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This chapter outlines some aspects of the cultural, social and spiritual environment in which the Church of England ministers in the new millennium. It explores how we are called to be and to do church, and the benefits and disadvantages of existing Anglican expressions of church.
We face a significant moment of opportunity. Western society has undergone a massive transition in recent decades. We all live in a fast-changing world. As the Church of England aims to be a Church for everyone in the country, being truly among them as Jesus was with the people of his day (the 'incarnational principle'), the Church needs to respond to the changes in our culture. Thus it is important for us to see what our culture now looks like, so we can see the possible shape, or shapes, of church to which God is calling us. This look at culture now will also help connect church and gospel with the variety of people across England, and identify where, under Christ's lordship, we should live counter-culturally.
social trends in the last 30 years
Each year the Government publishes Social Trends. Social Trends brings together the conclusions from a variety of statistical surveys. Some headlines from the 2003 version are outlined here.
While the population of the UK has risen by 5 per cent since 1970, the number of households has increased by 31 per cent. There are now more households, but they are smaller in size. The average size of a household is now 2.4 people, in 1971 it was 2.9. This is mainly due to divorce, and delay in marrying. The implications of this for the housing market are dramatic, particularly in some parts of the country. For example, the number of owner-occupied dwellings increased by 38 per cent between 1981 and 2002.
People are paying more in real terms for their houses. The rise in owner occupation means that repairs and improvements are the responsibility of the occupier, rather than a landlord. This has led to the rise of DIY in the last three decades, which is often a Sunday activity.
employment changes, including the increase of women's employment
Most people in their middle years work outside the home. In 2002, 91.8 per cent of men aged 35 to 49 were in work, and 78.1 per cent of women in the same age group. There has been a significant increase in the number of lone parent women working outside the home. In 1992, 18 per cent of lone women with dependent children were working full-time, but in 2002 it was 23 per cent. The change for lone women with children under the age of five is most dramatic: in 1992, 21 per cent worked; in 2002, 34 per cent were working either full- or part-time.
The hours worked have also changed. In 2002 most men worked about 40 hours a week, and most women in full-time work worked about 38 hours a week. However, about 25 per cent of working men and 11 per cent of working women worked more than 50 hours a week. Fourteen per cent of those aged 35 to 49 would like to work fewer hours for less pay each week.
This means that many people have less 'free time' than in 1970. Weekends, especially Sundays, are now seen as family time. This is a big tension for Christian partners of non-Christians.
Today people are vastly more mobile than they were even 30 years ago. Since 1971 the distance travelled each year on roads in cars or vans has almost doubled from 313 billion to 624 billion kilometres. The average length of trips varies significantly by household income – 15.3 km for the richest 20 per cent and 6.7 km for the poorest. We are all more mobile, but a number of factors – where we live, where we work and how well off we are – influence how far and how often we travel.
These statistics are matched by the number of vehicles on the road. In 1971 there were just under 12 million vehicles on the roads; in 2001 it was just under 26.5 million.
Most families, apart from the poorest, have access to a car, and are ready to use it. This means that people are able to work further from home, at the expense of having a longer commuter journey. It also means that at weekends people are able to do things at a distance from where they live. In churches this can be seen in the phenomenon of 'church shopping'. Someone who moves to an area will check out several churches, not just the nearest.
Another aspect of mobility is the way in which some people move in connection with their jobs. Increased mobility means that people are less likely to live in the same area throughout their lifetime, and now tend to live further from their relatives than previously.
However, more than half of adults see their mother at least once a week, and 61 per cent of grandparents see their grandchildren weekly. Visits to relatives are most likely at weekends, due to school and work commitments in the week.
The distance from relatives varies with social class. People in the professional social class were least likely to have a satisfactory network of relatives.
divorce and changes in family life
The divorce rate has gone up significantly in the last 30 years (62,857 divorces in 1970, 154,628 in 2001). The proportion of separated and divorced people now stands at 10.6 per cent of the population of England and Wales. In 1971, 1 per cent of men and 1 per cent of women were divorced, but by 2000 it was 8 per cent men and 9 per cent women. Additionally, about 8 per cent of families were stepfamilies with dependent children – the parents no longer appeared in statistics as 'divorced' because they had married again. Combined with the rise of cohabitation and the birth of children to never-married mothers, in 2001 the Census showed that 22 per cent of children in England and Wales live in lone-parent families, usually looked after by their mother. More than 1 in 10 other children live in stepfamilies, mainly with their mother. The average age of women at the birth of their first child has increased by 1 ½ years since 1990 to 27 years in 2000.
