Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A few more reflections on church statistics

A few weeks ago I posted some thinking on our Diocesan attendance statistics - currently in a period of decline. I have been thinking some more!

- to take a high point of a decade or so ago and make a comparison can be important to highlight change across a significant period of time; but that was then and now is now: for example, in our Diocese I realise that the high point of a decade or so ago might be due to a combination of factors largely unrepeatable, such as a particular combination of ministerial 'stars'; further, some services being held then (particularly in the evening) are not being held now - which, OK, is a sign of decline; but is also a sign of different forms of commitment; and then, as many point out these days, once a fortnight attendance is the new 'weekly' attendance ...

- which leads to the point that we need to also measure the 'health' of parishes, not only their attendance figures: here I see financial viability as an important indicator (we are doing quite well on that one), plus 'visible' evidence of a range of generations being present - the mix of children, youth, parents is pretty important to subjective factors such as 'energy' in a congregation, as well as being significant 'attraction' factors (again, I think we are probably doing as well now as a decade ago). In another words attendance statistics measure something, but the true measure of a parish's strength lies in gaining other information, some financial, some anecdotal.

- then there is also an intriguing factor re age of congregations: statistics tell us that Anglican churches tend to have older congregations compared to other churches. But that means we should expect more to die sooner. In turn, however, that means that if we are holding our numbers (as some of our parishes are doing) then there is a form of growth through 'replacement'.

But I still worry about the core of the Christian faith, the gospel, our message of life in Jesus, and whether we understand it for our day, and even if we do, whether we are communicating it effectively.

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