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  and here

[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…….



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?

New Wine and Old Wineskins

Following on from Logan’s Run, here’s a blog post from Scott Berkun, which discusses the well known concept that science doesn’t advance by scientists finding new evidence and accepting it, but instead by a generation of scientists who held the old theory dying off, and a new generation coming through, who see the new theory as blatantly obvious.

Is there a parallel here for the church?

Who’s asking?


(Photograph ©  Tom)

There are more questions than answers  or at least so sang Johnny Nash.

 Yet I can’t help thinking that the church is sometimes trying to answer questions which God isn’t asking.

 Churchy questions I have heard are:

  • How can we foster a sense of Circuit identity?
  • How can we fill the preaching plan?
  • How do we recruit new leaders?
  • And How do we pay the assessment?

God’s questions are different. The Bible has many suggestions for what they might be, but I would start with these:

  • What are we doing to defend the oppressed, take up the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow?
  • What are we doing to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the prisoners?
  • What are we doing to seek and save the lost?
  • Where can we serve, rather than be served?

It might be argued that once we answer the churchy questions satisfactorily, then we will be better placed to move on to God’s agenda, but I don’t see any evidence for that.

Instead I wonder whether at worst it is actually displacement activity.

Thomas Pynchon wrote “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

So what questions do you think God is asking?

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……

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?

All Things Bright And Beautiful


Photo By DickDaniels ( (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (, 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?