Afterword to 'Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion' edited by David Goodhew

by Graham Kings

Date added: 28/07/2023

Afterword by Graham Kings

in David Goodhew (ed.), 'Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion, 1980 to the Present' 

(Abingdon: Routledge, 2017)




In his prophetic book on ecology, published 40 years ago, Enough is Enough, John V Taylor argued against ‘any conjectural projection of present trends into the future without allowing for unforeseen change of a radical kind.’ He wrote:

By plotting a graph of the expansion of the monasteries throughout the Middle Ages we might easily have concluded that nine-tenths of the British people were celibates today. But such a calculation would not have allowed for such a change as the dissolution of the monasteries. [1]

This warns against projection of trends. None of us knows what is round the corner. However, this book has taken such a warning to heart and is careful not to claim too much.

The editor, and all the authors, are to be congratulated. In his Preface as editor, David Goodhew helpfully points out what is special about this book: the question of data quality is addressed in each particular chapter. He goes on to add, ‘At times, conclusions have a degree of provisionality.’ and continues later:

But what is striking is how closely the figures in the chapter by Johnson and Zurlo tally with the more detailed surveys of individual countries and provinces from the other chapters within this volume.

I have greatly enjoyed the statistics and ruminations of these chapters.  The editor’s summary comment in the Preface is perceptive:

Churches that intend to grow tend to grow and churches that do not prioritise growth tend not to grow.[2]

What are we make of all this? Let us consider the words of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, an evangelical Anglican Kenyan Archbishop, David Gitari, and a catholic Anglican Franciscan writer, Martin Laird, before concluding with Chou En Lai and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

1. Jesus

Jesus’ words to his disciples in Samaria, after the woman at the well had gone to pass on the good news to her neighbours, are significant for our topic:

Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap for that which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.     (John 4:35-38)

These chapters have helped us to ‘look around us’, at different parts of God’s worldwide Church. Rather than a response of ‘Oh well, that works for them over there but it could not happen in our country’, it may be worth considering whether in our own context ‘the fields are ripe for harvesting’. We are closely related, and interwoven, across the universal Church in this generation.

Over the decades covered in this book, the growth described has built on previous hard work. Bible translation and publishing is one example. Often the fruit of this is not seen immediately but much later.[3] We are closely related, and interwoven, across the universal Church in time, back through the ages.

2.    Paul

When Apollos, full of the Holy Spirit following the teaching of Priscilla and Aquila at Ephesus (Acts 18), crossed the Aegean Sea and went to Corinth, the church there experienced a crisis of leadership and possible splits. Some Christians at Corinth, according to Paul, said:

‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ’. (1 Cor 1:12-13)

Paul wisely focused on the cross, rather than on personalities, rhetoric and eloquence and went on to comment:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (1 Cor 3:5-6).

His emphasis on God giving the growth is heartening.

In Ephesians 4:15-16, Paul[4] exquisitely mixes his metaphors in writing about the whole body:

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Writing from prison (Ephesians 3:1), his mind soars beyond the four walls enclosing him. In our mutual encouragement, across dioceses and provinces of the Anglican Communion, we also need to ‘speak the truth in love’. A recent example of this, on various topics, was at the Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury in January 2016[5] and the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka, Zambia in April 2016.[6] A key feature of both was an emphasis on intentional evangelism and discipleship.

We are called to grow up into Christ our head. The growth comes from him. The image of being ‘knit together’ is powerful about our relationships across the Anglican Communion today. Since it is echoed in the Collect for All Saints’ Day in The Book of Common Prayer, it also resonates for the Communion of Saints:

O Almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy Son…

Again, catholicity in space and time.

When ‘each part is working properly’ then there is organic growth in numbers and ‘in love’.

3.   David Gitari

I remember David Gitari, when he was Bishop of Mount Kenya East, before he became Archbishop, drawing on the growth of Jesus as a young boy and applying it to holistic growth in his diocese.[7] The 12 year old boy was apparently lost and eventually found by Mary and Joseph in the temple at Jerusalem ‘sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.’ (Luke 2:46). After they returned to Nazareth:

Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature, in favour with God and with people. (Luke 2:52)

Gitari expounded this as Jesus growing in ‘wisdom’ (his mind); ‘stature’ (his body); ‘in favour with God’ (his spirit); and ‘in favour with people’ (in his community). He asked why, in his diocese, each child and community should not be able to grow in these four ways. So he worked tirelessly to promote education (mind), development (body), evangelism (spirit) and justice (community).

The following statistics, from diocesan records in the archive of St Andrew’s College, Kabare, bear witness to the phenomenal growth in his diocese. Between 1975 and 1990 the number of parishes rose from 19 to 93, the number of vicars rose from 30 to 120, of Deaconesses from O to 20, Community Health Workers from O to 308. Sixty-seven church buildings were consecrated, including Embu Cathedral; about 150,000 people were baptized and about 90,000 confirmed. Two missionaries were sent to other countries, to Zaire and West Germany.

Episcopal leadership in mission, which is intentional in holistic growth, is clearly a significant feature of growth in the chapters of this book. We see this in the example of David Gitari.

