Wednesday, February 17, 1999 Published at 21:27 GMT
Church seeks the secular view
A priority for the new archbishops' council: The listening church
By News Online's Alex Kirby
The Church of England is attempting to find out how non-churchgoers regard it, and what really matters to them.
The new initiative, which has already begun, was endorsed at a meeting of the newly-formed Archbishops' Council.
The council is a small body of senior Anglicans, answerable to the archbishops of Canterbury and York, and set up to provide the church with central leadership.
The "listening to the people" initiative is being tried in about 20 dioceses, just under half the total in the church.
Modern business techniques
It involves a first stage of asking parishioners their views, but will be extended to include people who have nothing to do with the church.
The council is using modern business techniques, including focus groups, to try to discover "what is concerning people in the nation" as well as their "attitudes towards the church".
In another nod to modernity, the council is aiming to put details of services from about 16,000 churches on the Internet by the summer.
The website is being sponsored by a stockbroking company, and the system will cost individual parishes nothing.
Materialism loses gloss
One council member said they were prepared to use "the best practice possible from anywhere" to discover "what we think we exist for".
Anglican leaders believe there is a great and unsatisfied spiritual hunger in England, and that many people are disillusioned with materialism.
They believe the death of Diana, Princess of Wales provided evidence to support this view.
But its critics say it is a move to centralise power in the hands of the two archbishops themselves, and to sideline dissenters.
They are likely to see the listening exercise as a way for the council to bypass the church's system of synodical government.
That is supposed to make sure that views are passed from the parishes to the next level up, the deanery synods.
They in turn are represented on the diocesan synod, which feeds into the church's "parliament", the general synod.