Stop closing my church (Cid Latty)

Monday, 30 July, 2012

Cid LattyCid Latty asks whether there's an alternative to closing churches.

There has been a lot of research and debate on the decline in church attendance in the UK, with dire predictions and gloomy statistics painting a picture of a Church that will become extinct in a relatively short period of time.

We see and hear of small churches across the UK whose congregations have shrunk and a decision has been taken to either close or amalgamate them with other churches. Are these the only options? Do these churches have to be closed?

Instead I believe that many can be turned around, that we have an opportunity to see both churches and communities revitalised as we explore this more challenging but ultimately more rewarding option. How can this be done?

By imagining – thinking big, having a vision, pioneering

It is time to dream again. Reversing years of decline is not for every church; in Genesis 26.17-22 we see Isaac's servants re-digging the wells that had originally been dug by his father, Abraham. The servants re-dug the wells until they found one with fresh water flowing and eventually settled where God had made room for them, to prosper. It's about rediscovering what is already there, asking 'What vision do we have for what we could be?' and 'What does it take for us to become missional and embrace people around us in a fresh way?'

By investing – planning, motivating, praying

Doing the right thing at the right time. In Habakkuk 2, God tells Habakkuk to write the message down, to make it clear and to wait patiently because it will be fulfilled - even if it isn't straight away, it will be in time. We should take the vision and say, 'This is what I can see could happen here, this is what we could become and this is how I think we will get there'. Clear presentation of a vision and engendering ownership of the vision and ways it can be achieved give people a reason to come together and ways in which they can do it. People want to join in with something that carries the sense of purpose that this kind of activity brings.

By interfacing – joining with others

Finding commonality in the community. Community projects, such as starting a food bank, provide a great opportunity to link up with other churches and organisations in order to make things happen. It is best to find one thing and to do it well, avoiding the mistake that small churches often make which is to try and do many different things (as if it is a big church) and end up doing nothing well at all.

These principles of imagining, investing and interfacing have already begun to help a number of small churches in the UK to gain a new impetus through the Living Well project.

Some churches may choose to close or have it forced upon them. I hope that others will be encouraged to embrace a future in which the Church is very much alive.

About the author: 

Rev Cid Latty is Leader of the Cafechurch Network and Director of Living Well.


Something like twenty years ago, the church I was involved with took over a church building that was semi-derelict, having been closed down long before but couldn't be demolished because it was listed in some way. After a long and expensive regeneration project, we eventually got to our first service in the new place, which my wife Olive and I were leading together. In the vestry before the service, we had an unexpected visitor - a woman who I think was in her 70s, who had been baptised in this building that long ago, and who had attended faithfully throughout her adult years until the church was closed down (it actually moved away from the city centre to a suburban location). Her words were very poignant, as she explained that now she could find a spiritual home again because her church had reopened - she'd been disenfranchised for a long time! It's easy to dismiss this as romanticism and superstition, but this church was not far from Dunblane, and at about the same period there was that dreadful school shooting. One of the most memorable episodes of my entire life (not just my ministry) was ministering in Dunblane cathedral to the thousands who came through - and realizing that for a very significant number it wasn't what we were doing (prayers etc) but the actual stones of the building that brought comfort, as people literally stroked the ancient pillars, as if they had over the centuries somehow soaked up the presence of God. What was even more interesting to me was the way that people of other faiths wanted to be part of this spontaneous ritual created by the people, whereas they of course had qualms about our prayer services. Of course, these were both exceptional circumstances that I've described here, and maybe related to the fact that both buildings were ancient, and that connects for me with the growing popularity of pilgrim trails among spiritual searchers (I wonder if there would be the same attention to those churches that look like warehouses and with no intentional spiritual space in them). But Cyd is definitely onto something here that deserves further reflection.

We have been sitting patiently in a small suburb of Melbourne Australia praying for God to break through. Having been placed into a parish to either close it or grow it, we sat, dreamt, prayed and waited. The result of this began with building connections with our neighbourhood through preschool play groups and outreach activities.

We have a small number of these families attending Messy Church on a weekly basis, but we still wait. We received the blessing of a worship team for a contemporary outreach service. We now move. Starting in September, gather@5 is our initiative, in tune we pray with God's will to take the gospel to our growing agnostic community. The stories we read on your blog encourage us. We pray that God's Kingdom will grow through our initiative. We don't know yet, but we wait and pray.

