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10 March 2011

Alliance Council responds to 21st Century Evangelicals survey

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"Vibrant evangelicalism" was the buzz phrase at the Evangelical Alliance's Council held in London this month.

Around 100 leaders of churches and Christian organisations from across the Alliance attended the event aboard HMS President on the Thames on 3 March to meet with each other and hear updates on the work of the Alliance.

This Council meeting particularly focussed on the results of the 21st Century Evangelicals survey carried out by the Alliance in collaboration with Christian Research.

Published in January, the survey aimed to take a snapshot of the beliefs and habits of evangelical Christians in the UK by analysing the answers given by around 17,000 respondents.

Jonathan Edwards, general secretary of the Baptist Union, spoke to Council members about his reflections on the survey, calling it a "mirror of evangelicalism".

He said the range of different views expressed in it gave "a complete answer to those who have accused evangelicals of being unthinking clones". 

But the wide spread of beliefs and viewpoints also posed a potential problem for unity.

Jonathan said: "How as responsible Christians do we handle such a wide variety of opinion? We need endurance and encouragement.

"Unity is not something that we can achieve by ourselves. The unity that God gives is strong and eternal because it comes from God who is eternal. Unity is exceptionally hard work. Unity has always been a passionate concern of the Evangelical Alliance and there's no doubt that our unity is under threat.

"But the unity that we celebrate in Christ enables us to be able to work effectively together. Vibrant evangelicalism will always be messy."

Kate Coleman, church leader and director of Next Leadership, said in response to the report: "The real significance in the results is how influential leaders appear to be. The correlation between what leaders actually practise personally, and what their followers do, seems to be remarkably strong."

Kate said she had "mixed feelings" about having a separate category for Black Majority Churches. "I felt positive about the recognition of the distinct contribution of black churches to the UK church scene.

"However, they are not a distinct group in and of themselves. Many of the groups are just as diverse as white majority churches.

"In our analysing we need to think about our Christian identity as including black, white, Chinese, Indian, or whatever it is that defines us."

The overwhelming feedback of the day from Council members was that this research is exactly what the Alliance should be doing.

Later on in the day, Council members split into groups to take part in debate and discussion in three areas: church leadership, resources and advocacy & religious liberty.

The next Council meeting takes place in September.