One of the big fears amongst some members of certain congregations in the Church of England is that the ‘Evangelicals are taking over’. Equally I’ve heard members of other congregations complain that there are ‘too many Liberals’ in senior positions in the Church. However is either statement true, or is it all about perception?
Anglican Mainstream today published some interesting figures from the English Church Census of 2005, repeated on Thinking Anglicans counting up the number of churches and worshippers in the Church of England who classify themselves as either Mainstream Evangelical, Charismatic Evangelical or Evangelical Broad.
The figures make interesting reading, as they show that in terms of Churches, only 26% classify themselves as Evangelical. Looking at worshipers, the percentage goes up to 34% of worshipers. The reason for this can be found in the final statistic – of the 160 largest churches in the Church of England, who represent 1% of the total number of churches, and 10% of the worshipers, a staggering 83% are evangelical.
Ruth Gledhill uses the figures as a lead in to a discussion of the increasingly complex situation in North America, but predicts that despite much of the attention being focused across the pond, the Church of England will be the place where the first split will occur. Interestingly she does believe that it won’t be a full-bodied schism – as I have mentioned before I am also sure that the Church of England will never split up – property and pensions will be what will hold the Church together in name at least.
Having said that, looking at the figures, the actual proportion of Evangelicals in the church whilst sizeable, is definitely a minority. The reason perhaps for the ‘Evangelicals are taking over’ impression is pretty clear when you consider that final statistic, and what it means. To put it simply, the big Churches have the resources, both in terms of money and manpower, to be heard a lot louder than smaller churches. For example locally in the Jeffrey John arguments a few years back it was only a few big Churches in the Diocese who made a significant noise – that’s not to say that smaller Churches weren’t making comments both for and against the appointment, but it was the big churches that got the coverage. At the time, the threat of withholding parish share was mentioned, and the majority backed down, since as comparatively big Churches they were perceived as giving a large amount of money. As an aside, as with big corporations having the resources to avoid taxes, large Churches, also have the resources to do something similar with their share. For example take a look at this site, which is the Arborfield and Barkham Parish Churches Trust, note particularly the annual turnover of the independent trust.
Anyway, I digress. Looking at the number of people, in terms of representation in the Church councils and synods, the larger Churches will generally be allowed more representatives, so in theory their representation across the Church should be roughly in proportion to the number of worshipers. Having said that, that is only in the house of laity. Unlike the democracy in the Episcopal church, clergy and Bishops are appointed not elected – so whilst the laity may have a say in any appointment, it would certainly not be a surprise to me if equivalent figures looking at the number of Evangelical clergy showed a somewhat different proportion… Sadly I don’t have those figures to hand to make a comparison.
So in terms of numbers, I don’t think the Evangelicals have taken over as such, but their voices often seem louder and clearer both on the outside, and within the Church. Perhaps the main way the apparently silent majority in the Church could redress the balance, is to learn from minority – for larger and growing mainstream Anglican churches such as ours, churches that, as we were reminded on Sunday when Rev Richard mentioned Richard Hooker in his sermon, demonstrate the breadth of Anglicanism, need to organise to speak out just as loudly and clearly as the Evanglical Churches. There is a myth in the Church that only Evangelical Churches grow – maybe growing churches like St James need to shout about it too.