My previous blog, https://davideflavell.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/and-the-band-played-nearer-my-god-to-thee/ received some comments on Facebook, as well as here. I’m posting my responses here – those who read this can pass them on as appropriate.
1. Is membership down but attendance up? – short answer “no”, long answer “definitely no”.
I’ve got the figures for 2002-2006 and for 2012. This year compared with the average of 2002-2006, adult Sunday attendance is down 19%. Midweek adult attendance is up 15%, but from a much smaller base, so if you combine the two, you get a decline of 16%, or about one in six.
Far more concerning, under-13 Sunday attendance is down a whopping 42% and Sunday teenage attendance down 35%. This would match with my experience, where lots of small Sunday schools have closed completely in the last few years.
What I was most surprised by was midweek attendance. With the advent of Messy Church http://www.messychurch.org.uk/, the great white hope of Christendom, I expected to see a big rise. Instead, under-13 midweek attendance is down 68% and teenage midweek attendance by 72% from 2002-2006.
It may be that having messy church once a month or less, dilutes its statistical effect, as 40 a month works out at 10 a week. It may be that other children’s activities have closed down. It may also be that the counting isn’t consistent over the years, which is why membership is a better marker of an organisation’s health.
2. Is membership down but discipleship up? – I’m not sure how you would measure this, but the idea that growing churches somehow have weak discipleship and declining churches have strong discipleship does not fit the facts. See this post https://davideflavell.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/modern-methodism-and-the-parable-of-the-talents/ for some thoughts.
3. Will the boat stay up if we all think more positively? – if I was on the Titanic and somebody said “Stay below decks, think positively, it’ll all be alright” I’m not sure I would thank them.
4. What can we do then? – There are some thoughts here http://www.flavell.vispa.com/talents.mp3 that I presented at the Fresh Ways Practitioners’ Forum earlier this month. Also here’s an article http://www.met-uk.org/met/pdf.php?type=resource&id=372 from a few years ago.