There’s been a bit of a hoohah about Ofsted checking Sunday Schools as part of the Government’s Prevent strategy.

I’m not going to comment on the Big Brother civil liberty elements of this, or the popularity of the inspectors, but it got me thinking: why shouldn’t there be an Ofsted for churches – a Chofsted if you like. What would they find if they investigated your church? Would you be outstanding, or in special measures?

There will be some who say that you can’t compare churches but they haven’t read the book of Revelation. There will be others who say that it doesn’t matter what a church does as long as it is faithful, but the man who was punished for burying his one talent in the parable thought that he was being faithful and doing what the master wanted, when he clearly wasn’t.

So what criteria should be used? You could choose Biblical adherence, friendliness of the people or even the quality of the sermon as assessed by the mystery worshipper. However, these tend to be inward looking benchmarks, reviewing a church for its own members’ needs.

Perhaps Ofsted’s own criteria are helpful. Swap “churches” for “teachers” and “atheists” for “pupils” and you’ve got a pretty good checklist for how to run things.

Doing this substitution, for an “outstanding” grade we would start with “Churches demonstrate deep knowledge and understanding of the subjects they teach. They use questioning highly effectively and demonstrate understanding of the ways atheists think about subject content. They identify atheists’ common misconceptions and act to ensure they are corrected.”

Sounds good to me.

What do you think?

Radical Surgery or Slow Death?


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?

Crowdmics app for Church

There’s a new app from Crowdmics which allows people at a conference to use their smartphones, instead of the embarrassing roving mic drop, or the radio mic with a life of its own.

You can see their demo here, or look at what the BBC said.

In these days when people want to interact, and prefer a guide on the side to a sage on the stage, perhaps this is the perfect app for church?

What do you think?

Irish Eyes


Here’s a great blog post from Tom Burke, the minister of Grace Church Cork.

I went to visit the church five years ago when I was doing a study of growing churches in the British Isles and America.

Grace is unusual, in that it has worked really hard to enculturate itself into the Cork context.

Over many centuries the Irish have defined themselves over and against their domineering neighbour to the East. To be Irish is to be Roman Catholic, to speak Gaeilge and to be a fan of Gaelic Sports.

This has meant that when English and American protestant evangelists come in from outside, they can be perceived with suspicion, as bringing in a foreign religion. The psychology of nationhood is strong.

Grace Church has enculturated itself, first of all by meeting in a Christian Brothers’ School. The idea being that they can’t be that bad, even as Protestants, if the bishop has allowed them to gather there.

Secondly, a lot of the songs have both English and Irish verses, to which everybody sings along.

Thirdly, there is much emphasis on the GAA and Irish sports.

The overall aim is to give the warm feeling of an Irish Pub.

The church has been very effective in reaching out both to the locals, and also to the increasingly international community in Cork. They have been successful in making a church where people can feel at home.

So my questions are: If that’s what it means to be Irish – what does it mean to be English? What are the three things a church could do here, to make people feel at home?

Year Zero Numbers

After last week’s blog I’ve had several requests for the numbers the data is based on, so here is membership of the British Methodist Church since the end of the War. Some of the figures are simply straight line interpolated from the 5 year official numbers. I do have figures for all the different branches of Methodism going back to their origins, and for Wesleyan Methodism going back to 1770. If you would like the full raw Excel file then you can download it.

One correction is that I said that Methodism had more than halved since 1984. This is true, but I was just using a rounding for the last 30 years. It’s even worse than that – membership has actually more than halved since just 1990. Hope you stats folks find the numbers useful.

1945 752659
1946 746757
1947 743003
1948 740872
1949 743474
1950 744815
1951 741596
1952 743590
1953 743983
1954 744659
1955 744321
1956 742444
1957 739680
1958 736781
1959 733658
1960 728589
1961 723529
1962 719286
1963 710774
1964 701306
1965 690347
1966 678766
1967 666713
1968 651139
1969 634712
1970 617018
1971 602014
1972 587010
1973 572007
1974 557003
1975 542000
1976 531194
1977 520388
1978 509583
1979 498777
1980 487972
1981 481777
1982 475583
1983 469388
1984 463194
1985 457000
1986 450508
1987 444016
1988 437524
1989 431032
1990 424540
1991 416131
1992 408107
1993 399322
1994 389818
1995 380269
1996 371430
1997 362584
1998 353332
1999 344849
2000 331560
2001 325130
2002 318550
2003 306308
2004 293661
2005 283333
2006 273000
2007 263500
2008 252000
2009 243000
2010 231372
2011 221879
2012 219359
2013 208679

Year Zero


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……

A Working Class Hero Is Something To Be


This photo was taken by Jarle Vines. © 2012 Jarle Vines, some rights reserved. (Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike 3.0)

Bob Crow died suddenly yesterday and everybody is saying what a great leader he was. It reminds me very much of the famous Not the Nine O’Clock News Politicians sketch.

While he was alive, he was vilified by the Daily Mail, but once dead, lauded. It turns out that he worked hard, grew his union when all around were declining, and knew what he was doing.

George Bernard Shaw said “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

That’s true in the church too. Lord Soper, is now regarded as a nonconformist prince of the pulpit but the hierarchy couldn’t stand him when he was alive, like Booth, Bourne and Wesley before him. Just like Jesus really.

So here’s to those who are “unreasonable” in their pursuit of doing what is right.

Perhaps you could become one of them?

Forever Young


Photo by Dena Flows by Licence

Here’s the latest research from the Evangelical Alliance which shows that despite 26 years full-time with the Methodist Church, I am still younger than the average minister.

In the 1990s I used to cringe when I was introduced at Blackhall Methodist Church as “and now we’ll hear from our young minister……”. it’s depressing to think that they could still say that today.

But will there be young ministers tomorrow? Perhaps the answer comes from these two photographs of Cambridge Methsoc in 1984 and 2012.

Fewer children in church means fewer people of student age in church, which leads to fewer young adults in church and thus fewer young ministers.

If as the article suggests, younger ministers are more effective, then should we not be putting our efforts into discipling the young, rather than catering to the elderly? Of course, it’s easy for me to say that as I’m still youthful – at least in church terms.

What do you think?