4. Martin Laird

In his profound book Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation, the American Anglican Franciscan, Martin Laird, discusses the difference between ‘techniques’ and ‘skills’:

Techniques are all the rage today. They suggest a certain control that aims to determine a certain outcome. They clearly have their place. But this is not what contemplative practice does. The difference may be slight but it is an important one. A spiritual practice simply disposes us to allow something to take place.

For example, a gardener does not actually grow plants. A gardener practices certain gardening skills that facilitate growth that is beyond the gardener’s direct control. In a similar way, a sailor cannot produce the necessary wind that moves the boat. A sailor practices skills that harness the gift of wind that brings the sailor home, but there is nothing the sailor can do to make the wind blow. And so it is with contemplative practice, not a technique, but a skill. The skill required is interior silence.[8]

The diverse chapters of this book have subtly manifested some skills which may be developed for further Church Growth in the Anglican Communion. These should be distinguished from ‘techniques’ and from any idea that skills automatically produce growth. God in his beneficence provides growth for the flowers, wind for the boat and the growth for his Church worldwide.

One of the key ‘skills’, intending to grow, emanates organically from the delight in growing, in numbers and in depth.


At the Primates’ Meeting, the Lambeth Conference of 2020 was discussed, decided upon and announced at the press conference.[9] The Primates were cognisant of the importance of the centenary of the Lambeth Conference of 1920.[10] This issued the famous ‘Appeal to All Christian People’[11] which encouraged Christian unity through discussions about the mutual recognition of ministries. The ecumenical setting of the growth and decline in the Anglican Communion is substantial. An example of this is Latin America, traditionally Roman Catholic and increasingly Pentecostal. As preparations are made for Lambeth 2020, it may be worth pondering Paul’s key words, ‘with all the saints’ in this passage:

I pray that you may have power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:18)

David Goodhew points out in the first chapter:

The power of the English may have waned, but the potency of the English language and English-speaking cultures is fundamental not only to the modern world, but to modern religion – a factor which is sure to influence significantly the trajectory of the Anglican communion. (p.25)

This intriguing matter of the power of the English language in the internet age is important for developments of the post denominational churches in China. This needs weighing against the following quip, quoted by John V Taylor:

The shrewdest attitude towards both the past and the future is that taken by Chou En Lai [Chinese Prime Minister 1949-76] who, when asked how he assessed the French Revolution, replied, “It’s a little too early to judge.”[12]

We end with Cranmer and a famous prayer. In an earlier book, edited by David Goodhew, Towards a Theology of Church Growth, Ashley Null contributed a chapter full of insight, and with a wide hinterland in Reformation studies, ‘Divine Allurement: Thomas Cranmer and Tudor Church Growth’. He concludes:

Cranmer’s favourite word for evangelism was ‘allurement’…Clearly, Cranmer thought that the inherent drawing power of divine free forgiveness was the root of all evangelism. Consequently, in his revisions for the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, he decided to insert the Comfortable Words immediately before the Sursum corda. Thus, he put his twin means of moving human affection heavenward – scriptural rumination and cultural contextualisation – at the very heart of Tudor worship. The mission, vitality and expansion of the church today would be well served by doing likewise for our own time. [13]  

The interweaving links between prayer, evangelism and Church growth are foundational. The Prayer of St Chrysostom in the Book of Common Prayer services of Morning and Evening Prayer, includes grace, unity, petition, promise, numbers, desire, and the key phrase ‘as may be most expedient for them’, before mentioning truth and life eternal:

Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests: Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.



1. J. V. Taylor, Enough is Enough (London: SCM Press, 1975): 13.

2. D. Goodhew, ‘Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion, 1980 to the Present’, D. Goodhew (ed.), Growth and Decline in the Anglican Communion, 1980 to the Present, (Abingdon: Routledge): 11, 13, 8.

3. See L. Sanneh, Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1989 and 2009).

4. I am content to follow the cumulative case for the Pauline authorship of Ephesians made by G. B. Caird, in his Paul’s Letters from Prison: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon in the Revised Standard Version (Oxford: OUP, 1976).



7. I worked in the Diocese of Mount Kenya East, at St Andrew’s College, Kabare, 1985-91. For an obituary  of David Gitari, see Graham Kings, ‘Archbishop David Gitari 1937-2013: Evangelist, Prophet, Liturgist and Bridge-Builder’ on Fulcrum For his use of the Bible, see G. Kings, ‘Archbishop David Gitari: Biblical Interpretation in Action in Kenya’ on Fulcrum 

8. M. Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practise of Contemplation (Oxford: OUP, 2006): 3-4. Laird is Associate Professor of Theology at Villanova University.

9. See also Graham Kings, ‘The Centre Holds: Primates 2016 in Canterbury’  


11. For the text of Resolution 9, The Appeal to All Christian People, scroll down at

12. J. V. Taylor, ‘The Future of Christianity’ in J. McManners (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity (Oxford: OUP, 1990): 665.

13. A. Null, ‘Divine Allurement: Thomas Cranmer and Tudor Church Growth’ in D. Goodhew (ed.), Towards a Theology of Church Growth (Farnham: Ashgate, 2015): 215.


Graham Kings

Graham Kings


Wood panel

Wood panel

A bronze