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Churchgoing Today Churchgoing Today
(Time to Listen Series)

Lynda Barley
ISBN 0715141031 (9780715141038)
Church House Publishing, 2006
£6.99

Category: Emerging Church & Postmodern Faith

Church is changing, and churchgoing is changing with it. This booklet (67 pages) is the second in Church House Publishing's 'Time to Listen' series (the first being Christian Roots, Contemporary Spirituality) and it sets out to explore the nature and impact of this change. Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Reading, sums up the situation well in his foreword with a sentence he wrote some years ago: "'While the Church fights a rearguard action to keep Sunday special, the Holy Spirit has danced ahead and blessed Wednesday.'" (p.vi)

The reality we face is that society does not stand still: the even greater reality, that our God does not stand still — but all too often, it seems, the people of God want to. Meeting that challenge head on, Lynda Barley presents us here with a statistical overview and analysis of where we are now, how we got here and — perhaps most importantly — where we appear to be going.

This is no mere collection of dry statistics but a lively and well-written discussion, starting with a blunt question: does churchgoing have any future in modern-day Britain? The booklet is divided into four sections:

  1. Listening to the nation — an overview of religious belief and practice in the UK.
  2. Listening to the local — an examination of how local churches are responding to the emerging spiritual climate, with case studies.
  3. Listening to the past — a close look at empty churches, past and present, asking what's happened over the last couple of centuries and what can be done.
  4. Surprising signs of the times — focusing on what has become known as 'fresh expressions of church', we discover a number of churches "that have grappled prayerfully with all these things and found some surprising signs of the times to encourage their mission in today's fast-changing world." (p.37)

The booklet is attractively presented with charts, diagrams and photographs alongside the text whilst key points and block quotes are pulled out, magazine-style. "Churchgoing today has a future," it concludes, "if it is not limited by the lack of vision in our churches." (p.53)

'Time to Listen' is an important series that is going to prove helpful for church leaders seeking an understanding of the church's role and mission in today's world. Next up and promising to be equally challenging with an exploration of "the prospects for church life in the local community" is Community value (not yet published). A cliché, yes, but... watch this space!

Phil Groom, July 2006

Phil Groom is this site's Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He's a freelance blogger, writer and web developer who spent ten years managing the bookshop at London School of Theology alongside eight years writing web reviews for Christian Marketplace magazine before he came to his senses and went independent. You can find him on facebook or follow him on twitter @notbovvered.

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