The number of single people has risen dramatically – because of not marrying, or marrying later. In 1971, 24 per cent of the male population were single, in 2000 it was 34 per cent. Some of this change can be accounted for by cohabitation but, even taking cohabitation into account, there is a real rise in the number of single people. In particular, the number of single men has risen from 3 per cent of households in 1971 to 10 per cent in 2000. This is due to the later age of marriage, and the rise in separation and divorce.
The implications of these changes in family life are that very many families will be involved in visiting absent parents, usually fathers, often at the weekend. This will inevitably make Sunday church attendance problematic.
The rise in the number of single people, and the delay in having children, means that there is a significant group of people in their twenties who do not have children, and so child-friendly activities (and, indeed, morning activities at the weekend) may not be something they can relate to.
free time and television
Taking part in sporting activities, whether alone or as a member of a team or a club, is a popular way of spending leisure time. Walking and swimming are the most popular, with 20 per cent and 15 per cent of the population participating. These are often Sunday activities, and in particular children's sport often occurs on Sundays as well as Saturdays and midweek.
The biggest change in leisure time in the past 50 years has been in the hours spent watching television. In the year 2000, adults spent an average of nearly 20 hours a week, just under 3 hours a day.
a fragmented society
One key conclusion from these snapshots of British society is that we are living increasingly fragmented lives. People who have had a longer education are more likely to live away from their parents, and are more likely to be civically engaged (i.e. involved in community groups or local politics). People from the manual sections of the community are more likely to live near family and less likely to join local groups. Young adults may not join local groups, but will have an active friendship network. In any particular town there are many people who will never meet, even though they live nearby. They get in the car to travel to see the people they know and so do not meet the people who live close to them.
When they do have time, those who live away from their relatives, or who have children who live with ex-spouses, will visit them. People no longer view Sunday as special, or as 'church time'. Children are much more likely to be playing sport than being in Sunday school or church.
the power of networks
The Western world, at the start of the third millennium, is best described as a 'network society'. This is a fundamental change: 'the emergence of a new social structure'. In a network society the importance of place is secondary to the importance of 'flows'. It is the flows of information, images and capital that increasingly shape society. It combines the spread of information technology with increased possibilities for personal mobility. It both enables and is driven by the global economy. Globalization implies a networked world: 'Globalization promotes much more physical mobility than ever before, but the key to its cultural impact is in the transformation of localities themselves.'
One consequence is a comparative loss of local and national power. For example, jobs can disappear from a community as a direct consequence of decisions made on the other side of the world, in response to a downturn in the global market. This does not mean that the 'local' is no longer important, but it does mean that it is subject to considerable change and is less free to shape its own future.
The Internet is both an example of network society and a metaphor for understanding it. From one perspective the Internet has no centre. There is no one 'place' where choices are controlled. Everywhere is linked to everywhere else. Each person chooses his or her own route, with a search engine as the only pilot. Networks of relationships are formed in chat rooms around mutual interests. Friendships are maintained electronically. But it would be untrue to say that the Internet has no centres of power. There are powerful financial networks that have significant control, and particular places (including London) that are physical hubs for the global network. Economic interests and the divide between the technological rich and the technological poor create their own forms of inclusion and exclusion.
Networks have not replaced neighbourhoods, but they change them. Community and a sense of community are often disconnected from locality and geography. A typical town will have an array of networks. Each school will have a network of the parents whose children attend it, as well as networks of the children themselves. Each workplace will have its own networks, according to who works with whom, and these networks may spread to key suppliers or clients of the firm. Some of the networks may be based around a locality, particularly among poorer people who are less mobile. For example, the residents of a social housing scheme may still have a network based on where they live, as well as reaching out to their local relatives. The neighbouring private housing estate may have no such local network, and a person moving there may find it hard to meet people until they go to a group that is the heart of a network, such as a Baby and Toddler group in the town. Another network in the town may revolve around the nightclub, or the Working Men's Club. Of course, any one person may be in several networks, but some people will now be in none – due to the collapse of the neighbourhood as a friendship base.
