According to statistics and a recent pew sheet of my church; the Anglican Church has been in decline in the West for over 100 years. Numbers of Anglicans in Australia have also been in steady decline since 2001.
Being part of a traditional parish in the Diocese of Sydney, the challenge of growth and decline is more than just cyclical, it is generational. While the majority of the diocese has moved its worship form away from traditional setting, parishes like St Paul's Burwood has the challenge of protecting and using the liturgy regularly while still focusing on outreach.
Four key elements
My rector noted in the pew sheet there are four elements which form the key to the healthy growth of any church; prayer, welcoming, nurturing, and worshipping.
Prayer is the first port of call for Christians; it is not only our privilege to pray, but it is our duty. It is also the greatest tool that we have at our disposal.
Part of my daily prayer is for the unity of the universal Church, all the clergy, all the laity, and for growth of the kingdom. I find this is a great way to begin to be centred on God's will for His Church and is a good safeguard against doing things on our own will.
Welcoming and nurturing needs to be genuine action and a desire to do good works in service of others. Learning to be the host in social contexts and also in church is a great way to be an example of Christ's love and compassion for people. This is because a good host and nurturer is other-person centred, and he is primarily focused on the needs and interests of others, not himself.
Sharing our faith, sharing a meal, sharing quality time, and sharing lives are a few things which Christ calls us to follow Him in doing.
Worship is the primary focus of any given Sunday. Traditional parishes, like St Paul's, often seek to further liturgical excellence alongside the teaching of orthodox theology. It is a great combination of tradition and Scripture, giving equal time to both word and sacrament. I believe this is the best way in which Christians can be nurtured and it is also a profound way of worshipping alongside the whole Body of Christ.
The new assistant priest at my parish mentioned in a recent sermon that when we partake in communion, we are not only proclaiming God's glory on earth, but we join with heaven in proclaiming God's holiness to all. When we eat and drink of the Body and the Blood, we join not only those in our immediate presence, but with along all Christians everywhere and of all time, we are joined with Christ at the altar. Through this holy meal, I find myself growing in adoration each week for this great gift Christ gave us at the Last Supper.
Step out in obedience
My prayer for all churches in decline is that they will stop trying to manage decline but seek to be bold and step out in faith, in the hope Christ rewards them for their belief, and for their obedience to his commission in Matthew chapter 28.
I pray that all churches in growth will continue to act and obey in faith, to teach and to nurture in orthodoxy, and for protection against evils. I solemnly pray for Christ to give mercy to those churches which have gone astray, praying that Christians under the rooves of those churches would seek renewal of sound teaching, and a realignment to true belief and genuine works.
This is a battle all churches face, whether we like it or not, it is by God's grace that we gather, and by His will that we continue to do so.
Jack Liang's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jack-liang.html