Every week I write a note to the community at Montreal Diocesan Theological College. This week’s is posted here:During my recent leave, I read through a new report from Renewal Works, an organization in the American Episcopal Church that works for congregational renewal and church growth. The report is based on a survey they conducted of over 12,000 Episcopalians in nearly 200 churches. I commend the entire report (17 pages) to your attention. But I particularly want to draw your attention to what the survey revealed to be “key catalysts for spiritual growth” (pp. 7-8). Based on the survey, the report concludes that these four “catalysts” bring transformation and spiritual growth to congregations:
- Engagement with scripture
- The transforming power of the Eucharist
- A deeper prayer life
- The heart of leader
On first glance, there is nothing surprising about this list. These four catalysts remind us that being Christian is about engaging not just our mind but also our hearts, souls, and bodies as well. Each leads us deeper into engagement with God made known in Christ—in word, in sacrament, and in prayer. The list points to the importance of the kind of work we do in the college, forming people who see themselves as leaders of Christian communities. In one way or another, each of these items is a hallmark of our Anglican tradition.
You might, therefore, find yourself asking: if the key catalysts for spiritual growth are hallmarks of the Anglican tradition, how come Anglican churches aren’t universally thriving? But as I look at the list more closely, I find myself asking how many of these catalysts are actually present in our churches. To take one example: it’s not clear to me that all of our churches have regular and readily-accessible Bible study groups and strongly encourage their members to participate in one. To take another: it’s not clear that all our churches create varied and regular opportunities to explore prayer in its many forms outside of the Sunday morning liturgy, or teach their parishioners how to pray.
This report is one contribution to the vigorous and welcome debate about the future of the church and of Christianity in an increasingly secular west. One message I take from this research is that part of the key to church renewal lies in returning to the habits and practices that have long been foundational to our Anglican tradition.