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'Churches in crisis' as attendance plummets

By Alf McCreary

Published 21/06/2016

Decline warning: Dr Fergus O’Ferrall
Decline warning: Dr Fergus O’Ferrall

A senior Methodist in Ireland has warned that Christian churches are facing a crisis.

Dr Fergus O'Ferrall, lay leader of the Methodist Conference, noted how attendance and membership figures for all the major denominations in Ireland were plummeting.

Preaching on Conference Sunday in Thomas Street Methodist Church, Portadown, he said: "This is a time of crisis for Christianity, and in facing this crisis, we in the institutional church need to ask questions.

"Is our mission being failed by the potency of false ideas outside the Church or is it being failed by the potency of false ideas inside the Church?"

He asked if there are too many summer or sunshine Christians shrinking from the cost of Christian service.

"Are we failing to develop a critical mass of disciples with warm hearts, tough hands, wet feet and renewed minds focused on God's mission every day?"

Dr O'Ferrall quoted from a newspaper article outlining that membership of the Presbyterian Church has dropped by 40% since the 1970s, and that the Church of Ireland's average attendance for Sunday worship is only 15% of the Church's nominal membership.

He said that about 34% of Irish Catholics attend weekly Mass, and the membership of the Methodist Church shows "a steady decline to 50,000, in an island of six million people".

"No religion is by far the single largest identification among the population in Britain where membership of institutional Christianity has fallen rapidly.

"We dare not underestimate the crisis facing Churches in the western world in this post-Christendom 21st century, and we need to analyse carefully our context for mission," he added.

Dr O'Ferrall said reconciliation was paramount: "It is about relationships, with God and each other. It involves people, communities and nations learning to live together with deeply-held differences, in a spirit of love and respect. It is to work for justice and to seek truth in the light of God's mercy and peace."

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