Saturday, November 15, 2014

Latest CofE stats: Attendance by Diocese 2009-13.

The CofE published its latest attendance stats earlier this week, along with a slew of other tables and data sets on baptisms, weddings, funerals, growth, decline and pretty much anything else it could report on. There are various bits of commentary already out there on what it all means, or doesn't.

For several years I've been tracking comparative data by diocese, to see which are doing well (and we might learn from) and which aren't (ditto). The stats for the 20 years to 2010 are pretty gruesome reading, and best handled with prayer and half a pint of sherry. There's even some encouraging things in the latest set of data, despite the continuing overall drop in numbers.

The report itself suggests that for 'trend analysis', Adult Weekly attendance is a good indicator to use. So, here's my usual 'table' of how each Diocese has got on. There's been a recalculation of the stats recently (which were probably overestimating attendance and membership), so we can't go back any further than 2009 because it wouldn't be a like-for-like comparison.

Adult weekly attendance, 2009-2013.
Southwell & Nott'm
Ripon & Leeds
St. Albans
Sodor & Man
Bath & Wells
St. Edms & Ipswich
Total C of E

Over the 4 years to 2013, 9 dioceses grew, 1 was stable (though Sodor and Man is more the size of an average Deanery), and 33 declined. So shrinking Dioceses outnumber growing ones by about 4:1. To see Leicester, Southwell and particularly Liverpool growing is quite a turnaround from recent history. What are they doing differently that other dioceses could learn from?

London continues to be the engine room, with the growth of the last 20 years it is now twice the size of any other diocese bar Oxford. But maybe, just maybe, the days when London was the only growing Diocese in the CofE are over. And if those growing dioceses continue, they show that the CofE can grow in both urban and rural, Northern and Southern, richer and poorer areas. The CofE is starting to take church growth seriously, I would love to see a piece of work on what Diocesan best practice for growing the local church would look like. 

The figures for childrens attendance, which I'll do if there's popular demand, are less encouraging, with a big drop in 2012-13, and a faster rate of decline overall. But these are smaller and more volatile, and not as reliable as the adult figures. 

Everything I've said before about these stats still stands. What I wrote 2 1/2 years ago is still pretty much true now:

....the reality of decline is that we feel duty-bound to maintain the parish system and the local church building until it kills us. So the burden is never reduced, but it falls upon a smaller and smaller number of people.

4. Who is accountable for all this? Can we, will we, ask our bishops and clergy what they've been doing, and what they're doing now? Who is learning the lessons? Or are we (in Einsteins definition of madness) continuing to do exactly the same as before in the hope of a different result?

...6. I have the figures for childrens attendance and they are even scarier. If the church is relying on children as 'the future of the church' then we're looking at a church 60% the size of what it is at the moment.

7. The CofE has only two realistic options. The first is to start strategic planning for a church which will be 20-25% smaller in 2030, based on the continuation of current trends. The second is to shift significantly towards leadership, investment and structures which are focused on growth. There are currently incremental steps towards the latter (Fresh Expressions, mission funding, Bishops Mission Orders etc.), and a vast amount of 'make do and mend' towards the former. 

I don't know what it will take to provoke the necessary sense of crisis, the deepening of conviction that we need to tackle this issue, so that the CofE overcomes its sniffiness about 'bums on pews' and recognises that there's a reason the New Testament talks about the number of people being saved on a regular basis. It's because each of those people matters to God, and each of those people is someone we're called to reach with the gospel. The CofE is largely failing in that task, and until we have reckoned with that, we call into question our claim to be called a church at all. Are we actually doing the task our Master has set us?

, though under Justin Welby's leadership, with a number of excellent new bishops, and the national CofE starting to focus on growth and discipleship, perhaps the tide is turning. But it is still a heck of a long way out. 


  1. Peter Debenham17/11/14 10:35 am

    It's good to see dioceses numerically growing but at least in the case of Ely, where I live, the local population has increased (probably second fastest growing area in England) by significantly more than the CofE attendance. Attendance figures are up but as a proportion of population we are down.

    Increasing attendance keeps the diocese financially viable but leads to complacency when the reality is we are still losing people.

    Peter Ould did some analysis of changes in CofE attendance against population a few years ago; it would be fascinating, though I expect gruesome, to see a re-run of that analysis.

    Peter Debenham

  2. Just wanted to say, as someone in the Chelmsford Diocese, there are signs of growth here. +Stephen I think has really raised the bar in terms of accountability and mission (going on what he's said to us as newly ordained curates). So I think the 3.3% decline may be on the turn - but it will take a while to see the effects of the changes he's implemented. So there is encouraging news even if the statistics don't always bear that out!

  3. 'The second is to shift significantly towards leadership, investment and structures which are focused on growth.'

    Isn't that the spiritual equivalent of the economic 'trickle-down' theory? Invest in the leadership echelons of the church and their moral capital will benefit the rank and file?

    It's all trellis work, while the vine shrivels and dies. Far better to commit to groundwork and trim the vine carefully.

    Christ's own outreach was among the rank and file, rather than working through the endless priestly hierarchies and their pet projects that favour commissioning a myriad of fact-finding surveys and community engagement projects. Studies that absolve themselves thereby, after commending the papers to Synod for study, and thereby consigning them to the dustbin of short-term memory.

    The church teetering on the brink of its potential demise is down to:

    1. a lack of strong leadership where almost anything goes to keep the fragile peace:
    2. A haven for rationalizing public-spiritedness with a connivance at scripturally condemned sin and rejection of apostolic belief.
    3. A leadership divided on even the most basic Christian doctrines.
    4.Its measured theological input appearing far too removed from the lives and interests of ordinary people.
    5. The ethnic composition of its clergy becoming more and more unreflective of the communities that they claim to serve (See National Parish Diversity monitoring).
    6. Its resort to desperate tactics of gospel disguise, rather than enhancement, in order to boost growth against the background of abysmal decline.

    What's lacking are communicators skilled with the charism of practical outreach ingenuity and 'everyman Christian apologetics.

    While the church has engaged piecemeal with modern ethical dilemmas, it has yet to take on the secular tidal wave that condemns its beliefs. To many, the arguments of Dawkins et al remain unanswered and apparently unanswerable.

    Add in a few shameful 20th century revelations and the church's name is mud among ordinary folk. That vacuum of leadership is either down to a focus on avoiding confronting these issues in training or caused by a vocational discernment system that's gone completely awry.

    1. The reputation of the church is often down to what happens at a local level, through local Christians and congregations. I agree with what you say about vocations - one bishop speaks of recently quizzing a group about to be ordained on what they'd do if someone said they wanted to become a Christian. Only one of the group gave a vaguely adequate answer, and these were about to be ordained as clergy!

      I didn't say anything about echelons, that's your interpretation. It's leadership at every level - if a local church is growing, then find ways to get behind that church and its leaders rather than have structures which impede it. The vast majority of our able leaders are non-ordained: about half of new fresh expressions of church are lay-led, and these are bringing in new people in a way the 'inherited' church can only dream about.

      Lots of CofE churches are growing, and it's finally starting to realise that we need to learn from these and to spread the wisdom. Have a look at what I posted today (Nov 20th) on Leicester diocese.