The Churches’ R-Number – Part Two

In August I wrote a blog about the Church R-Number and how the faith is (not) spreading.

Last month Opinionated Vicar wrote an excellent blog about the stats from the Church of England saying “This is a catastrophic decline. The Church of England now is where the Methodists were a few years ago”.

The first sentence is true, but I don’t think the second one is[1].

If you look at the graph of the decadal R-Number[2] for the last 20 years at the top of this blog, you will see 3 lines.

The thick red line is an R number of 1, the number needed to stop a church from shrinking.

The thinner blue line is the Anglican decadal R number, which shows that the Church of England has been shrinking during this period at between 10 and 15% a decade, in quite a narrow band.

The Methodists have the green line, which is always below the blue Anglican line, and the gap has been widening.

The variance between the two lines is significant. Both denominations are fishing from the same pool, and both denominations are failing, but the relentless power of the R-Number leads to such a cumulative difference, that if the Methodists could have been as effective as the Anglicans since the year 2000, their denomination would now be 50% larger than it is[3].

It may come as a surprise to the Anglicans that their performance could be seen as comparatively impressive[4], but how has the Church of England been so much more fruitful than the Methodist Church in the last 20 years?

It’s not miscounting[5], and it’s not that the Methodist cohort is just older than the Anglican cohort[6].

It’s probably a combination of factors, and I’m hoping that readers of this blog might suggest some more, but I’ve come up with 3.

  1. Suffer the little children. I’ve never seen Church Schools as being particularly effective at forming faith, but when presented with new facts, opinions have to change. Methodists have few schools, Anglicans have many, and maybe this marks a difference?
  2. Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. The Anglican Parish has a Clearer Identity than the Methodist Circuit. The Church of England as a whole is diverse, but each individual Parish has a particular flavour. You know when you go each week whether you will have a Mass, or a Preaching Service, or BCP or a Charismatic Celebration, or whatever. When you go to the Methodist Chapel there can be a less consistent style and theology as you may have a different preacher each week[7]. Those who attend often say they enjoy the variety, but as a mission strategy it would appear to be unproductive.
  3. Whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. The Church of England spreads its resources more effectively. Methodists manage shortages of staff by sharing the load in the Circuit. Anglicans have interregnums without a vicar, during which there is often decline. However, not all are equal, and some Parishes which are “difficult to fill” wait a long time, whereas others seem to have consistently short interregnums. Exciting, vibrant, growing churches attract staff quickly – others don’t. The Methodist system may well be fairer in that everybody gets the same, but the Anglican system is more effective in that resources can go to growing churches. If you abolished the Parish Share, it could be even more so.

Those three are my main contentions, but I admit the difference could well be found elsewhere – perhaps the vestments, Bishops, Canon Law, Establishment, Prayer Books and all the other things I have Harumphed about from my Low Chapel seat for many years? In the unlikely event this is the case we should have more of them[8]!

Despite both churches declining, this divergence is potentially good news. If decline were inevitable as an Atheist narrative would suggest, then both denominations would be disappearing at a similar terminal rate. The difference in performance shows that there must be some things the Church of England is doing more effectively than the Methodists.

If we can work out what those good things are, and do more of them, and at the same time stop doing the things that the Methodists are finding so ineffective, then there is no logical reason why both denominations should not grow.

We have nothing to lose in trying.

Over to you, dear reader……


[1] The Methodist Church line and the Anglican line seem to be independent from each other.

[2] Basically, how big is the church compared to 10 years ago. So if the church today is 90% the size it was in 2010, then the decadal R-Number is 0.9. Just like Coronavirus, an R-Number great than 1 is growth, less than 1 is decline. Read the previous blog for details.

[3] 255566 instead of 169377. I’m comparing Methodist Membership figures to Anglican Adult Attendance Figures. Unfortunately, Methodist Attendance data is poorly recorded. They don’t separate out adult attendance until 2004, and then rather than give the figures, they give percentage differences. By 2007 it comes clearer, then in 2017 they put children and adult attendance back together again. When I use the figures for Methodist All-Age attendance for the two decades, instead of a 50% difference it makes an even worse 80% difference, but that includes a steeper decline in the number of children present. When I try to sieve out the children’s figures as best I can, I get about 50% again. I don’t think there’s evidence that there is a significant change in the attendance to membership ratio. If you fancy a go yourself, all the data is here https://www.methodist.org.uk/for-churches/statistics-for-mission/historic-data-archive/conference-reports/  and here https://www.churchofengland.org/more/policy-and-thinking/research-and-statistics/resources-publications-and-data

[4] As Opinionated Vicar notes they are still declining catastrophically, but everything’s relative

[5] To produce these stats, the count would have to overestimate numbers by an increasing proportion every year. I can understand a vicar seeing 90 people and saying that’s about 100, but over the next decades they would have to see 40 people and say that’s about 80.

[6] If it were, that would just take the question back a step to ask “Why does the Church of England have younger members than the Methodists?”

[7] If you say there’s consistency because they’re following the Lectionary, that’s missing the point.

