Under the heading of Reform and Renewal the Church of England has launched a series of reports with a view to producing better equipped leaders, making better use of financial resources, increase the numbers of those being ordained and called to lay leadership and to help simplify some church procedures to help make the Church more responsive.
Reform and Renewal is in no small part a response to a decline in the numbers of those attending services and the ageing profile of both congregations and clergy. But this begs a further question: is this decline the symptom or the cause of the problem. Until we really understand why this decline is taking place, we cannot begin to know how to address it.
The Church is not the only organisation in society struggling with membership and in winning people’s engagement. From social clubs to sports clubs there are reports of falling membership. From schools to political parties there are struggles to get and keep people engaged. They are all discovering they are need to work in new and more inventive ways and that the old ways of being are no longer enough. The issue is wider than the Church; something deeper is changing in the nature of our society and the way we live in community.
Some in the Church feel we just need to sit tight, to remain faithful and the culture around us will change and the Church will once more move centre stage. Certainly the Church has in its history been through darker times and seen periods of equal, if not greater, disillusionment. History might suggest this decline is just a phase and it will pass.
But what if the culture really has turned and there is an irreversible shift in the nature of society? What if our social freedoms, scientific insights and technological advances have reached a tipping point that changes for ever how people engage with the world about them, including with religion? Will Reform and Renewal then be enough?
Are we experiencing a fundamental shifting of the tectonic plates of society or is this just a passing tremor after which all will return to how it was? Until we have a deeper understanding of the shifts taking place within the wider society, Reform and Renewal increasingly looks like and answer in search of a question.