Ulrich Beck has observed:
To live in one place no longer means to live together, and living together no longer means living in the same place.
And Martin Albow comments:
The communities of the global age generally have no local centre. People living in the same street will have fleeting relationships with each other, having widely differing lifestyles and household arrangements.
Information and knowledge have speeded-up, shrinking the world, but these have not conferred a sense of community. In 1996 the Henley Centre commissioned research to discover with whom people thought they had most in common. Top of the list were those with the same hobbies, then family, then work colleagues. Bottom of the list were those in the same area and neighbours. Geography no longer seems to be the primary basis of community. People define their communities through leisure, work and friendships.
It is not that locality, place and territory have no significance. It is simply that they are now just one layer of the complex shape of society. It has been said that 'All boundaries are tenuous, frail and porous'.
We live in a society that is both fragmenting and connecting at the same time. It is not healthy or possible to escape all sense of place. Few people belong to 'no place' – many now belong to a variety of 'places' simultaneously. The social and personal significance of the place where they live has diminished.
Greater mobility, freedom of choice, and the creation of identity and community around shared interests is the way of life of large proportions of the population, and is no longer the privilege of the very affluent. Part of the deprivation experienced by the poor is their exclusion from a mobile lifestyle.
Mobility has become a major marker of inclusion or exclusion. Those who cannot move increasingly identify their deprivation in these terms. They are 'stuck' where they live, and feel they cannot enjoy life or express themselves fully or get a good job without the ability to maximize the opportunities that are available to mobile people.
The gospel has to meet people where they are, before it can enter and affect their lives. The planting of churches among the mobile and among the poor is integral to the Church of England's mission. The scriptural command 'that we remember the poor' is given to all Christians, and so it is incumbent on all churches exploring church planting or fresh expressions of church to consider God's call to the poor.
For the comfortable majority the current degree of mobility is a mixed blessing. It offers freedom at a price. The consequences of fragmentation are seen most clearly in the drastic decline in 'social capital'. 'Without at first noticing, we have been pulled apart from one another and from our communities over the last third of the [twentieth] century.'
There are two distinct social processes at work here. Community is increasingly being re-formed around networks, and people are less inclined to make lasting commitments. While the two are not unrelated, the first is a change in the structure of community, with which the Church must engage. The second is a corrosive force that the Church must resist, because it undermines all forms of community. Contemporary initiatives to plant the church, or to express it appropriately within Western culture, will need to establish social capital: ties of loyalty and faithfulness through Christ. Both the establishing of bonds within networks and the bridging between networks will be crucial.
fresh expressions of church
Breaking New Ground recognized that 'it is possible to see that it is networks which are now the communities to which we feel a predominant loyalty' and that 'human life is lived in a complex array of networks and that the neighbourhoods where people reside may hold only a very minor loyalty'.
The implication was that churches needed to be planted into networks. In Breaking New Ground this was seen as an addition to the normal territorial parochial system. However, it is now clear that the relationship between neighbourhood and network is more complex. It is not sufficient to think of neighbourhoods being supplemented by networks, or of network churches as a supplement to geographical parishes. Not only are networks more dominant for many people, but parishes are not what they used to be.
The perception of the working group producing this report is that many of the fresh expressions of church, explained in Chapter 4, are connecting with people through the networks in which they live, rather than through the place where they live.
Excerpted from mission-shaped church Copyright © 2009 by The Archbishops' Council. Excerpted by permission of Seabury Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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foreword by the Archbishop of Canterbury v
the Mission-shaped Church working group vi
preface to the second edition vii
introduction by the Chair of the Working Group x
a note on the discussion questions xiii
chapter 1 changing contexts 1
chapter 2 the story since Breaking New Ground 16
chapter 3 what is church planting and why does it matter? 29
chapter 4 fresh expressions of church 43
chapter 5 theology for a missionary church 84
chapter 6 some methodologies for a missionary Church 104
chapter 7 an enabling framework for a missionary church 125
chapter 8 recommendations 145
appendix-useful resources 162
general index 166
index of biblical references 175