Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Is the Church of England Turning the Corner?

In his 2002 book Hope for the Church, researcher Bob Jackson published a league table of Church of England dioceses, laying bare the bleeding wounds of the CofE in fuller and more painful detail than anyone else has done before or since*. Here's the top and bottom 5, the figure is the percent change in 'usual adult Sunday attendance' from 1989-99

1. London +12
2. Coventry -2
actually, lets stop there. When you're 2nd best Diocese is shrinking, you know you're in for a painful time. Skip to the bottom 5:

39. York -21
40. Bath & Wells -22
41. Carlisle -23
42. Lincoln -23
43. Durham -28

The figures for children were even worse. Moving from Durham to Bath and Wells Diocese (as I did in 2006) seemed like a leap from one leaky boat to another.

Since 1999 a lot of water has gone under the bridge, and indeed over it if you live near the Severn. The CofE now has attendance stats from 2001 to 2006. I've moaned elsewhere on this blog about why we're 2 years behind with basic data, and won't do again. (ooops, just did!). What follows is based on this data, with 2 caveats:
  1. The stats are 'adult weekly attendance', the 'usual sunday attendance' figure isn't recorded in the national stats for the full 2001-6 period.
  2. The 2006 stats are 'provisional', and so may be wrong.
Here are the top 5 Dioceses for 2001-6
1. London +12%
2. Hereford +3%
3. York +1%
4. Gloucester +1%
5. Newcastle +1%

and the bottom 5
39. Chester -10%
40. Blackburn -12%
41. Bradford -12%
42. Liverpool -14%
43. Sheffield -15%

The good news is that there are more dioceses growing. The bad news is that there are only 6 of them. And only London (still) is growing at a significant rate. Also, if you were thinking that decline has slowed in the bottom dioceses, remember that this only covers 5 years. Double those percentages and it doesn't look very different from the last decade.

However, being an Anglican statistician, I've found a way to put a positive spin on the figures.

My question is this: are things getting worse or better? To put it another way, is the rate of decline slowing, or increasing, in the Dioceses? As a large tanker, rather than a speedboat, the Church of England isn't going to change course overnight; a change in direction will happen slowly, but the first sign of that change will be a slowing of decline, hopefully as a precursor to growth.

So I've done a new sum.
Take York for example. York shrank by 21% in the 90's, but grew by 1% in 2001-6. As 2001-6 is only 5 years, to compare 2 x 10 year periods, I've multiplied the noughties figure by 2 to compensate. York's change from -21 to +2, gives a net change of 23%. It is turning around. A positive net change figure means that a diocese is either growing faster, declining slower, or has turned decline into growth. A negative figure means decline is getting worse.

You might just think, logically, that why don't we just work out what London has done well and copy it? Well, Bob Jackson has already done that, so here's my contribution....

This is the full 'net change' league table. The figure in brackets is where that Diocese was in the 1989-99 attendance league table, the 2nd figure is the net change in percent growth/decline from 1989-99 to 2001-6, with the adjustment mentioned above.

1. (39) York 23
2. (30) Hereford 23
3. (36) Manchester 22
4. (33) Newcastle 20
5. (41) Carlisle 19
6. (24) Gloucester 17
7. (40) Bath & Wells 15
8. (42) Lincoln 15
9. (22) Wakefield 14
10. (43) Durham 13
11. (30) Birmingham 13
12. (27) Norwich 12
13. (18) Chelmsford 12
14. (1) London 11
15. (13) Winchester 11
16. (27) Exeter 10
17. (24) Ripon & Leeds 9
18. (30) Rochester 9
19. (9) Southwark 8
20. (27) Southwell 7
21. (36) Bristol 7
22. (18) St. Albans 5
23. (13) Leicester 5
24. (18) Chichester 5
25. (13) Ely 3
26. (11) Sodor & Man 3
27. (33) Worcester 2
28. (13) St Eds & Ipswich -1
29. (36) Blackburn -2
30. (6) Peterborough -2
31. (13) Truro -3
32. (24) Portmouth -4
33. (3) Canterbury -4
34. (5) Oxford -5
35. (18) Lichfield -5
36. (4) Derby -5
37. (6) Guildford -5
38. (11) Salisbury -6
39. (33) Liverpool -10
40. (9) Chester -11
41. (2) Coventry -12
42. (22) Sheffield -16
43. (6) Bradford -17

A few thoughts
- A majority of dioceses are doing better than in the 1990's. Ok so that's not hard. 16 are doing worse, but for 10 of these the figure is 5% or less, it's not dramatic.

- 7 of these dioceses managed to turn decline in the 90's into growth (or parity) in the noughties.

- Every member of the bottom 5 in the 90's is in the top 10 for improvement. Does this mean that those dioceses with their backs to the wall took questions of decline/growth more seriously than the others?

- Only 2 of the best 10 dioceses in the 90's improved after 2000, the rest saw accelerated decline. Is there a 'glass ceiling' effect, similar to churches, which means that dioceses can only sustain a certain level of energy and change for so long, before falling back? Or do we just do better when we're up against it?

- London, again, has managed steady growth. The other growing/stable Dioceses are 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 9 in this table. York and Manchester demonstrate that it's possible to turn a Diocese around from hefty decline. The next few years will show whether putting the brakes on decline can turn into pressing the accelerator for growth.

If anyone shows any interest, I'll post the full Diocesan league table for attendance change 2001-6, and the equivalent table for childrens attendance. I just don't want to take up too much of this blog with stats if people don't like them......

*Anselmics Place has also done some analysis on trends since 1968, and he's even more pessimistic. I must confess to being a bit torn. The worse things look, the more we might be motivated to pray and change.


  1. David,

    This is very interesting.

    One comment - Can I ask whether you are qualifications in statistical things? I say this because I have a feeling that one can't add percentages and come up with a meaningful answer, but I'd need a mathematician to confirm this.

    If you are fully trained in statistics I take it all back - I could well be wrong.

  2. Dave

    I'm an amateur statistician rather than a professional one, which should probably mean taking all of this with a pinch of salt, but then if we left everything to the experts not much would get done! I do have an A-level though. I'm also aware that CofE stats themselves aren't exactly watertight, so my conclusions have more qualifications to them than I do.

    I've tried to explain the way I came up with the figures, so maybe others can be the judge of whether it's legitimate or not!

    The other thing I forgot to mention is that the two table-topping Dioceses, London and York, were both led by David Hope at the time when they started turning around.