Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The statistics do not lie, some Anglican churches will join the Dodo [Updated]

I am adding links at the end as further reflections come to hand ...

Sobering statistical projections here by Church Growth Modelling. (H/T a North American colleague).

I do not think that if we - by a miracle* - could gather together the relevant ACANZP stats we would be better than the CofE and likely we would lie between them and the Anglican churches in Wales, Scotland and the States. (*We have no annual stats for church attendance).

Of course stats such as those graphed in the article cannot tell us whether (say) there might be a levelling out to a self-sustaining lower-than-current attendance flatline graph. And they do not allow for revival.

But such stats raise significant and urgent questions.

Questions, for instance, about what it is that we are doing (and not doing) that contribute to decline and what it is that we are doing that contribute (in the midst of decline) to growth and thus to possible new strategies whole Anglican churches could embrace moving forward.

On the one hand I am optimistic about ways in which we can do better. For instance, striving relentlessly to preach the gospel in ways relevant to ever changing contexts. It can be done and there are churches that are doing this. Some of them are Anglican :)

On the other hand, I am worried. In Western society (at least) there is a materialism, a sense of optimism and a general good health which provides a comfortable and long-lasting equivalent to the kingdom of God. If salvation is about the whole person being well, then human life has never been better than it is in the West where a raft of human ailments have been overcome and an array of pleasant opportunities for a good life are accessible by a huge majority. Proclamation of the gospel to a satisfied society is hard, hard work.

But Church Growth Modelling goes on to analyse these Anglican situations in a subsequent post.

You can of course read that post for yourself and digest what it says. Spoiler: evangelical strength is important!

For me, here are two key sentences, as CGM suggests the CofE is in a better state than TEC, SEC, or the Welsh Anglicans:

"When congregations ask for my advice on why they decline I first ask them what they believe, not what they do. Actions follow from beliefs. Perhaps the Church of England has, on average, stronger beliefs than the other three; beliefs that encourage growth."

For a much fuller analysis of the two posts, from a perspective honed by working within the CofE (but with interesting thoughts re other churches, including TEC), see Ian Paul's thoughts here.

Ian Paul adds further thoughts here.

Catholicity and covenant weighs in here.

29 comments:

John Sandeman said...

Peter, you might like to see the stats for Anglicanism in the West Island. The Australian General synod compliled a report in 2014 that can be found here http://www.anglican.org.au/general-synods/2014/documents/books/book%208_for%20website.pdf The chart of diocesan Sunday attendance would lend credence to evangelicalism doing the best of the "brands" available. For example compare Sydney to Melbourne, two cities of roughly equal size. Sydney has 68,000 people in Anglican Churches on Sunday, Melbourne has 21,000


John Sandeman

Father Ron Smith said...

""When congregations ask for my advice on why they decline I first ask them what they believe, not what they do. Actions follow from beliefs. Perhaps the Church of England has, on average, stronger beliefs than the other three; beliefs that encourage growth."

Precisely! If one's belief is mainly about big-band Christianity, this is not exactly belief in the saving power of a crucified, resurrected and glorified Christ - present in the eucharist on a daily basis, and not just on a Sunday.

Christ's presence and availability to us for mission empowered in the Eucharist is the most valuable resource available to follows of Christ. If we value our membership of the Body of Christ, it is most important for us to understand our reliance upon the only material touch-stone Jesus left for us to 're-member' Him. Neglect of this activity will ensure the demise of the Church - no matter how loud and long our preaching, teaching and Song-Fest Religion.

Personally, I'm not worried about the future of the Church. If it is not securely in the hands of God's-Self, what would be the point of believing in such a God?. "Fear Not, rejoice and be glad, the Lord has done a great thing - has poured out His Spirit on on all humankind, through those who believe in Him." Are we believers in God's continuing presence in the world through the Sacraments of His Church; or are we not? I do not believe God will ever abandon the Church He brought into being through the Incarnation of Jesus.

Peter Carrell said...

That is a significant difference, John!

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Peter, on the latest thread on 'Thinking Anglicans', there is this comment in relation to an article about the withdrawal of a PTO by the ABY of a person who was licensed as a local Reader in the C.of E. - ostensibly because he and his Civil Partnership spouse have elected to legally change their partnership to Marriage. This may be part of the reason for the projected downfall of the Church of England:

" (Dear Jeremy Timms) Just before he left the previous Bishop of Hull gave you this PTO and now it is being withdrawn simply because you and Mike wish to marry. You are not allowed even to do that in church but I will remember the moving service in a tent after your Civil Partnership and the delight and support of the congregation at the Eucharist the next day. Now you are being treated despicably because you wish to be married to Mike your long term partner. This action is sinful. No wonder the C of E is dying.It deserves to do so. God, however, is faithful and will ever be with you. I trust you will find a new spiritual home but our loss will be enormous."