Good luck. The church has a vital role in communities to be a place of strength and a meet place for people generally; a place for people to be part of a community where help for young and old is available, particularly as more and more essential services a removed from daily life i.e. post offices, local banks, local shops and government policies that favour multinationals that put profit before people. What is on offer now is an ever increasing policy of forcing everyone to go online where human interaction is minimised and service becomes almost non existent.

The church in its message should be it is the pillar of a community and the best place to start is helping young people at university facing lonelieness, ill people who through mobility issues and can't get out, they too suffer lonrlirness and depression. It's is a fact that lonlieness in all age groups causes mental health issues, lack of exercise and heart attacks and strokes which costs the NHS. It can affect any age group who loses a partner, a spouse to death, or loss through family, marriage or partnership breakdowns.

The one area for churches to do well, is re invirograting its role as an important pillar in the community. It has a vital role that has been undermined over years. The church can help the community voice to be heard too as a group on elderly issues of isolation.

In this financial crisis, multinational companies are cuttiing off vital services for people, including essential services to cancer patients, electricity, phone line and thus cutting off important human interaction lifelines.

The church in the community is a lifelife and it has an important message to young people who don't value themselves who are increasingly exposed to sexualisation of females through the modern media and the explosion of pornography on the internet means the church has to get busy with a positive message on morals and ethics and why young women and young people should value themselves. Nowhere is this better tought than in a church and young people need to be lured away from the dangers of the modern media explosion of the internet. It can be a dangerous place and safety of the church with challenges for young people, Operation Raleigh type challenges stops young people from becoming board.

Many subsidies from government to wealthy companies should be redirected to churches to help preserve these beautiful spirtual buildings where people can connection with the ancient spirtual messages and relate them to everyday life.
The first step would be for a church to offer all people that important life to deal with food and tea days. There are good companies like Morrisons true to its Quaker values that can work with churches wishing to help stop poverty and lonlieness in the community. The church can be the focus and life of a healthy commnity. We have allowed the PC world to stop churches and others from doing the decent thing, others, not self. Saldly our politicians aand the expenses scandal have shown a policy of self, not others. The church is an important place for children to learn about morals, value and goodness and that has always been the ancient religious message that has been lost in the 21st century. Good over bad,

Sorry about silly spelling mistakes "board" instead of "bored" and similar spelling errors. I didn't properly proof read my post!

The summary: The Church has an important role in society.

Many church leaders these days are throwing up their hands in despair and asking how we can get "non-Christians" (meaning non-churchgoers) to come into churches. They should really be looking at ways to take the church to where such people are and this is one way of doing it.

Churches are intimidating to people who are not used to them. Even the most welcoming ones are strange. In some churches people spontaneously say weird things, wave their hands in the air, shout, dance - and that's only the Minister! Seriously, though. I have a friend who hasn't been to church for years apart from the usual "hatches, matches and dispatches". She was further put off by having an older sister who became a fundamental Bible-Basher and having a Principal at her kids' school who stated categorically that ANYONE - even a fellow Christian - who didn't follow her brand of belief to the letter was NOT a "real" Christian and would "burn in hell for all time"!

I became a "real" Christian in my 40s. I'd been going to church for years before that but only because I was in the choir. I - sort of - believed, but it was a "fraightfully poshe" Anglican church where the service started at the beginning of the book and worked through to the end with no variations except for the set pieces for certain well-regulated dates in the Church calendar. I moved to another area and fell in with a friend who took me to her "happy clappy" church. I was totally overwhelmed and all I could think of was how to escape this madhouse!

Various members tried to help me by giving me advice. I must read my bible during my "quiet time" and pray a lot and they gave me books to read about wonderful Christians who'd overcome all sorts of things that would kill anyone who wasn't a friend of God and had become one through doing, saying and being what God wanted us to. I was told to give up this, not do that ... and a whole lot of other things. In the end I left that church and went to the Parish Church in that town - where they started at the beginning of the book and ...!

I'm now in a wonderful church where I'm not forced to do anything, but gently supported and guided. I've been there 20 years and now even I wave my hands in the air and say weird things spontaneously every so often!

So I think these cafe churches are a great idea. They would certainly be somewhere to take people like my friend for a casual and non-threatening introduction to "normal" Christians who wouldn't go on at her and tell her she's going to "burn in hell" for not being a Pharisee and obeying every tiny letter of the religious rule book!

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