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Archbishop of Canterbury: a 'good vicar' is key to tackling falling numbers

Archbishop of Canterbury: a 'good vicar' is key to tackling falling congregation numbers
The Most Rev Justin Welby says the Church of England needs to be "realistic" about falling attendances but must set a target of increasing worshipper numbers

By Sam Marsden
December 31, 2013

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, has issued a challenge to his priests to turn the tide of falling numbers of church-goers and make their congregations grow.

He said an initiative to engage with new worshippers by holding services in non-traditional venues like pubs and clubs had already swollen the church's ranks by the equivalent of two dioceses.

"The reality is that where you have a good vicar, you will find growing churches," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

The Archbishop said he was "extremely hopeful" about the future of the Church of England, and said many local congregations were increasing in numbers.

However, he admitted: "We are falling in numbers and there is a change in the attitude to the Christian faith generally across the country. That is unquestionable. We need to be quite realistic about that."

Mr Welby said the Church of England would not find new worshippers "accidentally" and so had to set a clear target of filling more places on pews.

"All the research we've got is that if we don't actually set out to grow the number of people and draw people to the reality of the love of God and Jesus Christ, it doesn't happen. It's not a collateral benefit to existing," he said.

The Archbishop cited the success of "Fresh Expressions" churches, set up in unusual venues to appeal to people who do not belong to any church.

"They will be in pubs, they will be in clubs, they will be in all kinds of strange places, they will be behaving differently. But they're carrying the same message," he said.

Mr Welby, who launched a crusade against payday lenders earlier this year, appeared to play down the Church's role in campaigning on social and political issues.

"I think frankly that we are better at religion than politics," he said.

He disclosed that Anglican officials have so far failed to retrieve the £80,000 from the church's pension fund that was invested indirectly in shares in Wonga, one of Britain's biggest payday loan firms.

"They are working out how they can dispose of those shares without disposing of millions and millions of pounds of investment at a loss because they have a responsibility to pensioners," he said.

The Archbishop was full of praise for Pope Francis, who in March was elected the first Latin American and the first Jesuit to lead the Roman Catholic church in its 2,000-year history.

He said: "I would certainly put him as my person of the year... He is extraordinary."


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