Tucked away at the end of a recent Research Bulletin from the CofE, are some details of a new research project into church growth:
The church growth research programme will consist of three inter-related strands and these are detailed further below:
As part of the research programme the research team will undertake a careful analysis of the full range of data that is collected by the central church as well as other existing data sets (such as that on deprivation). Work is already underway to prepare the data for analysis. The researchers will then test a range of hypotheses around church growth. They will look at the effect of particular factors whilst attempting to ‘control’ statistically for a range of other factors and interventions and so attempting to overcome the challenge of distinguishing between correlation and causation. There is potential to learn further lessons about what factors are associated with church growth from existing data, however there are some factors worthy of exploration which we do not currently collect data on. The second strand of the programme will seek to address some of these issues.
This strand will involve a survey of 4,000 churches plus some in-depth follow up interviews. Churches will be invited to take part following a careful sampling process to ensure that a wide range of contexts are considered. The surveys will collect a range of data enabling profiling of the factors associated with growing churches.
Cathedrals, Amalgamation of Benefices, Fresh Expressions and Church Planting.
This strand will consider a number of particular structural issues and approaches to mission and ministry and their implications for church growth. One sub-strand will explore factors relating to growth at Cathedrals. Another will look at the implications of various Benefice structures including multi-parish benefices and team ministries for growth. Other sub-strands will seek to explore the impact of Fresh Expressions and other forms of church planting on growth.
It's good to see this up and running, after initially surfacing in January, and a website 'soon' is promised for people wanting updates on the project. Whilst in the end church growth and decline is about people, and the mix of people and places (I heard 2 inspiring examples of this on Wednesday at a diocesan meeting, where the right people have clearly ended up in the right places and God is doing great things), the CofE has at last started taking seriously the masses of data it churns out and working out what to do with it.
The article concludes
This major study of numerical growth in the context of the Church of England should significantly increase understanding of factors related to church growth. In doing so, the programme will provide a range of tools to assist diocesan, national and parish church leaders to equip them in their efforts to grow the church. Linked to this, the research will inform the resource allocation decisions which are taken at all levels of the church. More robust evidence on how particular resource allocations affect the growth of the church should lead to a more effective deployment of the church’s finite (and in some cases shrinking) resources. Good.