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Saturday, July 10, 1999 Published at 07:40 GMT 08:40 UK


Church of England reaches out

The decline in churchgoing seems to have bottomed out

At the Church of England's synod this weekend, the church will hear about its new mission statement - "to be united, confident and outward looking". Religious Affairs Correspondent Emily Buchanan looks at ways it is trying to reach out to more people.

All Saints in Woodford, Essex, is one of the 6,500 churches across the country holding courses in Christianity for beginners. Alpha groups are designed to attract new believers, and so far more than a million have attended.

[ image: Alpha classes have been a huge success]
Alpha classes have been a huge success
Lectures are always followed by supper - the relaxed style being different from most people's experience of church, and seems to be the key to Alpha's success.

"I think it's really good, it's quite exciting," says one young boy who has done the course four or five times. "Every time is different. You learn something more every time."

Emily Buchanan: "Church leaders are noticably more upbeat than they were"
Another Alpha student says it was not at all what she had expected: "It wasn't threatening, it was nice and friendly, the people were nice, they were normal, I didn't think they would be normal. It has completely changed my life."

Church leaders are noticeably more upbeat than they were in the dark days of rows over women priests and plummeting congregations. Some even dare talk of a revival. In the old days the church used to wait for the public to come to it, now in the run up to the next millennium, the church is going to the public.

[ image: In the run up to the millennium, the church is going to the public]
In the run up to the millennium, the church is going to the public
The Church of England has also enlisted the help of marketing consultants to broaden its appeal. They are running what they call "listening" groups to find out what parishioners really think.

Preliminary results show that churchgoers want greater involvement in their community, and to be told more about what the hierarchy is doing at a national level.

The Archbishop of Canterbury admits the church is one generation away from extinction and must do more to promote itself.

[ image: The Archbishop of Canterbury beats his missionary drum]
The Archbishop of Canterbury beats his missionary drum
"We do need to be more missionary minded," said Dr Carey.

"People will vote with their feet and if they don't like what is going on in a particular church they may go elsewhere. The first Archbishop of Canterbury who came to these shores in 597 was a missionary monk. I'm not a monk, but I'm a missionary."

While Dr Carey said God is not interested in numbers, some key statistics are looking more positive. Ordinations are at their highest level since the 1980s. Parish giving is rising steadily, and the decline in churchgoing seems to have bottomed out.

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