Thursday, November 26, 2009

80,000 guests on Back to Church Sunday

The CofE is reporting today that, based on returns from churches, around 80,000 people came back to church on BTCS this year, 53,000 to Anglican churches, but with more churches from other denominations getting on board.

Here's some of the blurb:

The Church of England’s Head of Research and Statistics, the Revd Lynda Barley, says: “If the returns we have received from almost one fifth of the participating parishes are representative, the scaled up figures would suggest that 53,000 extra people attended Church of England churches that Sunday, among 82,000 coming back across the UK once other denominations are included.

“We know from local research that new attenders and the churches enjoy the Back to Church experience of church. Not only has the number of participating churches increased between 2008 and 2009 so that approximately 20 per cent of Church of England churches are now taking part, but the average number of extra people per church has grown, with participating churches each having welcomed an average of 19 extra people compared to 14 last year.”

and there's this rather cheeky footnote
The number of people returning to the Church of England on 27 September 2009 alone could have filled the O2 arena in London twice over – and still left a queue of 7,000 (the highest quoted membership of the National Secular Society) outside without a seat;

- are the churches which have sent data back in more likely to be those for whom it went well? After all, if nobody showed up, that might make you less likely to send the forms back in.

- More importantly, what was people's experience when they came? I don't know what qualifies as good 'repeat business' for shops, and I'm aware that the sizeable majority of readers of this blog never return for a second look. I'd be interested to see any feedback from the visitors who came on that day, what they thought, and how it measured up to expectations.

- It's a substantial rise on the 37,000 last year, and it probably still has plenty of potential. There are several million former churchgoers in the UK. But it's not going to appeal to the increasing majority who don't have any church background, and has to be part of a wider outreach strategy, rather than the cure for all ills.

- I also wonder what the pattern looks like in churches which have run BTCS for several years. We had fewer people this year than in the previous couple of years when we've run Back to Church Sunday, and there comes a point, unless a church is adding new members quite rapidly, when everyone has invited all the people they can think of, and they've either said yes or no.


  1. Hi David. I co-ordinated Back to Church in Bradford this year and last, and we had less 'take up' this year. This was true both in the number of participating parishes, and in the overall response (my own church had a similar and modest response both times).

    I think sustainability is an issue for BTC - I think we'd find it harder to push it for 2010. Perhaps a fallow year then a big push in 2011?

    I agree with your point about it being the more responsive churches that fill in the stats, that's almost certainly true, so the true figure is almost defintely less. But then Church House does love to spin it ;)

  2. All the evidence, unspun, is that people will continue to invite their friends back to church if they're encouraged to do so.

    If they're genuinely encouraged to do so year after year they'll do it year after year. And they might even invite the same person twice two years running.

    I think sustainability is about getting right behind something and not expecting it to happen by itself.

    And forgive me for being defensive, Paul, but I really have something to defend. My Church House colleagues in Research and Statistics don't "love to spin it". They work very hard to ensure that the figures we release are accurate and statistically robust.

    We assume that the church we serve credits us with integrity. Now that may be a false assumption. But if you don't trust us then tell us straight, not with a winky smiley.

    Paul Bayes

  3. And what happened on the Octave of Back to Church Sunday?

    That would surely show how effective the whole thing was.

  4. Does all that imply a focus on new "greenfield" projects in between?

  5. I don't think Paul was impugning the people who've drawn up the stats by using the word 'spin' - on the C of E website, Lynda Barley is properly careful to say 'if' so she is flagging up that she is interpreting the figures she has an extrapolating, rather than reporting hard fact.

    And quite honestly I *would* expect a professional statistician (I'm married to one) to exert such caution about a 20% self selected sample.

  6. Is there a difference between 'spin' and being positive, or is all interpretation classed as spin? Church House tend to look on the bright side, but is leading with the good news spin, or just so against the grain that we're innately suspicious? These press releases are not pure communication, they're also (I think) an attempt to encourage Anglicans.

    It's not the closest of comparisons, but Churchills speeches during the war were not just about communicating fact, they were also aimed at morale and national mood, and that takes nothing away from them.

  7. If you use numbers in a statement then many people take it that you are making a factual statement.

    If statistics are being interpreted in order to inspire people and make them feel optimistic, I would suggest that they are being used incorrectly. The only point of collecting statistical data is to give you hard information.

    It would be quite possible to take encouragement from the stories of those 20% of participating churches who have communicated that they experienced success using this strategy.

    But to extrapolate facts from a less than 20% self selected sample would be completely wrong. Hence the word 'if' in the statement about the stats.

    Just suppose a struggling church reads such a report, doesn't pick up the 'if' and decides to throw all its resources for mission into Back to Church Sunday next year, diverting energy and resources from other initiatives?

    And then suppose it's not the right strategy for them?

    If this strategy is believed to be commendable then I have no problem in it being commended. If people feel optimistic about it then I have no problem with them communicating that optimism.

    What I do have a slight problem with is the fact that I have seen these numbers reported as firm fact by those who have read them when they are not - and the source article does make it clear that they're not.