Thursday, November 20, 2014

How to use Diocesan church attendance stats

A few days ago I reported on the latest CofE attendance stats, and noted that Leicester diocese had made a remarkable turnaround. Having lost nearly a quarter of its adult membership from 1990-2010, it has grown modestly in the last 4 years.

During an idle moment (I get 3 a year) I popped along to their website, and discovered this. Think for a moment of the embattled CofE church warden. Every year they are sent a large form from the Diocese to fill in with statistics of all shapes and sizes: baptisms, funerals, how many children were present on the 3rd Sunday of October, etc. Usually all they get in return is a letter a few months later telling them their parish share* has gone up by an eye-watering sum.

Not so in Leicester. All those lovingly collected stats are equally lovingly turned into a detailed report on what is actually happening across the Diocese. Data on church growth and decline, joiners and leavers, baptisms, weddings, size of parish, fresh expressions etc. There are some fascinating breakdowns: e.g. that in the deanery of NW Leicester, the average vicar is doing 30 baptisms, 31 funerals and 10 weddings a year. Give that man/woman a sabbatical!

Coupled with a helpful headlines page, this is a real attempt to interrogate the data and learn from it, to let the stats speak, and to link them to specific initiatives in the Diocese (they have a thing called Mission Partnerships, those churches which are part of one do better), and specific goals (e.g. the number of mature Fresh Expressions by a certain date).

Also worth noting, the stats were collected in November (they cover attendance in October 2013) and reported in the following February. That's a pretty impressive turnaround, and again speaks of a diocese which values the information it's collecting: if it's important and we've something to learn from it, then lets learn it as soon as we can, rather than waiting a year. The CofE national stats this year, for the first time, came out within 12 months of the original data collection. Only in the church would this be seen as a good result, in retail it's more like 12 hours.

I have never seen a Diocesan document like this before, do any of the other Dioceses do something similar? If not, why not? Any diocese serious about looking into the detail of decline and addressing it (or the detail of growth and learning from it) needs this kind of analysis. Well done them.

*parish share is a sum paid to a CofE diocese by each of its churches, which goes into a common pot to pay for clergy, training, central admin and resourcing etc. Because most CofE churches are shrinking in size, any church which has stable or growing membership normally faces a parish share increase which comfortably outstrips their rate of growth. This continues for a few years until the parish share gets so big that the church can only pay it by cutting back in other areas, or diverting resources into fundraising, at which point it joins the massed ranks of declining churches. Yes, I know, you don't have to tell me.... 

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