Never mind the quality, feel the width

Might it be that if we managed to do things just a little better in church, more people might turn up?

Last week there was a significant report published for the Church in Wales as it considers the way forward. The picture is familiar – lots of buildings, aging congregations, clergy deployment issues etc. (Note that one of the authors of the report is our own Prof Peattie).

I was struck by the section on Cathedrals which says this:

We believe that cathedrals will have an increasingly important role in the church of the future. Experience from elsewhere shows that although church attendance generally is declining, cathedral congregations continue to grow. This is because they can be centres of excellence for preaching, education and music. People today are prepared to travel to find such excellence. This means that cathedrals need to be fully part of the mission and ministry strategy of each Diocese and, within the overall principle of collaborative ministry, their distinctive role needs to be taken into account for this, as well as for the Ministry Area in which they are situated.
Recommendation VIII
The distinctive role of each cathedral as a centre of excellence should be fully integrated into the mission and ministry strategy of its Diocese.

Now, I think that there is a lot of truth behind that comment about why cathedrals (and it is some cathedrals really, not all of them) are feeling rather buoyant at the moment. People are indeed prepared to travel to find good quality worship. Cathedrals often are centres of excellence.

However I have to admit to getting a little frustrated when people don’t seem to take on board what seems rather obvious to me. Namely that you don’t need to be a cathedral in order to do things well. It seems to me to be stating the obvious to suggest that if churches raised their game a bit (and everyone can improve – that’s the culture we are looking for, not a culture of perfection for there is no such thing) then just perhaps more people would show up. Also, perhaps more people would show up more often (one of the real problems now is that people believe they come to church just about every week when often they actually come just about every third week).

This isn’t about styles of worship either. A good deal of the attraction that many people have felt to the larger Evangelical churches in the last couple of decades has been about the quality of their worship. There too, people are prepared to travel and are often delighted to find what they are looking for.

We are often exhorted to do new things in church in order to bring people in. I’ve very, very seldom been exhorted to do old things well.

However, I’d suggest it is at least as likely to be successful as launching out in new directions for fresh expressions of being church.

(Or whatever this week’s cliché is).

Never mind the breadth – feel the quality. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money either. You don’t need to be loaded as a congregation to seek to up your game.

You might need to be brave enough to ask the organist who has been murdering hymns for 82 years to retire with grace and honour. You might need to be wise enough to agree shoe tactics with everyone who appears at the front. It might mean changing the way the hymns are chosen and asking regularly what the best ways of getting new material in the list actually are in your circumstances. It might mean working that bit harder on the preaching. (Is there preacher that can’t get better? – I don’t think so). It might mean setting up a worship committee and comparing its budget to the property budget annually. It might mean looking to cathedrals as training resources for the wider diocese in this area – though my most recent attempt to hold a day in St Mary’s for clergy and musicians from around our diocese fell flat on its belly.

It seems to me that there are all kinds of things that might be done.

We seem to recognise implicitly in the statements that are made about cathedrals that quality matters. Why do we find it so difficult to commit ourselves to the obvious consequences? What are we frightened of when we think of the words quality and excellence and associate them with worship?

Are we yet offering all that we are and all that we have?


  1. Gosh, you’ve hit an apparently tender spot there. As someone who was originally brought into the church – and I mean the whole shebang, not just a particular building or denomination, though that was important too – by beautiful music and dignified liturgy, I have been asking for an aspiration towards excellence for the past 30 years or so. But is it not the case that for many people that smacks of an elitism that sits ill with their idea of ‘being church’ (a vile phrase, therefore I use it not)? The idea that as church is for all, you’re not allowed to look for certain standards in music, in reading, in serving …
    I could go on, but I don’t need to. You’ve said it. Go for it! (And please delete the earlier comment, in which I was so carried away by my parenthesis that I forgot to finish the original clause)

  2. I was thinking about all of this yesterday. It is choir holidays at the moment and yesterday the choir were singing down in Englandshire. It might have been expected to be a bit of a flat day here. However, there was none of that. We had a good turnout and wonderful worship both morning and evening. No sign of a summer slump and it was obvious that people came expecting something good even without the regular musicians.

    Summer Sung Evensong last night attracted 37 souls. That’s 35 more than might have been expected to turn up seven years ago.

    Now, we’ll all be thrilled when the choir come back and put the icing on the cake in a few week’s time – they are full of fabulousness, but yesterday was good proof that we are not simply a one-trick musical pony.

  3. Well as you know we don’t have a choir in my church, tho’ many years ago there was a great one with children and adults. But we can still produce a frisson, and the reaction of visitors bears that out; it’s just that not everyone seems to see what produces said frisson.(I know. It’s not just us, but …)

  4. Excellent points and something of an encouragement to me at the moment.

    The new set up is much better on my phone, by the way.


  5. Rosemary Hannah says

    Preaching. I have a wealth of experience of hearing terrible preaching, and a wealth of hearing good. The gulf between the two is immense. I have NO IDEA how one can persuade those who cannot, really really cannot, preach to do something to raise their game. I think you hint the way is probably to persuade those who can, REALLY can to raise their game too. HOW? How when the attempt to hold a music day fails,and people generally find that a much easier thing to approach? Teaching preaching is something at which I am good – if you ever find a way, I will come along and help coach.

  6. Couldn’t agree more about the music days either, Rosemary – we’ve held several singing workshops here, and unless they are tied in to fundraising and a BBQ the attendance tends to be thin and the usual suspects – who can generally sing quite respectably anyway – turn up.


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