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?

More Titanic News

My previous blog, 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, 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 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 that I presented at the Fresh Ways Practitioners’ Forum earlier this month. Also here’s an article from a few years ago.

And the band played “Nearer my God to Thee”


The latest preliminary figures are out for Methodist Church Membership, and the good news is that they are not nearly so bad as usual.  We’ve been losing 10,000 a year (or a church the size of Trinity Hexham weekly) for the last decade and more. This year, according to the official figures, we *only* lost 2,520. Unfortunately the official figures aren’t internally consistent, and if you add up the numbers of those who have joined the Methodist Church, then take away those who have left and have died, you get a deficit of 5,779. It remains to be seen what the corrected figure will finally be.

Does it matter that we are the fastest declining denomination in England? Of course it does. Some people say you shouldn’t measure numbers, but in that case what do you measure? Candidates for the Methodist ministry? (none successfully put forward from the Newcastle District for three years). Quality of theological training? (Colleges closed, leaving us with just two). Quality of material? (The Publishing House has gone bust, twice). Quality of faith of the people in church? (see “Modern Methodism and the Parable of the Talents below).

Whenever I talk about this, the responses are along the lines of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her work on death and dying.

Some folk are in denial and pretend there isn’t a desperate crisis.

 Some are guilty and try to do the same things harder.

 Some are angry, and say that I should keep quiet about the facts, because I’m being negative.

Some are despairing and think nothing can be done, so we may as well carry on as we are.

Some are bargaining, and try doing things which don’t fix the fundamental problem

Some are philosophical and hope that Methodism will see them out.

Me? I want to do something about it, but the first step to finding a lifeboat is to realise that the Titanic is sinking. What Methodism is doing is not working and anything other than drastic comprehensive change is not the answer. The numbers reach zero in about 2030, the year I retire. Will I be the last one on board?