Posted by: Jean Mayland (Revd) on Tuesday, 11 August

Liturgy said...

Peter,

You could graph the statistics from our diocese over some years, and place that graph here on your site on the assumption (!!!) that these statistics are accurate and not just good, inflated guesses...

Slightly more work would be collecting several diocesan statistics together and graphing their sum... I have long been "fascinated" (read "frustrated", "horrified") by our church's not having statistics for our whole church. I wonder what we are frightened of discovering...

Without statistics all our discussions and planning are based on no real evidence...

Blessings

Bosco

Anonymous said...

Peter,

The use of the word brand is quite helpful. In the market, we favour strong brands because we know what they stand for and they are distinctive in themselves. Perhaps evangelical Christianity is strong for that reason. Others might not like it, but at least they know what they are getting. When you start changing the brand (or even worse the product), people walk. Having said that, in the spirit of forgiveness, I have recently decided to give Cadbury a second chance.

Nick

Perry Butler said...

The greater strength of the C of E surely comes from the fact that it is residually still the National Church parochially ordered and thus has a large group of people who are not regular attenders but are well disposed to it, and look to it for occasional services esp at festivals and the Occasional Offices.In this church culture it is not precisely clear what church growth means. A church with " strong convictions " of a particular hue may grow substantially on an eclectic basis usually skimming off those from elsewhere who want high octane religion.Unfortunately some of these churches tend to be self ministering and put congregational needs far above parochial responsibilities. It is not unknown these days to find C of E clergy who ony do congregational funeral for example.A healthy parish H church may well not have an especially large congregation but be ministering very effectively to the geographical Parish it is there to serve.
The C in W has been a minority church since the Evangelical Revval and despe S current declne has held up better than the Nonconformist chapels.The Episcopal Church in Scotland ,beng disestablished n 1689 and later persecuted has never been more than about 2 % of the Scottish people and has had a rather patchy geographical distribution...the Established Church of Scotland appears to be in considerable numerical decline.
I suspect that a church historian or sociologist of religion might interpret the facts ( and the remedies) rather differently to a mathematician or statistician....Linda Woodhead/ Grace Davie et al
Perry Butler...Canterbury UK

Perry Butler said...

Robert Currie Alan Gilbert and Lee Horsleys substantial Chuch Grwth in England since 1700 although published in 1978 puts statistics in a long historical context and rather stresses the proirity of exogenous over endogenous factors in church attendance, which is interesting..

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Perry
I suggest we should all live long enough to review the situation in 2050!
There are factors at work in both Britain and Down Under (e.g. secularisation and influence of new(ish) presence of other faiths such as Islam and Hinduism) which (arguably) are coming to the statistical boil. But will Christian congregational strength in each region be revived in the face of such challenges or rapidly further weaken? By 2050 we will have some clearer ideas :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, immigrants are often Christian of course. They seem to bolster RC parishes, so I assume you see them as well. Another factor is the shape of society. Clubs of all types have difficulty getting members; we cannot expect to be unscathed. Also people can probably justify missing church if they listen to a podcast - and there are lots of first rate ones compared with your local, perhaps. I know that is not what Church is about, but the rest of our culture is individualistic. I'm sure we have all seen couples in restaurants on their smart phones.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Indeed, Nick, immigrants are making a difference to churches in the West. (In Anglican terms, in the South Island, I reflect on why there are so many British accents in some of our parishes and so few Kiwi accents!)

John Sandeman said...

One more in the West Island: looking at the denominational attendance stats (which take a bit of finding).

From largest to smallest;

Catholics: shrinking despite immigration
Pentecostals: growing
Anglicans: Shrinking outside evangelical areas
Baptist: steady?
Uniting Shrinking
SDAs growing

The churches that are growing the fastest plant churches, which in turn plant other churches. In the case of the SDAs growth rates of 27 per cent annually are reported.

John Sandeman said...

One more in the West Island: looking at the denominational attendance stats (which take a bit of finding).

From largest to smallest;

Catholics: shrinking despite immigration
Pentecostals: growing
Anglicans: Shrinking outside evangelical areas
Baptist: steady?
Uniting Shrinking
SDAs growing

The churches that are growing the fastest plant churches, which in turn plant other churches. In the case of the SDAs growth rates of 27 per cent annually are reported.

Perry Butler said...

What are SDAs? And will some of these fast growing newer Churches be around in 10/ 15 yrs time?

Anonymous said...

If SDAs are Seventh Day Adventists, the inconvenience of Saturday morning clearly has no negative effect.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Perry
"SDAs" are Seventh Day Adventists.
They have been around for a while.
Not sure whether they feature (much) in the UK but they have a fair number of churches in NZ and (I think) even more in Australia.

