Clergy V Laity 'Power Struggle' Is Blocking Church Growth, Synod Told

Unhealthy relationships between clergy and lay people in the Church of England are blocking progress and fuelling resentment, the CofE's ruling synod will be told next month.

A major new report calls for a "culture shift" in clerical attitudes towards ordinary church attenders who are often ignored by the hierarchy. A "power struggle" between the 98 per cent of churchgoers who are not ordained and priests or other leaders hinders growth, the report concludes.

Clericalism – the separation of ordained and lay church members – fuelled division and tension and prevented growth, the report found.Pixabay

"Clergy need to be honest and self-aware about the 'power' (real or imagined) that ordination may bestow on them in the eyes of the laity, and be careful about how they use it," the report reads.

"Equally, lay people must not collude in passive-aggressive resentment of real or imagined clericalism."

Setting God's People Free calls for a shift in culture to equip the 1 million regular Church of England churchgoers to have confidence in sharing their faith.

It found most are reluctant to talk about their beliefs because they feel under-confident and ill-equipped.

"Until, together, we find a way to form and equip lay people to follow Jesus confidently in every sphere of life in ways that demonstrate the Gospel we will never set God's people free to evangelise the nation," the report states.

It will be presented at the CofE's general synod next month and insists ordained and lay members must see themselves as "equal in worth and status" if the Church is to avoid further decline.

The latest church attendance figures showed another drop in numbers with an 11 per cent fall since 2005. The CofE lost more than 100,000 regular attenders in the last decade with a steady decline of one per cent each year.

The paper was compiled by the senior body, the Archbishop's Council, and is part of a programme of Renewal and Reform to reverse the rate of decline. The project is being rolled out across the Church, overseen by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and changes how individual parishes are funded to encourage growth and evangelism.

The report will be presented to synod by Mark Russell, a member of the Archbishop's Council and chief executive of the Church Army, an Anglican mission charity. He told Christian Today "advancing secularism" and the Church's own lack of confidence had caused a lack of assurance among lay people when sharing their faith.

This failure was a "huge class ceiling" for the Church, he said.

"It is about naming the issue of clericalism. People with Rev or Rt Rev in front of their name are deemed to be more Christian or serving God effectively those who don't," he said. "Actually that is not right."

He argued there needed to be a shift in how the Church was ordered.

"Otherwise if you are lay person you can feel a victim of a class system," he said.