From the UK comes this advice on church growth:
How to get the punters in the pews
Saturday June 4, 2005
Can anything halt the numerical decline going on presently in most mainline Christian denominations? Whenever this question is asked, one obvious clue to an answer seems to get missed. It is a fact that in every part of the country - in cities, towns, villages - there are churches that are cheerfully bucking the trend.
Very likely, there is a church near you which is energetic and growing. It could belong to any denomination; but who cares that much about denominations these days? Would it not make sense for those concerned about numerical decline to have a good look at these churches?
Generalisations are dangerous, but they are likely to have several things in common. For one thing, these churches tend to lay stress on the Bible as both authoritative and relevant - something that needs to be engaged with, not simply read and then left. This results in down-to-earth, intelligible preaching which contains a message worth hearing (even if you disagree with it) and a challenge worth considering (it is better to be offended than bored). There is meat, substance.
These churches emphasise the business of prayer as a central aspect of both personal and church life. They offer midweek prayer groups, and encourage extemporary, as well as set, prayers. Very likely, gatherings for prayer will be stressed as the most important weekly event.
These churches take seriously the business of penetrating their neighbourhood with social activities, such as toddler clubs, youth clubs, old people's groups, evangelistic courses, leafleting, door-knocking, specially arranged "seeker-friendly" services. In short, they are not so arrogant as to assume they have a divine right to exist.
These churches make a real effort to ensure that what goes on in their public gatherings is clearly explained, so the outsider is not made to feel excluded or foolish. He, or she, is told when it is appropriate to stand or to kneel, on what page a Bible passage or prayer may be found, precisely how communion is administered and who is welcome to receive it - not to mention basic things like where to find the toilets or who to deliver the children to for Sunday school.
Children are taken seriously. They are not there on sufferance, shushed into stillness at the slightest wriggle. There may well be a slot in the service when attention is given directly to them and interactive participation encouraged; even if not, they are catered for in separate groups by qualified adults.
Teenagers, likewise, are welcomed and made to feel part of what is going on. They are given the opportunity to contribute to the life of the church by, say, bringing in their musical talents. Account is taken of their tastes when services are put together - there is no insistence on a single musical idiom, so old hymns and modern worship songs can sit happily side by side. There is no tyranny of the organ, nor of the guitar, come to that.
The artificial distinction between "sacred" and "secular" is not recognised. You can wear your Sunday best if you like, but there is no obligation to do so; this is a meeting with God, not a fashion parade, and he looks in people's hearts and not on their exteriors. So jeans and jumpers are fine. Clergy will very likely be dressed informally to emphasise the priestly nature of the whole congregation.
In short, churches that buck the trend see themselves as communities, or families, not simply as buildings where people gather for an hour and then leave to go back into "normal" life. God is taken seriously but not solemnly; worshippers are participants, not spectators; there is silence, but also noise and laughter; there is structure, but also informality.
Churches like this take time to grow and build. Changes have to be embraced, traditions set aside, prejudices exposed. But with patience, prayer, love and goodwill the transformation can take place.
• Colin Sedgwick is pastor of the Lindsay Park Baptist church, Kenton, Middlesex