Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It will take at least 100 years to close your church.

Religion News reports recent study in the US on the mortality rate of organisations. They've compared all sorts of different organisations by how many disband each year. Coming out bottom of the list - i.e. the group least likely to die or split - is the church.

The report notes: Among volunteer-based social service groups, peace movement organisations and other groups studied over the last two decades, at least 5 per cent shut their doors each year. Only child care centres in Toronto came close to the low 1 per cent mortality rate that religious congregations have, the study noted.

It's even more impressive that this is in the USA (they seem to have forgotten that Toronto is in Canada), which holds the world record for denominational splits.

I imagine this is even lower in the UK, where a mere 3% of Anglican churches closed in the period 1989-98, an annual rate of 0.3%. The Methodists are ahead of us here, as they seem to have a rule that once a local chapel goes below a certain size it has to look at closure.

I'm not sure whether this is half-full or half empty. On the one hand it shows the enormous resilience of the church, and the work of God, and if God is present in his church we should expect it to fare differently from other voluntary associations.

On the other hand, we're also very good at clinging to our traditions when the culture around us has long since left the station. The survival of a dying tree can hinder the growth of new plants.

Yet the new plants themselves need something to grow beside: we've just had 3 saplings planted in our back garden, each of them tied to a hefty wooden stake. One day they won't need the stake anymore, but for the moment it's going to keep them alive, healthy, safe and growing.

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