Are Evangelicals ‘Taking Over’?

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.

4 thoughts on “Are Evangelicals ‘Taking Over’?”

  1. the Arborfield & Barkham trust runs at the lower end of that financial range to employ some church staff… what’s wrong with doing that? Is it a problem if a church with 400 people meeting in four distinct smaller (80-120 people) congregations employing an extra 3.5 staff on top of the one the Diocese gives us? Just curious…

  2. I, and I don’t think anybody has a problem with employing extra staff such as youth workers, administrators or whoever to enable the Church to run smoothly, many parishes do it to a greater or lesser extent, we have two part time staff at St James ourselves, but the fundamental difference is that they work for the Church, and are paid for by the Church, from money given to the Church.

    This is the crux of the problem I and a lot of others have with the trust. Although the staff are employed for the benefit of the Churches, they are paid for by the independent trust, not by the Church. Since the Parish Share in Sonning Deanery is assessed in part the income of the Church, which won’t include the income of the trust, it is entirely an exercise in reducing the contribution that the parish makes to the running of the wider Church, of which the four congregations at Arborfield and Barkham are a part.

    You can argue that the money that doesn’t go towards the central Church is being put to good use locally, and I don’t doubt there there are things that Arborfield and Barkham are doing that they wouldn’t be able to do if they paid their fair share, but equally there are projects and parishes elsewhere in the country, doing good work, but in need because Churches like Arborfield and Barkham are pulling fiddles like the trust to reduce their contributions, or don’t pay their fair share at all. Bishop Tom Wright summed up the issue much better than I could in points sixteen and seventeen of his response to the proposed covenant:

    The next section is Money. More threats. And unbiblical, too. Imagine this letter: “From Martinus, presbyter in Corinth, to Paul, our one-time apostle; we hear that you are coming to us to take a collection on behalf of – those false believers, those Jewish ‘Christians’, those works-righteousness people you warned us about! Surely ‘funds are expected to be directed towards the churches and causes in line with the beliefs and expectations of those who give’? You’re in dereliction of duty, Paul. Maybe your Jewish roots are resurfacing after all! We can no longer support ministries or structures we deem inappropriate. Don’t bother coming back to Corinth; we shall give generously to those ministries that ‘share the same values’. Grace be with you (and it had better be, otherwise you’re in trouble).”

    The real problem – speaking from one of the poorest dioceses in the country – is this. I’m truly sorry to say it but it must be heard. The threat in question looks arrogant and self-serving. Of course the churches represented by the authors and signatories are well off. Goldman Sachs is well off – it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing God’s will all the time! Of course there are failing churches with corrupt and heretical clergy; and we bishops spend a lot of time trying to turn those situations around, and deeply regret in some cases throwing good money after bad. But there are also a good many parishes in areas of high unemployment and deep post-industrial depression, where with the best ministry and the soundest gospel they struggle to pay a small parish share, and need to be helped by richer neighbours in the smarter areas of the diocese. When, and only when, the church networks represented by these signatories show that they’re prepared to leave their wealthy enclaves and support churches who (all right, may not be aware of the finer intellectual points of the gospel, but who) are living the gospel on the street day after day – then I might take them seriously.

  3. have to say, i wasn’ around when the A&B Trust was set up – my knowledge was simply that it provided a helpful way to manage the employment of extra staff across the congregations in a parish that operates two pcc’s. i wasn’t aware that parish share was calculated according to income – but according to size of congregation. happy to stand corrected on that.

    not sure that this is the place to comment on the recent decisions about parish share contributions by our pcc’s. to declare my position, i’m part of one of the pcc’s, although only since after the decision was made and i’m still learning how the bigger picture fits together.

    one thing that i will comment, is that the money held back from parish share has not been used for the ministry of Arborfield & Barkham Churches, but given away to other local ministries – which was always the stated intention. i’m sure we stand accused of many things as we seek to effect change and reform in the system, but keeping money back for ourselves is not a fair charge 🙂

  4. The parish share in Sonning does include an element of congregation size too – as a result we too have periodic debates over whether we should or shouldn’t be encouraging people to join the electoral roll, as the more people we have on the roll the higher our Parish Share would be.

    With regards to what is being withheld, I certainly didn’t think that A & B weren’t putting the money towards some sort of use, the attitudes towards giving within A & B were such that I would have been surprised if they hadn’t. It’s really just questionable whether trying to effect change in the Church by blackmailing the rest of us over finance is the right way to go about it!

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