Is this the solution to our missional challenge?

At the last Archbishops’ Council, I was rather startled to come across a slide in a presentation on some background issues about funding and mission. The slide offered an analysis of the proportion of the population attending Church of England churches against another factor (whose label I have, for the moment, removed), and there was a striking correlation.

Now, the mission of the Church cannot be reduced simply to attendance, but numbers do matter since numbers represent people. And ‘coming to church’ isn’t the only thing that matters, since people have (in the past) come to church for all sorts of reasons, and experienced all sorts of things. But in the present context of numerical decline, addressing the question of how many people actual attend church is at the very least and important part of mission—and attainment of the first goal of the Archbishops’ Council (‘Evangelism’) is measured in terms of growing attendance across the Church.

So, if you could guess what one factor correlated with increased attendance, what would you guess it would be?

My instinctive response was to do with social context. Hereford, Carlisle and Gloucester are substantially rural dioceses, whereas Manchester, Chelmsford and Birmingham are substantially urban. But it turns out that the correlation in question actually applies within dioceses, and in the comparison between areas of similar social context.

The answer is: number of stipendiary clergy. Here is the graph with the axis labelled. And for me it raises a series of questions.

The first question is whether this is a plausible correlation, in terms of the data. There are clearly going to be other factors at work, such as social context; it is widely noted that, although rural areas account for around one fifth of the population as a whole, they contribute two-fifths of the attendance in the C of E. But it is also consistently true that there are more clergy per head of population in rural areas in comparison with urban contexts. Rural ministry can feel very demanding and stretched because of the distances involved and the number of different locations of buildings and services—but note on the chart that Hereford has nearly three times as many clergy per head of population than Birmingham.

There is some other anecdotal evidence for this correlation. Certain traditions of non-conformist churches have larger congregations, but they often draw from wider areas than Anglican parishes, so have lower equivalent attendance per head of population—and have fewer paid leaders. (The correlation is not true for the Roman Catholic Church). It is also worth noting that, one hundred years ago Church of England attendance was very much higher than now—and the ratio of clergy to the population was four times what it is today (there were around twice the number of clergy, and half the population in England).

And I am reliably informed that where you have larger urban parishes, and so fewer paid clergy per head, then church attendance is lower. You would need to see the detailed analysis, across different areas, to be sure of this—but I think the analysis has been done.

So the second question is: what does this mean? What is it telling us about ministry and mission? There is one easy answer that has been offered in the past: that ‘church’ means clergy plus building plus services. Some would go further and say, on the basis of that, that whether anyone actually comes is beside the point. Another form of this is represented in a comment by the bishop who ordained me:

Can you imagine the effect of hiring 50 actors in a parish and putting them in dog collars, and having them spend all day wandering around? It would transform the mission of the Church!

I think both these approaches represent the worst form of clericalism, and whatever the sociological or practical points being made, neither can be supported by a credible theology of church or ministry. And two factors undermine a purely ‘clericalist’ approach: the correlation with stipendiary clergy (rather than clergy as a whole); and the presence of lay stipendiary ministry. There are not enough example of stipendiary lay people leading congregations (as we have in my deanery) to have a noticeable impact on the statistics, but there is no reason to think that we would get a different result if we simply correlated stipendiary ministry rather than stipendiary clergy.

Is there an alternative explanation? In Luke’s account of the earlier parts of Paul’s ministry, there appear to be two distinct moments of significance. The first is the direction of the Holy Spirit to:

‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’ (Acts 13.2).

The Christians in Antioch do so by prayer and fasting and sending them off; but it only later becomes apparent that the one thing they haven’t done in their ‘setting apart’ is to make any financial provision. They appear to assume that Paul and Barnabas will be able to support themselves. So a second moment comes when Paul is in Corinth, and we read the slightly obtuse comment:

‘When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah’ (Acts 18.5).

It takes some time to realise that Silas and Timothy have actually brought with them a financial gift from the Christians there which allows Paul’s ministry to be ‘stipendiary’ (see 2 Cor 11.9)—and that seems to make all the difference. When leaders are provided for, then they are able to invest themselves not simply in mission and evangelism in the area, but also in encouraging, discipling and teaching the people of God, who can then become more effect in the mission that God has called the whole church to undertake with him.

So it seems to me that the correlation between ‘investment in ministry’ (expressed in terms of the numbers of stipendiary clergy or lay leaders) and attendance as a percentage of the population is plausible, and is explicable in terms of the relationship between clergy/leader and the whole body of Christ, and the mission and ministry that we share, without lapsing into an unhealthy clericalism.

