A new clutch of stats out today from the Church of England. It covers finance, ordinations, schools and clergy numbers. Membership data normally comes out in January.
A few headlines (see also the Church Times report)
The number recommended for ordination in 2007 was 595, 1 up on 2006, but the age profile remains a worry. There are more younger candidates than before, but still only 40% are under 40, and with 2-3 years at college then 3 years as a curate, it's 5-6 years from beginning training to a position of geniune responsibility. The church is trying to recruit younger leaders, but there aren't that many young people in our churches, and younger people tend to be attracted by....younger leaders. The average age of CofE vicars is now 51.
The overall number of paid clergy is dropping by roughly 150 a year. Despite the increase in ordinations, high numbers are retiring or leaving vicarhood each year, over 20% of current clergy are due to retire in the next 5 years (including over half of my Deanery!). Also, more than half of those ordained are into non-stipendiary (unpaid) ministry, which isn't a like-for-like replacement to full-time paid clergy. The result is that the projections for Diocesan clergy have been revised down: Bath and Wells (my Diocese) is now allocated 187 clergy in 2012, down from 196 in the previous estimate.
Though the overall number of church schools has dropped, they are a slightly higher proportion of the national total because of school rationalisation across the board. 18.7% of primary and 5.3% of secondary children are educated in a CofE school. However, as you'll know if you've ever been inside a church school, this can mean anything from a community school that just has 'CofE' in the name, to one where a Christian ethos is known shared and lived out in the school day.
Giving and finance
Though the CofE is shrinking, income continues to rise, with more people in tax-efficient giving schemes, giving a higher average per head. In real terms giving per head is over 50% higher than it was 20 years ago, which begs certain questions about the church of 20 years ago that I won't go into!
I'll be honest, I'm concerned about the average age of my fellow clergy, and about the ability of the CofE to maintain it's current level of activity with fewer and fewer full-time staff. I'm also concerned about the levels of stress and busyness amongst clergy in general. There are too many plates spinning, and those spinning them are (in the main) getting older.
We have to rationalise - national church, diocesan structures, sector ministries (does the Army have a 'Sheffield' figure for clergy?). And look at what we do as well - the debate rumbling elsewhere about disestablishment also has practical consequences: is having 26 bishops in the House of Lords a resource-effective way of contributing to national debate? If so, why do fringe groups like Christian Voice get on the radio more often than Bishops?
We also have to ditch two illusions:
1. That the Church of England is the only show in town. Other churches from other streams are equally part of the body of Christ, and our ministry to the nation has got to be done together. In many neighbourhoods, the 'local' church isn't an Anglican one - there's a new housing area around Weston-super-Mare which has effectively been parcelled out between Anglican, Baptist and other churches, so that each neighbourhood is served by a living local church, but it's not necessarily an Anglican one.
2. Connected to that, the parish system as currently constituted. There has never been a parish church for every community - just look at any Ordinance Survey map, or walk through a couple of urban neighbourhoods near you. Even less so has there been 1 vicar for every community.
The CofE needs to find ways of planting and sustaining churches which don't carry all the baggage of the parish system, which don't need a full-time vicar to oversee them, or all the financial and practical burdens of a building, or the requirement to lay on an event every Sunday morning called 'worship'. Much of our energy as churches is spent on maintaining a building to hold our weekly 'worship' event in, and in putting on the event itself. Fundraising, buildings maintenance and event management - is this the core calling of the church?
There used to be stories of a church which met in houses, prayed and worshipped together, pooled its money to help the poor, and tried to live out the teachings of Jesus and his followers. You can find it in Acts. There has to be a simpler way of doing this.