This is an edited version of an article by the Bishop of Maidstone, the Right Reverend Rod Thomas, also an assistant Bishop in our Diocese of Sheffield. The full version is available on his website: http://www.bishopofmaidstone.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/On-not-being-oblivious-to-the-obvious-for-Guardian-Nov-16.pdf
Although recent attendance figures from the Church of England seem to indicate relentless decline, new research from a team of Canadian secular social scientists could offer hope if we recognise a truth that is all-too-often avoided. As George Orwell once observed, to see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
Respected new research published from Wilfrid Laurier University claims to have discovered that the 'secret ingredient' for church growth is clergy and congregations committed to the historic truths of the Christian faith as a revealed religion, while a liberal approach to belief is consistently a predictor of decline.
This should be a great encouragement to us in the Church of England as we recognize that our core business is to bring the truth of the gospel to the nation -- and is a conclusion that confirms what we see on the ground where there is a confidence in the Bible as the Word of God.
If a more liberal agenda on sexuality is adopted by the Church of England, there will certainly be a fundamental breach with historic Christian teaching and the majority of the wider Anglican Communion, but in addition, the hope of future growth will be entirely misplaced. We only have to look to the experience of the Episcopal Church of the United States, which has been at the forefront of such changes, to see that accelerated decline would be the likely result with attendance down in that Church by more than 25% over the past fifteen years.
Anglicans have always given an honoured, though not ultimate, place to reason and this latest research should be taken seriously in that tradition. It should help the Church of England and other declining mainstream Western Churches to recover the biblical truth they have overlooked, that Christian faith tends to thrive when it is distinct from the prevailing culture and this is the lesson we should be learning from the rapid growth of the Anglican churches of the global south formed through missionary endeavour. A Christianity that merely recycles the norms and values of the prevailing culture renders itself irrelevant and subservient. Jesus' call in the Sermon the Mount for his followers to be salt and light has not been rescinded.