Update (20/7/12): the Church in Wales has just released a report which might give us a few pointers
Update 2 (Dec 2014) Chelmsford Diocese is starting to take these stats seriously.
The latest stats from the Church of England don't tell us anything radically new, but the picture they paint is fairly consistent. From 2000-2010
Baptisms fell by 14%
Confirmations fell 39% to just 22,000
Church weddings fell 13.5%
Usual Sunday attendance fell 16% (see here and here for a breakdown by Diocese)
The number of funerals taken by CofE Clergy fell 26.5%
Easter attendance fell 15%
Christmas attendance fell 12%
Full-time clergy fell 14.5%
A couple of these stats have bottomed out recently - baptisms and weddings have been stable for the last 3-4 years. There are other fascinating stats, revealing that less than half of CofE churches have toilets and kitchen facilities, and less than half do anything involving the community on church premises. But it's the clergy numbers which I've been thinking about most.
In 2011 there were 7841 stipendiary clergy in the CofE. There were also over 1000 chaplains in various places, most of them ordained too.
The CofE is currently ordaining an average of 275 full time clergy a year. Our pension age is currently 68 - you can work until 70 if you want to, but others also retire early. The average age of ordinands (people recommended for training) is currently 43 for women and 38 for men. Male ordinands outnumber women about 3:2, so lets say the average age of ordinands is 40. Add on 3 years for arranging and completing training, and the average age of new vicars is 43.
Bear with me: if every year the CofE ordains 275 people, who work on average for 25 years, then our long-term full time workforce is 6875 full time clergy. Some of those will end up as archdeacons and bishops and cathedral staff (about 360 on current numbers) and others will end up in diocesan jobs, which leaves about 6200. There are currently around 1000 ordained clergy in chaplaincy jobs, in the NHS, armed forces, educational institutions, theological colleges etc.
Which leaves 5000 of us in parish ministry, some of whom will be in training posts, so not allowed (I nearly said 'not able', but that wouldn't be true) to run a church.
If the current figures merely flatline until we reach that level, each full-time vicar will be looking after an average of 3 church buildings in 2.5 parishes containing 10,000 people between them, with 200 regular (once a month or more) worshippers. They will take an average of 29 baptisms a year, see 5 new people confirmed, take 12 weddings and 34 funerals. Less than half of them will have any kind of informal meeting space, toilet facilities, or kitchen facilities within church premises, which will severely limit their ministry to the community. And they'll each have roughly 1 CofE school, no doubt with a 'tradition' that the vicar is chair of governors. Oh yes, and they'll be encouraged to develop 'fresh expressions of church' as well.
The stats project clergy numbers forward to 2016. I would suggest that someone needs to go further than that. We need to devise a way of being the CofE that can function with only 5000 full time staff, alongside the small army of volunteers, lay ministers and unpaid clergy. And we need to work out whether the paragraph above is a realistic job description.
One possible starting point: at present, 8 out of the 27 churches in our Deanery have membership in single figures. I don't know if that's typical, we probably have a higher proportion of rural churches than most. But that means that we have 8 churches which could currently meet from week to week in a house, rather than a 150-seater medieval Grade 1 listed building, which costs getting on for £10k a year to heat and insure. Yes those seats are needed for the baptisms, weddings and funerals (see above), but it's not as though there's a national shortage of church buildings at the moment.
Rationalising a bit might be part of the solution, though only part. That in turn begs a lot of questions about the parish system (maybe for another post! Sam Norton has already gone down this road), and there's other questions to ask about vicaring as a paid profession. What else should we do?
Whoever our next Archbishop is, the CofE needs some serious strategic thinking if we're not to collapse under our own weight. Despite a bewildering array of measures of church attendance, there isn't a single one that at the moment is out of the red. We have to face the facts of being a shrinking church if we want to stop being a shrinking church.
Update: I note the Baptist church are currently looking at how, nationally, they can function best in growing healthy, missionary churches. The Methodists are exploring how to be 'a movement shaped for mission', and have a national statement of vision and values, and priorities for themselves as a whole church. Hello CofE? National leadership on this stuff is possible....