The Rt Revd Rick Thorpe, Phillip James and Revd Canon David Tomlinson - advocates of the success of Church Growth. (Picture: Keith Blundy)

With shrinking attendances, people could be forgiven for thinking that the Church of England is in decline. However as North East Church Leaders discovered recently, there is another story to be told, a story of 72 new churches growing across the country with five (5) so far in the Diocese of Durham and another five (5) planned for 2020.

Church leaders from the Diocese of Durham gathered at Stockton Parish Church to hear about the national picture from the Rt Revd. Rick Thorpe, Bishop of Islington, and Phillip James the Church of England’s National Director of Strategy.

Speaking about communities transformed, and aspirations enabled in almost every part of the country Bishop Rick shared stories of growth and hope from across the CofE. Attendees had the opportunity to explore what they were hearing and to look at the way that eight (8) new churches in the Brighton area alone had made a positive difference in deprived areas.

Asked why this kind of growth programme was so important to the future of the Church Bishop Rick said: “The Church of England is a Church that can grow and so we want to be encouraging Churches to think about how they can grow. This whole program is about taking a step back, working with Church leaders to see how can we be part of a strategy in the Diocese to begin to invest in growth, rather than in some of the decline that we’ve seen – and that’s a challenge! But there are churches are that good at growing and we want to get right behind that and see it happen more and more.

“We need to be looking forward. We need to be thinking – how can we engage with the new challenges, where people are today, and that’s very different from where they were yesterday. A different kind of person different, they have different spiritual needs different spiritual ways of thinking, and we have to engage with that and all the time we need to be on the front edge of thinking in those ways.”

Asked about the Church of England’s funding for these programmes Philip James said: “I think I mean firstly there was a clear need for the funding that is going towards some very needy areas both in terms of this Diocese and the wider country. Ultimately, the funding will play its part but it is going to be about the people. And what we want to do, is try to invest in people who are committed to seeing change and growth in their particular context.

“Success, of course, we’ll leave that to God, we can never guarantee it but it seems to me that this is a good investment and we pray it leads to great results.”

The Revd Canon David Tomlinson who heads up the Dioceses’ Resourcing Churches programme said: “We have are already achieving some great results. An example is St George’s in Gateshead which was established in 2016 with 20 people and now seeing 200 regularly gathering on a Sunday. The church has plans for another congregation while a new ‘Communities of Hope’ initiative is being planned for the estates of Sunderland and pit villages of East Durham.

“If the Church of England, is to be the Church of England, we need everybody to be confident about their heritage, see that we have a good story to tell, and then to tell it with joy. Bishop Rick said it all when he offered ‘its not rocket science – we simply need to stand with our communities, be relevant, be accessible, and our churches will flourish.’

Revd. Canon David Tomlinson comment that studies have shown that church groups often act as the glue that holds together our communities in ways that enable flourishing. He said: ”in many places the closure of churches, pubs, workingmen’s clubs, banks and even supermarkets mean that the meeting places have gone, loneliness and isolation have increased and as a people-centred organisation we have a remit to fill that gap.”