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…….