I was on Radio Cambs this morning talking about the latest C of E stats, and the obvious question was – are we seeing the same decline as the national figures show.
If you look just at “Usual Sunday Attendance” the answer is yes – we are broadly in the same boat, and mustn’t duck that point – but that is not the biggest story, I think. Here are what I reckon are the more important and interesting results:
- First, look at the green boxes. All these show us “outperforming” the national average. So there are lots of signs of hope, which represent lots of great mission and ministry our parishes. Thank you!
- Infant baptisms seem to have dropped a lot: but look again and you’ll see that overall there were more baptisms, not fewer. What’s happening is that we’re waiting longer before we or our children head for the font. But we’re still getting there. And perhaps the wait implies a greater degree of positive choice when we do.
- Marriages and marriage blessings are down a bit but funerals are up a bit. This is probably natural variation in the stats.
- In the same way Easter was up, with Christmas down, but these figures are very dependent on things like the weather, so longer term trends are what matter. There were lots of stories this year of well-attended Christmas services and it will be interesting to see if that shows up in the 2015 stats when they come out.
- If “Usual Sunday Attendance” is down, the weekly average (which brings in midweek services) is up. It’s not a big swing, but a sixth of churchgoers now go midweek. Similarly the “worshipping community” is up – and markedly so at nearly 10%. This represents a similar shift to less regular attendance: the world we live in now! But since the actual total is going up, it doesn’t just mean folk are getting less committed: more of them are actually pitching up, even if not very often. Many of our newer services like Messy Church are monthly and/or midweek and they are probably showing their impact here.
Now I’m no statistician, so this is just “my take” – and anyway stats by definition don’t capture the personal texture of faithful ministry to individuals which is what it’ all about really – but at least there looks to be an interesting story going on which is better summarised as “change” than simply “decline”. Mmm. Change isn’t always what we’re best at in the C of E…