Thursday, May 08, 2008

Why Christian Research (or is it the Times?) is Wrong

The Times and Telegraph today report a new Christian Research publication, with the startling headline that by 2050, there will be only 3600 worshipping Methodists, and the AB of C will lead a church of only 87,800. In 40 years, the number of Hindus will outstrip the number of Christians in the UKm, with the number of Muslims overtaking us sometime in the 2030s.

The Christian Research website doesn't yet have any of this, but it's not April 1st, so I assume the papers know something we don't.

It's a good headline, but it's wrong.

1. As the CofE spokeswoman points out , the Christian Research findings don't even compare like with like, using census figures for Muslims and electoral rolls for Anglican churches.

2. As I posted only yesterday (and honestly I didn't know this story was coming), the trends are changing. Since 2001, 60% of dioceses have slowed or reversed the decline of the 90s'. The current trend of a 1% per year drop in Anglican attendances. By any stretch of maths, that doesn't equate to a 90% drop in 40 years.

3. Detail is important too. If, for example, you took the Anglican stats 1 diocese at a time, and projected them forwards, then yes you'd get some places with next to nobody, but you'd also get London with over 100,000 Anglicans on it's own. It all depends which trend you choose to project forwards.

As Rowan Williams has pointed out, the media has two main narratives for the church, decline or split, and Christian Research is, sadly, playing straight into these.

Tangled Web, meanwhile, thinks it's a good thing, as the established churches 'deserve to die'.
Update: Peter Kirk has a good analysis on his Gentle Wisdom blog.

Update 2: Christian Research have described the Times report as 'very misleading', according to Evangelism UK. I still can't find any reference on the web to the actual report. The most recent Christian Research publication in any online Christian bookshop, or Amazon, is the UK Christian Handbook 2007-8, published in September 2006. I'm starting to wonder what the Times report was based on, and whether all the rest of us citing Christian Research are actually just citing the Times, and an article written 2 years ago based on 'Pulling Out of the Nose Dive'. It's all very odd. I've commented on Ruth Gledhills blog to ask what her source is, and why nobody else seems to be able to find it.

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