166 congregations and what is coming next
The latest Directory lists 166 congregations. It takes a keen eye to see which ones have died, but I reckon than we can count 4 congregations as having closed down in the last two years.
Horwich have been small and slowly closing down for a number of years. I think this is also true of Worthing.
Halliwell Road Free Church Bolton closed down last year, and the remaining congregation have now joined with my community. This has been a very positive experience and seemed like a sensible move.
Newington Green and Islington have now formally merged, having been acting as one community (New Unity) for several years. This is not a sign of decline, but in fact quite healthy growth the last few years.
So that's where we are in 2015/2016. I looked through the Directory carefully to think about what the future will hold. From what I know of congregations, here's my prediction: in the next ten years we will see 50 congregations close down.
A word of caution: I would probably have made the same prediction ten years ago, and that "apocalyptic" moment hasn't come yet. But I can't see it being put off much longer. I predict an increase in the rate of church closure.
The real question is whether we will have the presence of mind to be effective in the use of assets of these closures. Let me crunch some numbers, keeping estimates very conservative. Even if congregations have no assets other than buildings, if buildings are worth an equivalent of the average value of a UK house (£200,000) then 50 congregations still adds up to ten million pounds.
If we could harness that ten million pounds for mission, we may actually be able to do some exciting, brave and important things. Of course this will not be the decision of one person or one institution. It will generally be the decisions of individual districts, where the money is most likely to go. But if that money could be given over to mission imagine what could be achieved.
Imagine is the 2020 Congregational Development Fund could be given ten million pounds. The assets from old congregations could be used to seed new ones. Wouldn't that be marvellous?