9 - The forward march of the Christian churches halted? Organisational stasis and the crisis of the associational ideal in early twentieth-century religious institutions  pp. 351-379

The forward march of the Christian churches halted? Organisational stasis and the crisis of the associational ideal in early twentieth-century religious institutions

By S. J. D. Green

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Introduction: an emerging sense of failure

When it considered the vital questions of organisational advance and decline – or of spiritual gain and loss – in the years leading up to the outbreak of the First World War, informed local opinion invariably arrived at depressing conclusions. Pastors and priests, whether Anglican, Roman Catholic or dissenter, counted more churches than ever. But Catholics aside, they saw fewer people in them. Churchmen, ministers and laymen presided over more complex religious institutions. Yet these organisations attracted fewer regular members than they had hoped for. Teachers and volunteers dedicated themselves to more sophisticated Sunday schools. However, they induced fewer of the young into the life of religion than their best efforts warranted. Edwardian churches and chapels organised more frequent religious missions and visitations than their mid-Victorian counterparts. Nevertheless, these efforts won fewer conversionary gains than expected. New and revived liturgies forged a quality of religious witness in public worship which was more solemn, more dignified and more reverential than that of old. Still, most informed locals doubted the evidence of real spiritual progress amongst their fellow worshippers. Uncertain of the commitment of those amongst their number, and fearing the worst of those beyond their walls, they began to envisage, with a barely concealed dread, the real possibility of a halt, that is, a permanent halt, to the forward march of the Christian churches.