What are the church attendance statistics telling us?

Dec 10, 2018 by

by Ian Paul, Psephizo:

The annual Statistics for Mission were published a few weeks by the C of E for 2017, and there was a range of reactions though few of them really caught the headlines. Before saying anything else, it is worth acknowledging what a remarkable resource this; does any other denomination have such a clear picture and such well-thought-through analysis of where it is at? As I said in Archbishops’ Council last week, these figures must form the bread and butter for anyone thinking about strategy in the Church; I hope that their release is on the agenda of every senior team across the dioceses, as it is now on our agenda. Of course, knowing where you are, and even where you have come from (as the statistics highlight) does not necessarily tell you where you are going—’past performance is no guarantee of the future’ as they say—but an honest look at where you are is an essential starting point.

Wen the figures were published, there were a range of reactions, some more helpful than others. I seem to remember Michael Sadgrove, form Dean of Durham Cathedral, comment that ‘we just need to confront the reality that we are declining’, which I am not sure was entirely helpful. Numerical decline might be a reality, but I think we have all realised that, and the greater challenge is how we reconcile this with the consistent language in the New Testament of the kingdom of God growing irrepressibly and ‘all by itself’ (automate, Mark 4.28). David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester, suggested that we should learn from the growth of cathedrals in their excellence of performance, which is I think what certain traditions of charismatic worship in fact do, with their sense of ‘high production value’—though again I think I would take issue with the idea of reducing the ‘challenge’ of Christmas services by, for example, omitting preaching. Jeremy Morris touches on some important issues, and though I wouldn’t land quite where he does, I was interested in his observation about the dangers of striving to be too inclusive:

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