1. Rev Tony Buglass

    Church growth stats do need a little more unpacking to see what they mean. British Methodism loves to count heads; we do it every year, counting our membership and our attendance, and the figures always show a decline. People panic about them, draw the lines on the graph, and predict the date when the last Methodist will switch off the lights on the way out. We keep passing the date. Hmmm.

    Two thoughts. First, it’s about sociology as much as spirituality. We are now in a culture which doesn’t like to commit or join formally to things, but dip in and perhaps dip out. It affects lots of other organisations, not just the Church. The stats are not simply evidence of a receding tide of faith. I still meet folk who attend occasionally or not at all, yet seem to have a real spirituality, even good beliefs, but there are reasons why that doesn’t put them in church on Sunday.

    Secondly, the stats are all averages. A figure showing (say) a gradual annual decline of 5% in membership will contain some churches declining at 20 or 30%, some nosediving towards closure and oblivion, some holding their own, and some actually growing. Someone quoted a stat a few years ago that 1 in 4 Methodist churches was growing. If that was true, it suggests the point will come where the Church stops declining, but will be a much smaller and fitter body than it is at present.

    It’s all speculation, of course. The national stats don’t usually bother most folk – they’re only bothered if it’s their church which is facing closure. I don’t think God is finished with us yet, not by a long chalk. But what we will be will certainly be very different to what we now are or have been.


    1. Your Methodism sounds like our Methodism! I have to wonder if some of the decline is in fact due to the fact that people no longer care to fill out membership cards…


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