In the British Church Times, Linda Woodhead, a sociologist of religion, has been thinking what might happen to the Church of England if church attendance keeps declining. She ponders that even if all Sunday services closed down, leaving only clergy remaining, the church’s most significant activities could still continue through clergy doing weddings, funerals, baptisms, being tour guides in cathedrals, and running Easter and Christmas services as required.
To be honest, I genuinely think that in the mainline churches, this is what probably will happen. Mainline churches will eventually be left with virtually no congregations, they’ll have to sell up properties to pay pensions and salaries, and will thereby be left with nothing to do but focusing on managing philanthropic ministries like nursing homes, day care centers, counselling services, overseas aid projects, etc. But I’m pretty sure that this won’t happen to all churches, religion has proved to be, after all, remarkably resilient even in the face of Modernity and Postmodernity. And I think most churches would not let it happen because they are wisely convicted that the church is a community of people, not simply an optional religious function with a secularized society.
No surprises that Ian Paul has quite a lot to say about this topic.
I also recommend that folks check Richard Bauckham’s letter to the Church Times that is conveniently available thanks to Steve Walton.