The following post is an extract from 'Biscuit Tin', a resource leaflet for mission in Yeovil area which hits the streets next week. The questions are aimed at church leadership teams, PCC's etc., but feel free to respond to them here as well!
Research by the Church Army’s Steve Hollinghurst offers a fascinating insight into the way our culture is changing.
In the early 1900’s, 9 out of 10 of children went to church and Sunday School. It was the social norm, so virtually everyone had a grounding in the Christian story, knew how to worship, and identified with their church.
At the start of this new century, roughly 1 out of 10 children are in Sunday School. A significant number go to church schools, but not all give children a good grounding in Christian faith, and often they are not closely connected to a worshipping church. (There is a chart I've tried to upload here, but it's feeling shy!) Each successive age group shows a decline in those who attended church as a child. For those over 65, churchgoing was the norm. For every younger age group, it has been the exception, and increasingly so. The other norm has been that the vast majority of those who have at some stage been involved in the church have left.
The stats, in the absence of the chart (rounded to nearest 0.5 - I tried to put these in table format but failed!), are:
Age 85+: 75% In Church under-15; 7% in church now; 25% no church contact
Age 75-84: 63% in church u-15; 11% in church now; 37% no church contact
Age 65-74: 55.5% in church u-15; 14.5% in church now; 44.5% no church contact
Age 45-64: 44% in church u-15 9%; in church now; 56% no church contact
Age 30-44: 33% in church u-15; 6% in church now; 67% no church contact
Age 20-29: 25% in church u-15; 4.5% in church now; 75% no church contact
Age 15-19: 17.5% in church u-15; 6.5% in church now; 82.5% no church contact
Age 0-15: 12.5% in church, 87.5% no church contact.
(I realise that going to a church isn't always an accurate indicator of living Christian faith, but even so the trends seem pretty clear. )
The Church relies on people with some Christian background for most of our outreach and growth. Most of our contacts for baptisms or weddings are people who went to church as children. Around ¾ of new Christians are from this background. Hollinghurst calls these the ‘churched’.
But, and it’s a big but, the ‘churched’ is an ever-decreasing segment of the population. The number of people who have no effective contact with church is 65% and growing.
Ø This group is more likely to see itself as ‘spiritual’ than ‘religious’, and it sees the church as ‘religious’ rather than ‘spiritual’.
Ø Most new Christians come from the shrinking ‘churched’ group, as do our occasional contacts for baptisms, weddings etc. and people who join courses like ‘Alpha’. We are fishing in a shrinking pool.
Ø The younger people are, the less likely they are to have any meaningful contact with the church.
What does this mean?
- About 1/3 of the population (higher in rural areas, and higher among the elderly), can relate to what we do in church. They have left church in the past for a variety of reasons. Some have drifted away, others have left because of a bad experience. The ‘drifters’ will be more open to returning than those who have had a negative experience. A number of Dioceses now run a ‘Back to Church Sunday’, some with great success.
- For the majority of the population, an invitation to ‘come to church’ will not work. There will be too many social and cultural barriers to cross in order for them to hear the gospel. To imagine what it must be like, imagine your average PCC member going to a mosque.
- To reach the increasing number of people with no church background, we may have to stop starting with the church. No matter how good our services, how relevant our preaching, how comfortable our pews, many will not come. They will only hear the good news about Jesus if we go to them.
1. How far does my local community mirror the research? Is it more, or less ‘churched’?
2. How much of the outreach in our church is based on a ‘come back to church’ model? Does it work?
3. Imagine someone coming from a completely unchurched background to your main Sunday service. What would their experience be? What would puzzle them? How much of the words, or of what they were expected to do (sing, kneel, shake hands with those around them, drink symbolic blood etc.) would be familiar? How much of it would be comfortable?
4. Given that older people are the majority of those who might ‘come back to church’, how might your church connect in fresh ways with this age group?
To explore this further try: George Lings ‘Encounters on the Edge’ 30: Discernment in Mission (available from the Church Army Sheffield Centre ).
Or go to this website to see talks and presentations from the Church Army which explore these findings further.