[8] It’s always possible I suppose, but I would assert that if your answer is “More Bishops” you’re surely asking the wrong question…….

Radical Surgery or Slow Death?

cofenews

I’m a radical surgery man myself, but the Church of England Newspaper poses the question for the church: “Radical Surgery or Slow Death?” in an article about attendance trends in Anglicanism.

The article asks why people are being selected to work in new contexts, and then trained to keep the old way of doing things on the road.

Its author, Captain Philip Johanson, wonders whether the Establishment is ready to change?

What do you think?

New Survey on Christianity in Scotland

There’s a new survey on Scottish Christianity that has just come out.

As Scotland changes from what they call “Legacy Christianity” (where many self-describing Christians don’t believe in central tenets of the faith) to a mixed post-Christendom society, they pick out several counter-trends within the overall data, particularly with younger people.

Check out the report summary.

Lex cantori, non lex credendi

Recently I read this blog about The Glory of Historic Hymns. There didn’t seem to be an opportunity to reply and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong with the article.

And then it hit me. The writer asserts that hymns teach us. He quotes R W Dale saying “Let me write the hymns of the church and I care not who writes the theology.”

We assume this is true, and I’ve even made that claim myself in the past, yet where is the evidence that hymns teach us theology?

Now you might say that traditional hymns are chock-full of good theology, and you would be right, but that’s the answer to a different question.

To take it to the extreme, no doubt Japanese language hymns are full of good theology too, but whether they would teach the person in an English pew is a different matter.

What is taught is not the same as that which is learnt.

Let me give an example from my own Wesleyan tradition. I had a traditional congregation sing the well-known Charles Wesley hymn Give me the Faith, which they had no doubt sung many times before. It contains the verses:

I would Thy precious time redeem,
And longer live for this alone:
to spend, and to be spent, for them
Who have not yet my Saviour known;
Fully on these my mission prove,
And only breathe, to breathe Thy love.

My talents, gifts, and graces, Lord,
Into Thy blessed hands receive;
And let me live to preach Thy word,
And let me to Thy glory live;
My every sacred moment spend
In publishing the sinners’ friend.

They sang heartily. Then I asked them, how many people had “published the sinners’ friend” and talked to somebody about Jesus in the last year? No hands went up. How many people had invited somebody to church in the last year? No hands went up.

This hymn may be teaching an evangelistic theology of Grace, but it was not being learnt. There was a cognitive dissonance between reality and what was being sung.

It’s sometimes patronisingly alleged that modern music sways the heart, but traditional hymns engage the mind. I’m not seeing that engagement.

Or how about a Wesley hymn known much more widely throughout the church? Love Divine, all loves excelling is a hymn which teaches the important doctrine of Christian Perfection. But is that what people are learning from it? Or is it a good sing for a wedding?

I don’t know what proportion of churchgoers agree with the doctrine of Christian Perfection, but I would assert that singing hymns no more makes you a theologian, than singing songs about Steven Gerrard makes you a football pundit.

If it is true that traditional hymns teach us theology, then where is the evidence?

So do people learn less theology from contemporary Christian music?

I don’t know. You would have to survey believers from churches with different worship styles and then compare and contrast.

I am aware that Willow Creek did a survey which showed that their contemporary services were not helping people to grow in their faith as much as they would like, but I haven’t come across a traditional church doing the same research.

I agree that what we sing in church matters. Absolutely it does.

I am aware that some people have a strong personal preference for traditional hymns.

What I don’t see is any evidence that traditional hymns are teaching people theology better than modern worship songs.

Unless you know different?

All Things Bright And Beautiful

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Photo By DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Twenty-odd years ago, at Peter Lee Memorial Methodist Church I was doing more than 30 weddings a year. I was doing them two or three on Saturdays in the summer, as that was when people wanted them. The favourite hymn by far, was All Things Bright and Beautiful. followed at some distance by Morning has Broken.

I thought of this yesterday when I did a funeral with those two hymns. They have now moved to be the preferred hymns for despatching rather than matching. Maybe this will be the last generation who will remember them?

Last year’s stats show that there were no weddings at all in the church at Peterlee. I guess people now go to Shotton Hall instead. It is only since 1994 that venues other than churches and Registry Offices could be used and they must now be very popular.

We know what our grandparents sang, but I wonder what our grandchildren will have for their weddings?

Special Measures

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Eleven hospital trusts are being placed in special measures because of major failings, Jeremy Hunt has announced.

This has turned into a major row about who is to blame 

I don’t think the blame game is helpful, but it is right to remove the management from failing hospitals.

I wonder when we are going to do the same with churches? Are there some that need to be put into Special Measures?

The Bible has a lot to say about the need for failing churches to change – try the Book of Revelation for a start.

Of course a church isn’t a business – it’s far more important than that. If the leadership is doing the same thing over and over, yet hoping for a different result, it must be time for change.

Perhaps we need an “Ofchurch” instead of an Ofsted?

Archdeacon Alan Jeans has tweeted “Challenge of a Diocesan bishop: most of my parishes are clubs, looking for chaplains. #MMconf13″

So what criteria would you use to judge as to whether a church should be put into Special Measures?