So, we're all doomed, or just a bit of old-fashioned doom and gloom? The Telegraph's report isn't the best place to go for an answer. It is, of course, inaccurate. Despite its passing resemblance to the WI, the church doesn't do "recruitment drives". But in addition, the paper has for some time adopted a crusading attitude and seems to be single-handedly trying to reverse the English Reformation by bigging up Roman Catholicism and dissing the Church of England at every possible opportunity. Why they should be doing this is anyone's guess, but it is an agenda that Stuart, despite being a fine blogger, is always going to endorse. This stuff about "the Church of England is dying" is a classic case of assertion without proof.
But this doesn't mean we should dismiss the question out of hand. It's all very well Father David telling us not to be negative, but there's a difference between pessimism and realism. For example, Andreas Whittam Smith's comment about the Church being "like a company impeccably managing itself into failure" is not a value-driven statement, it's just an observation, and one that is difficult to argue with. The national structures of the C of E are modelled like an old-fashioned business, or perhaps the civil service of a few decades ago. And, despite their obvious professionalism, they seem to make little impact on the mission of the churches, except perhaps to hinder it. Many Dioceses run on the same lines (except without the professionalism in some cases), to similar effect. Only where the church has embraced more modern entrepreneurial and flexible thinking, for example in the fresh expressions movement, does it show more signs of doing what it ought to. You may not like the Church modelling itself on a business, but if it must, then it would be preferable to model itself on a successful one rather than a failing one.
So if the business is failing, perhaps the church really is going down the pan? My considered answer is "no", especially if we bring God into the equation. Yes, I know, but I am a vicar. What is God doing in this branch of his church? Three things spring to mind:
1 - the pattern of decline isn't uniform. Extrapolations don't work here because there are intense pockets of growth which are masked by overall statistical decline at present. What we are seeing is the withering of an old church culture accompanied by the birth of a new one.
2 - there is such a thing as evangelism. As Father DC points out, the average age of 61 is not a good indication of decline because the church doesn't depend on the population pyramid for its growth. We are in the business of reaching people for the Kingdom. Although it isn't the main aim, that process often results in more people coming to church in the long term. Call that a recruitment drive if you like.
3 - it is very easy to foresee a future in which, although the Church of England continues as a presence in the nation, the institution as we know it today does indeed fail and collapse. Would this be a bad thing? I couldn't possibly comment, but I do know that I'm preaching on resurrection this Sunday.
UPDATE: link fixed. Thanks Gurdur.