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

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?

Default Settings

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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?

More Titanic News

My previous blog, https://davideflavell.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/and-the-band-played-nearer-my-god-to-thee/ 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 http://www.messychurch.org.uk/, 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 https://davideflavell.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/modern-methodism-and-the-parable-of-the-talents/ 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 http://www.flavell.vispa.com/talents.mp3 that I presented at the Fresh Ways Practitioners’ Forum earlier this month. Also here’s an article http://www.met-uk.org/met/pdf.php?type=resource&id=372 from a few years ago.