Church Growth – from anecdote to evidence

recent church attendance for the church of engalnd

Last week I was at a fascinating conference – on statistics!

I know, I know – you’re going to say statistics are boring or come out with that old canard “Lies, damned lies and statistics”. But actually statistics are incredibly important. How do we know whether a medicine is working or not? Statistics. How do we know that airplanes are safer mode of travel than cars? Statistics.

So, the Church of England has always kept statistics (and pretty grim reading they made over the years) but never done much real research into what helps the church to grow. This has changed recently with the setting up of the Church Growth Research Programme. It’s a great team and way overdue for the Church to have this given that it was the 1988 Lambeth Conference which called for a Decade of Evangelism!

Statistics allow us to start a process of understanding what does and doesn’t work, of helping us to tease out what processes are at work. Now, this often requires iterations of research – in other words a set of statistics shows a correlation between one thing and another but we then need to discover if that causes it to happen or whether it is something else. Take an absurd argument – every plane that is late taking off has someone named John in it (that is correlation). Did carrying someone called John cause it or was it something else? Obviously, in this case it is likely to be something else and that cause is worth more research to discover.

So, these statistics are a great place to start, though they are not meant to be the final say. The conference brought together three strands of research. The first project was using statistics available to the Church of England already and doing some closer analysis; the second was looking more closely at 1700 churches to help build a profile of growing churches; the third was a set of research programmes – the impact of church planting/ fresh expressions, the effect of Team Ministry and finally growth of cathedral churches.

There was a huge amount to take in and I would like to use later blog posts to look at a few of them. The areas that I particularly want to look at are the areas of children and the church, Leadership and Fresh Expressions. Each of these deserves a blog post of their own (there are others as well but time etc).

Overall, the Church of England has been declining at the rate of about 1-1.5% per year but that isn’t uniform. 18% of churches are growing, 50% are stable and 25% declining. The conference was particularly looking at the 18% and asking the question – what helps to make these churches grow and are there any lessons that other churches can grow.

One of the things that was plain was that there is no one recipe for growth, no magic bullet that causes growth or stops decline. But there were a number of things that correlated with growth. The following infographic is useful as a starting point and I’ll be picking up some of this in subsequent posts. You can read the report here: http://www.churchgrowthresearch.org.uk/report  Click on the infographic to see it in a larger size:

Church growth Infographic

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One comment on “Church Growth – from anecdote to evidence

  1. travelswithadiplomat
    January 22, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    My father-in-law once spoke at a medical conference opening with:
    “As Samuel Clemens said: there are lies, damned lies, then statistics.”
    To which a voice piped up: ” I think you will find Mark Twain said that.”
    Quite. 😉

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