Kurt said...

No, John the Baptists--in America, at least--are also down.

My guess is that the Episcopal Church in the USA will level off soon, if we have not already done so. Our largest decreases were do to defections during the past 20 years.

Pentecostals and other Evangelicals are a revolving door in America. They pack them in, but they also leave in large numbers, particularly their young people. Plus the fiddle with figures...Many Evangelicals in their later 20s and early 30s are being attracted to liturgical traditions.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Liturgy said...

Kurt's revolving door point is significant.

A Pentecostal leader (I will not name him as he is too well known) came to speak to me once he had done proper statistical analysis of his huge, thriving, growing church (and its satellites). He had discovered that the average time people spent in his church was 18 months. And when they left, most did not go on to another church. Good on him for having the insight to do real research, and the humility to begin doing something about it. His realisation was he needed to do something about deeper formation.

Blessings

Bosco

Father Ron Smith said...

I guess that, with membership surveys, one should take into account the actual length of time one spends in a particular congregation. The 'Fly-by-Nights' could prove to be in the majority in denominations where Christianity seems to be experiencing perennial 'revivals'. One wonders how many of today's youths go on to become regular members of their church communities when they come to maturity of faith.

The point is, it is God's Church. If there is any substance to Church at all, then those whose faith is real will survive.

Jesus said; "They'll know you're my disciples by your LOVE" - not by your numeroial superiority, not by your judgement of others. The Body of Christ is meant to be 'Salt and Light', not flour and water.

John Sandeman said...

Thanks everyone for the quality responses.

Bosco
Stories of wide front and back doors are often told about Pentecostalism and I have had heard leaders say similar things. But we also need to take account of the fact that Australia's largest Pentecostal group (which includes over half of the movement) the Australian Christian Churches, have tripled in size during the last two decades and grown by six times in the last three decades. the back door is clearly smaller than the front. At the same time as Bosco points out, smart Pentecostal leaders are learning from other traditions. Social justice is a growing presence in Pentecostalism in this country. Hillsong has a big Bible College ministry that other groups would regard as formation. They are developing clergy educational structures that more closely resemble mainstream churches, up to the masters and doctorate level. (Australian Pentecostalism is developing distinctive characteristics which may not be present in other western countries).

Kurt
I have looked more closely at the Baptists in Australia. I am confident they are growing. They are arguably a more diverse group that's in the USA. One outlier church in Melbourne has a tradition of liturgy that Bosco might be happy with.
One factor that makes me think your levelling out comment about TEC may well be right, is the move to support church planting at your last general convention. All the examples of churches growing, or maintaining their vigour in this country involve Church Planting and of course TEC's history has some spectacular examples of church planters including Bishops. This would be a good time to make the point that Church History does not confine church planting to evangelicals.

Perry asked will some of the fastest growing churches be around in ten to fifteen years time. The answer is most will (especially those with a denominational network) but some may not. To take Pentecostalism as a example, you need to look at cities with a long Pentecostal History. Sydney would be a poor example, but Adelaide gives a good idea of what may happen. The largest Pentecostal Church in town is a shadow of its former self. but it has been replaced by a couple of Much larger churches a few blocks or suburbs away and Pentecostalism in that city is thriving. So individual churches may shrink, but there's growth in the wider movement.


John


I had a question mark on the Baptists because I

John Sandeman said...

Ron,

The National Church Life Survey (a five yearly church census in Australia) covers your point concerning 'Fly by Nights'. The Newcomer classification (five years or less) results show there is not a big 'Fly By Night' contingent - certainly nothing approaching a majority! 17 per cent is typical for church plant for example -after a few years at least

John Sandeman said...

Ron,

The National Church Life Survey (a five yearly church census in Australia) covers your point concerning 'Fly by Nights'. The Newcomer classification (five years or less) results show there is not a big 'Fly By Night' contingent - certainly nothing approaching a majority! 17 per cent is typical for church plant for example -after a few years at least

Kurt said...

Our friends Down Under should understand that, generally speaking, what is known as “Evangelical Christianity” has always religiously dominated what is now the United States. Anglicanism/Episcopalianism has (with the exception of Virginia and possibly Maryland), always been a minority denomination. We have never been more than a small minority of the population in the United States; a minority that has fluctuated greatly in relative size over the centuries. Indeed, because of this Evangelical predominance, Episcopalianism has continually been a counter-cultural movement, which has historically reflected a joining of High Church Catholicism on the one hand with Low Church Latitudinarianism on the other. Our denominational presence in North America, however, is one of the oldest. In fact, this year marks the 450th anniversary of the first readings of Anglican Divine Service in North America, which was led by visiting Anglican lay readers at the French Huguenot colony La Caroline then established in Florida.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Jean said...

