This year’s British Methodist Church membership figures are out, and once again show a fall. Membership in 2013 was 208,679 which is the lowest it has been since 1820. As you can see from the graph above, that’s a decline on more than half in 30 years.
Where are all these people going? Most of them are going to the cemetery. Literally hundreds of Methodists die every week, and they are not being replaced with enough younger people. As you can see from the next graph, the rate is increasing.
Last year it looked as though the decline might be slowing back to 1980s levels, but it seems to have been a one year blip.
So what does this mean? It means the church is dying and we need to do something totally radical about it.
Whenever I show these kind of statistics, and present the urgent need for drastic change, people react in different ways.
Some pretend that the statistics don’t matter, and that “God is always doing something new”, so it will solve itself.
Others say that “it’s not about numbers” and it’s our job to be faithful. But if it’s not about numbers, what is it about? And what does faithfulness look like?
Still others talk about exciting Fresh Expressions they have heard of, but these national statistics include them, and the plural of anecdote is not evidence.
Then there are those who say that any facing of these issues is “talking down” the church, and we should be more positive. Yet the man on the sinking ship warning everybody of disaster, is actually doing people a favour.
So when will the church face the facts? Decline is not inevitable, but while we continue as we are, demography is destiny. The graph hits zero in 2033……