Buckets in the rain?

First published 26th November 2014

It was very recently reported that cathedral congregations are on the up and that mid-week services have doubled in a decade. The conclusion is that they must be doing something right - and they are!

There's a strange mismatch in the research I did some years ago when if you asked unchurched people why they didn't go to church, they would cite busyness and needing to other do things at the weekends. At the same time, if you subsequently asked them if they were to go to church, what would be the best time for them, they would tell you Sunday mornings! As they say, 'there's nowt so queer as folk!'

I think there are a number of factors that lie behind the successful mid week services in our great cathedrals.

First, cathedrals are where people are during the week. Usually in the middle of cities. Many parishes are largely empty from dawn till dusk because of people's working patterns.

Second, cathedrals within a certain cultural range do things to a very high quality. People in our culture are mostly used to quality 'products.' What you will get in a cathedral is a quality product. We have to realise that we are competing for the time of people alongside a multi-billion pound leisure industry at weekends

Thirdly, cathedrals are well-maintained and offer high quality, sacred space in the middle of busyness of the city and fourthly, in the midweek they offer generally a short opportunity to worship God and create a context for reflection and personal space. I would argue that they also offer anonymity. Nobody is likely to ask you to lead the youth work at your second visit!

Finally, I think cathedrals have seen an opportunity and taken it. As Adrian Dorber the Dean of Lichfield put it, "Cathedrals have put their bucket out when it's raining." For a lot of people devotion is probably more likely to be realistic around a forty minute slot in the midweek as opposed to one and a half hours at the weekend. I would also think that to invite someone to a shorter midweek service is easier.

I think a debate needs to be had as to whether other churches can find some transferable principles here that might lead to growth and well-being.

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