Hi Kurt

Your point is a good one. It appears 'the church' takes different forms in different countries. Even our dear loaded word 'evangelical' for example; in NZ Evangelical Christianity is not considered its own denomination rather a church from any tradition may be 'evangelical' in nature. In regard to battling injustice and caring for the last, the least and the lost, in NZ I would even dare to say most denominations here have a facet of this in their midst which is a blessing.

I like the saying:
"Too much Spirit and you blow up, too much Word and you dry up" - 'Those who worship me must worship in Spirit and in Truth'

Perhaps many churches are now coming to the point where they are getting this balance between depth and formation in discipleship and allowing the free working of the Holy Spirit - this is indeed Good News.

All the best,
Jean

Liturgy said...

Maybe I wasn't clear enough, but John appears to miss the point of my story, so let me clarify.

The Pentecostal leader was, like John's illustrations, someone who led a huge, thriving, growing church. Its growth was nothing short of astonishing. Its size had meant that it needed to found satellites if only because no venues could contain its growth. But this size and growth had hidden a quite different statistical reality. John falls into the making the very mistake that this leader had made until he did quite a different analysis.

That analysis showed that, as I said, the average time people spent in his church was 18 months. And when they left, most did not go on to another church.

If one is interested in numbers, in having a large church, (and even in a growing collection plate!) then sure, tripling and six-folding in size is seriously cool. But if one is interested in people and in spiritual growth of people these other statistics come into play - is this a community in which lifelong growth into union with God is facilitated, encouraged, and modelled? John is comparing apples with coffee cups.

As to John's reinforcing my point of the maturing of what people may refer to as pentecostal and evangelical communities - many of them, it seems to me, have now leaped over many of what people would refer to as mainline denominations. Their leadership is better trained, and formed, and their study is deeper. Their worship has more coherence and is more worshipful. And they are not obsessed with the debates many mainliners are just stuck in, but are inclusive, focus on justice, a missional approach, with a lived social consciousness, and a commitment to environmental issues.

Blessings

Bosco

john sandeman said...

Bosco,

I am normally quite good at missing the point, but I am not sure I did this time. If the average stay in a church was eighteen months that would show up in its NCLS profile, if it was an Australian church that took part. I am not sure if you have something similar in NZ, but the patterns of attendance are quite well covered in the questions NCLS asks. I would agree that some churches have a high churn rate, and I don't question Bosco's account of one local church, but if an eighteen month average stay occurred at the denominational level (and the figures I cited were denominational figures) the traffic in and out the doors of the ACC for example would be over a million over a decade. That's because the denomination of some 300,000 would need to find new people every eighteen months.

Father Ron Smith said...

Today's Gospel is a good case in point: John 6: 56 - 69 - following on from the previous weeks' episodes where Jesus speaks of the need to regard Him as "The Bread of Life". Those who found this language difficult left Jesus. But when he turned to the 12 disciples who were left; is was Peter who said (when Jesus asked is they, too, wanted to leave Him) - "Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life and we believe. We know that you are the Son of God". It was this remnant of His disciples - the Twelve - who were to sit at table with Jesus 'on the night He was betrayed', when He 'Took Bread, blessed and broke it (made Eucharist) and gave it to them, saying, Take, eat; this is my Body, do this to re-member me"

The Faithful (Remnant) have been doing this ever since. This is the basis of what it means to be a fully-fledged Christian - to feed on Christ, the Bread of Life. While we continue doing that, the Body of Christ will survive!

Liturgy said...

John’s mathematics is quite correct. If a church had a Sunday attendance of 300,000 (about 10 times the number in NZ’s Anglican Church) and those attending did so for an average of 18 months, (the majority not going on to another church when they left), then the traffic in and out the doors of such a church would be over a million over a decade.

In John's calculation, change the average length of stay, and what he calls the “churn rate” changes.

I’m pleased that Australia’s NCLS profiling registers a church’s “churn rate”. I am unaware of any such analysis here in NZ.

It is clear that one cannot transfer a calculation from one church in one context to another church in another context. Which returns me to the point being missed: if one is concerned about people and the spiritual growth of people, the statistics of a community’s growing total size does not measure that. For that we also need to examine John’s “churn rate” (however impersonal I find that term, I will use the one that is understood here as part of Australia’s NCLS profiling).

Blessings

Bosco

John Sandeman said...

Bosco, the opening post is about attendance stats, and I have stuck with that topic. A desire to see people in church is an early step in desiring that people grow spiritually, and I am not sure it is generally helpful to place a desire to see people in church and desiring their spiritual growth as two alternative strategies. they do not have to be in opposition and I am sure you agree. I have seen surveys which have attempted to measure spiritual growth but it is hard for humans at least to measure. I thoroughly agree that union with Christ is what the church is for.