to maintain  
  ~ financially stretched  
  ~ pastoral rather than evangelistic  
  ~ maintenance- rather than mission-oriented  
  With the advent of the motor car parish boundaries have largely lost their relevance and significance. Church members often travel some distance passing through a number of parishes to reach the church of their choice.  
  The generations raised in the Anglican Church do not remain committed to their denomination. If they continue to attend church they choose to affiliate with churches to their liking and which they perceive to be geared to meeting their needs. The churches they attend tend to be contemporary, informal and highly relational.  
  Migrants are more likely to attend non-Anglican churches which they perceive to be more welcoming to persons of other cultures. First-generation migrants are attracted to ethno-specific churches and in some instances multicultural congregations where no single ethnic group is dominant. The presence of non-Anglo ministers and local church leaders helps. Second and third-generation young adults from migrant families have a preference for multicultural congregations drawn from a similar age background.  
  3. Denominational Functions  
  Traditionally denominations have performed a number of functions. The extent to which these functions have positive benefits is determined by denominational culture, effective leadership, appropriate programs and functional regional and local structures.  
  Some of the more important functions are:  
  ~ preserving and passing on beliefs and traditions to future generations  
  ~ unifying diverse congregations  
  ~ recruiting ministers, and providing initial and continuing training  
  ~ resourcing local churches  
  ~ supporting worldwide missions  
  ~ holding property and managing funds  
  ~ provision of central service agencies, e.g. theological college, youth specialists, welfare agency  
  ~ pastoral oversight of congregations and settling of disputes  
  ~ providing administrative services  
  ~ working for economy in expenditure, e.g. superannuation, insurances  
  ~ representation to other denominations and societal and government agencies  
  ~ providing a public profile.  
  4 Major Dilemmas Facing Denominations  
  Denominations are confronted with a number of complex dilemmas. Solutions have to be found but finding them is fraught with difficulty. Some of the more important dilemmas are:  
  Biblical Faith vs Contemporary Theologies  
  Being faithful involves upholding the truth of the Gospel, exercising faith in Christ, and being obedient in furthering God's plan of salvation for humankind. The Bible teaches that churches failing to do so will be judged by God and overthrown. In the Book of Revelation (Chapters 1-3), seven churches are exhorted to be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church. These churches it would appear failed to heed the exhortation and have been swept away. There is a warning here for denominations and churches today that depart from the God's truth and fail to carry out his purposes.  
  Gospel Values vs Secular Values  
  Tom Sine in "Mustard Seed versus McWorld" maintains that secular values have replaced Gospel values in the lives of Christians and dominate in church life. He identifies a form of dualism consisting of giving mental assent to Biblical values but living by secular values. He writes  
  Essentially most Christians (and churches) unquestioningly allow modern culture to arrange the furniture of (their) lives… In spite of all the talk about (the) 'Lordship' (of Jesus Christ), everyone knows that the expectations of modern culture come first. Getting ahead in the suburbs is first. Getting the children off to their activities comes first. And we tend to make decisions in these areas like everyone else does - based on our income, our professions and our social status. p.211  
  Adapting to the Unreached vs Ministry to Members  
  The issue here is whether to minister to existing members only or to engage in effective outreach to potential new members. A related issue is whether to focus on younger or older generations. In the end it is not a matter of either/or: it is a question of priorities. The denomination has an obligation to see that existing members and older members receive ministry. However, they must make reaching the unreached with the Gospel a priority. The plain fact is the Anglican Church is not reaching the younger generations and migrants with the Gospel. Nor are they in a strong position to preach the Gospel to the poor, the disadvantaged, single parent families, divorced persons and those living an alternative lifestyle. As Christians we are obligated to make disciples of contemporary Australians. Common sense also says without the next generation of Australians and migrants there will be no Anglican Church of Australia. Anglican churches have to be willing to adapt and change in order to reach contemporary Australians. What attracted the pre-Second World War generations, which predominate in Anglican churches, will not attract many from the new generations. Church authorities and congregational leaders must be prepared to act on the principle that anything can be changed except Biblical faith and values.  
  To be engaged in effective outreach to the unreached and ministry to members every local church needs a plan for sustainable mission to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 16:16-20). To grow healthy churches, according to Christian Schwarz's research a church's plan should cover empowering leadership, gift-oriented ministry, passionate spirituality, functional structures, inspiring church gatherings, person centred evangelism and loving relationships.  
  Developing New Structures vs Maintaining Existing Structures  
  The Anglican Church of Australia is locked into the English parish system which predates the Industrial Revolution. Growth is mainly attempted through existing parishes and the establishment of new ones as populations expand. Church growth research indicates churches that have been in existence for several generations grow slowly if at all. Those that do require a gifted leadership and need to be willing to change radically. The cost of establishing new parishes complete with adequate buildings is crippling  
  and limits available funds for ministry expansion.  
