The Church of England is Losing Followers Faster than God

Linda Woodhead has another blog post in the Westminster Faith Debates, talking about disaffiliation from the Church of England. I referred to her previous comments in the Default Settings blog I made a few weeks ago. Methodism traditionally does well in those areas where the Church of England is strong (hence not Ireland, Scotland, Continental Europe etc).

If religion is surviving, but the Church of England is struggling, what do the trends mean for the Methodist Church?

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Professor Linda Woodhead http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Woodhead published the above stacked bar chart at the Faith in Research Conference http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/facts-stats/research-statistics/faith-in-research-2013.aspx last month.

Her research clearly shows, how in a few decades, the default setting for religious affiliation has gone from “C of E” for the over eighties, to “none” for the under fifties (that’s the blue to the yellow).

The proportion of “Other” (dark red) doesn’t appear to have changed in quite the same way, although I suspect they are now Muslim rather than Methodist.

So what does it mean?

It might mean that as people get older they start getting more religious, but I don’t really see that.

I think it means that evangelism based on getting people back to church isn’t going to work with those generations who have never been in the first place http://www.outreachmagazine.com/features/5342-how-to-reach-those-who-think-they-don-t-need-god.html. Even those who have been before, reject Christianity when the Church is inauthentic http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/listening-to-young-atheists-lessons-for-a-stronger-christianity/276584/ and appreciate a more directly evangelical approach.

It might mean that we should abandon mission to the twenties to fifties as a bad job, and start again with the children, which would vindicate the strategy of the Church of England in creating more faith schools http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2355620/Church-England-thousands-state-schools-Bishops-able-appoint-governors.html. This would fit in with Max Planck’s quote on scientific progress: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” (If you think we shouldn’t give up on the twenties to fifties, do you have a strategy to reach them which is different from your strategy for the over eighties?)

It might mean a change in ministry from outreach to the shrinking penumbra often called “The Fringe” of the church, who require the occasional offices of baptisms, weddings and funerals. I’ve noticed in my twenty years of ministry that “All Things Bright and Beautiful” has changed from being the wedding hymn of choice, to the number one funeral hymn.

It might mean following the “Religion as Virus” paradigm, that “herd immunity” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herd_immunity is disappearing and that we could have a new Great Awakening.

It does mean that England is changing, and churches without any under fifties in them will be at a disadvantage in comprehending quite what is going on.

It all points to the church speaking up http://www.eauk.org/church/stories/rising-theologian-the-future-of-the-uk-church.cfm and standing out.

So what should we do about it? What do you think?