Last week we found ourselves presented with the Church of England's annual statistics for 2011 and the picture painted was one that held out some hope that the tide was slackening and perhaps even beginning to turn.
As much as year on year comparisons provide a 'finger in the air' to see which way the wind is blowing (we're not being rude!) we need to step back a little to get a real feel for the trends to make sense and provide a truer picture. So, thanks to BRIN (British Religion In Numbers - University of Manchester) and others (for the figures quoted are also found in many other places) here's some salient and informative stat's that we need to review and consider:
Of course, everyone who gets church statistics rushes to those which relate to the issue of attendance; after all, they are the defining element aren't they? That and how much money is generated - the two defining issues: numbers and ability to pay - sustainability!
For me, the decline in Sunday attendance and the apparent rise in other day attendance is a reality and this is borne out by the 13% (actual and average) decline in Sunday and the 4% less figure that relates to the rest of the week. But before we smile at the relative success of the weekday we need to realise that we're only talking about less decline and not growth!
Where I am the growth of the weekday communion is indeed, in many churches, offsetting (or at least diminishing) lower numbers on a Sunday and this is good news (of the limited kind) but we mustn't let it divert us from the issues of Sunday attendance and decline (which for many is one and the same thing). Huzzah, we're seeing more footfall during the weekdays - but not enough to compensate for the loss on Sunday (and compensation isn't the goal - it's growth, isn't it?).
Talking to others I hear the familiar lament, 'Oh dear, there's less in on Sunday and no one comes to the evening service,' and then comes their earth-moving advice that we drop the pm slot because, 'No one wants to come!'
I hope that the next bit doesn't offend but I think the problem is dual in that we have 'hobby Christians' and 'management of decline' clergy conspiring together and when we add to the mix some of the senior clergy and their motivational speeches and programmes I am reminded of deck chairs, orchestras and sinking ships - something for later methinks. The cheering news is that we do have bishops and their staff who are out there and up for it (three cheers for Bob Jackson, George Fisher and others) and they aren't alone.
But how's about a bit more worrying still stuff? The number of churches where anyone under the age of forty is considered to be young!! The twenty-five percent drop in the usual Sunday attendance in children/young people over the ten year period is encouraging compared to the realities I engage with; the churches bemoaning the age-gap and exhibiting the impotence to address same; the congregations where the only children to be found live in the Vicarage.
Something else to discuss sometime soon!
But that's a start (hopefully in the right direction) - catch you later for more thinking.