  There is no quick and simple answer to these problems. Different situations require different measures. The advantage of retaining the parish system in some form is that it ensures that a minister with his congregation is responsible for ministry in every local area covered by a diocese. The parish system, however, needs to be adapted and expanded. In the era of the automobile parish boundaries are largely redundant and ministries cannot nor should be restricted by them for the sake of 'kingdom growth'.  
  To be effective diocesan and regional authorities should encourage the growth of large churches with team ministries, partnerships between smaller churches and especially new church plants directed toward particular target populations. Church plants are especially crucial in reaching migrants. Careful planning should be given to such measures as moving a congregation to a more strategic location, possibly an off-church site. Amalgamations, closures and selling properties may be the most responsible way in which to exercise stewardship over capital assets. Inventive and creative solutions ought to be encouraged in deciding on the best location for ministries.  
  One of the worst things the denominational leadership can do is to discourage ministers and congregations by blocking new church plants and other creative initiatives. Creative initiatives and calculated risks need to be taken.  
  Resourcing vs Regulating  
  Church leaders and authorities ought to work on the principle that the denomination is primarily a resourcing agency. Denominations can resource local church life in a number of ways. They can be proactive in ensuring there is a continuous stream of highly trained ministry recruits who are placed in ministries to which they are suited. They must avoid selecting and placing ministers on the basis of formal qualifications ahead of commitment, competence and character. They can ensure ministers are supported and provided with ongoing professional training. They can provide resources and training for discipleship education for lay persons.  
  They must resist the temptation to drain local churches of funds for central diocesan positions, projects and programs. Mission and ministry happen at the local level. If they are not happening there, they are not happening. The exercise of control by central bodies and officials over local churches needs to be kept at a minimum. The right people ought to be appointed to positions in the local church and then trusted to perform their ministries. Proper but not cumbersome procedures are needed where financial and other resources are involved. Accountability should provided for locally along with some form of general oversight by selected persons from within the wider denomination.  
  Rising Costs vs Reduced Income  
  The funding base and financial contributions to churches are falling. One cause is fewer givers due to declining numbers. Another cause is higher costs to maintain ministries. Increased spending by members on perceived needs and the extras that are part of contemporary living also affect giving. Financial forecasters predict that as personal spending rises church giving will drop because members will put other priorities ahead of their church giving. It is also predicted the number of church members with lower incomes will increase significantly in the future. Responsible stewardship of church funds and assets will be essential. Discipleship education will be needed to teach and challenge Christians to give sacrificially. New and creative approaches not involving high ministry costs will have to be found to sustain local evangelism and ministry. Australians may have to look to the third world for solutions.  
  The Anglican Church in Australia is, along with other mainline denominations, suffering from what has been called the "Hollywood Movie Set Syndrome". When a person goes to a movie set at Universal Studios in Hollywood the houses and the buildings appear real but look around the back and there is nothing there. Our mainline churches give the appearance of being grand and highly successful institutions with cathedrals, church buildings, large public services and synods. However, the real situation is that the local church infrastructure is falling apart with declining attendance, falling income and an aging membership. In a growing number of places there is little or nothing there.  
  We started with the question: "What is the future of denominations in a post-denominational era?"  
  Do denominations have a future? The answer is "yes" if church authorities and leaders are prepared to adapt to contemporary society in order to attract new generations of Australian-born adults, youth and children, along with new generations of migrants, and unreached Australians. Every aspect of church life must be open to change except the unchanging Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the unchanging Saviour.  
  Corney, Peter. Change and the Church: How to Manage and Initiate Change in the Local Church. Aquilla Press: Sydney, 2000.  
  Collins, J C & Porras, J I. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Century: London, 1996.  
  Kaldor, Peter et al. Build My Church: Trends and Possibilities for Australian Churches. National Church Life Survey/Open Book: Adelaide, 1999.  
  Mead, Loren. The Once and Future Church: Reinventing the Congregation for a New Mission Frontier. Alban Institute, 1991.  
  Mead, Loren. Five Challenges of the Once and Future Church. Alban Institute, 1996.  
  Ryle, J C. "The Church Which Christ Builds". Holiness. James Clarke: London, 1956, pp216-228.  
  Ryle, J C. "Visible Churches Warned". Holiness. James Clarke: London, 1956, pp229-240.  
  Schaller, Lyle. 21 Bridges to the 21st Century: The Future of Pastoral Ministry. Abingdon: Nashville, 1994.  
  Schaller, Lyle. Tattered Trust: Is There Hope for Your Denomination. Abingdon: Nashville, 1996.  
  Schwarz, Christian. Natural Church Development:A Guide to Eight Essential Qualities of Healthy Churches. C & P Publishing: Emmelsbull, Germany, 1996.  
  Sine, Tom. Mustard Seed versus McWorld: Reinventing the Christian Life and Mission for the New Millenium. Millenium Monarch: Crowborough, 1999.  

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