But this leads to the third question: what should we do about this? How should this correlation affect questions of clergy recruitment and deployment?

The data (with a supporting theology) suggests that the two most notable policy changes in the C of E (the increase in the number of ordinands coming forwards, and a national policy of church planting) are significant steps in the right direction. The Church is unlikely to grow if the numbers of stipendiary ministers continues to decline; and establishing new worshipping communities, particularly in demographic areas where there are fewer congregations, is likely to be a good way of reaching more people with the good news of Jesus.

Within this, though, there are both national and local challenges that arise. A big national challenge is the one that Philip North, bishop of Burnley, has been drawing attention to: the failure of the Church of England to really engage in ministry in the outer estates. Although I have some questions about the details of his argument, the data appear to support the main observation: we have fewer stipendiary church leaders in estates, and correlatively, church attendance is significantly lower (see the two slides to the right).

There is another national challenge which does not surface quite so obviously. Why is it that urban dioceses often have so many fewer clergy or stipendiary leaders than rural dioceses? I suspect the issue is complex, and there is also a circular aspect to this: if church attendance is higher, then giving will be higher, and so a diocese will be able to afford more clergy. But hidden behind this is the difference in historic assets of the different dioceses. Many of the urban dioceses are more recently established, and when they were founded there was a failure to share out the historic assets of the older dioceses, leading to a significant disparity from one diocese to another.

But there is a local challenge too, in terms of the distribution of ‘ministry resource’ within each diocese. I have just come back from our diocesan conference, and if I have understood aright, we were informed that ‘parish share’ (better called ‘giving for ministry’) is going to be based primarily on ministry costs, rather than another measure such as congregational size. There are many good things about such a move. For one, calculating share on the basis of congregational size often just looks like a ‘tax on growth’, appearing to penalise larger congregations. For another, relating giving to ministry offers a sense of ownership and accountability. For a third, connecting giving to ministry costs asks important questions about sustainability of ministry and therefore of congregations; if a congregation remains small, and their giving is not enough to cover the costs of the stipendiary ministry there, what should happen?

And there’s the rub. Whilst connecting giving with ministry helpfully asks those questions, it is going to require specific decisions about deployment if mission is going to be effective in areas where church attendance is currently low. If there are inner urban areas or outer estates where we are making little impact, and so congregations are small, tying ministry investment to numbers could simply perpetuate this downward spiral. To reverse the decline will need a deliberate, mission-driven decision to invest stipendiary ministry in these areas, in a way not related to the ability of existing congregations to give.

The need to be intentional is good—as long as such intentional decisions are actually made.

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65 thoughts on “Is this the solution to our missional challenge?”

  1. That’s really interesting. Many moons ago, Peter Brierley of Christian Research gave a presentation to the CPAS staff and showed that Muslim congregations were growing and there was a correlation to the number of imams—very similar to what you’re suggesting here. Moreover, the growth in imam numbers led (in time) the growth in congregational numbers. I drew the inference (with which Peter agreed in later correspondence) that, on that basis, to grow the number of clergy (which in those days meant mainly stipendiary clergy) would lead to growth in congregations. Fascinating!

    • Thanks Steve. How interesting to have this kind of confirmation from a quite different religious tradition. It suggests that the human dynamics of religious groups (and possibly other kinds of groups as well) are shared…which perhaps we should not be surprised at.

      • Steve’s reply is really interesting and has kept me pondering all day. And I think I’ve nailed why it caught my attention.

        Having an Imam doesn’t bring people to the Islam, its brings Muslims to the Mosque. Its not converting them, rather bringing them to more active pious outliving of the deen (religion).

        Is this missional? DOes having clergy attract Christians to the church? Either in “sheep stealing” or in attracting the semi-churched? But if our concern is for engaging the unchurched part of our society, then does having stipendary clergy help that aspect to grow?

        My question is not about whether its effective for church growth and community engagement. My question is about the wider missionality and seeing unchurched, and people of other faiths, enter the Kingdom.

  2. I *think* that a draft of the ‘Anecdote to Evidence’ report included the fact that churches with exclusive leaders (rather than a leader shared with another church) were prone to growth. Whereas churches who shared a leader were prone to decline…

    That bit didn’t make the final publication…

    • From page 27 of my PDF (which I don’t think is a draft, and I’m afraid I cannot recall where I obtained it in 2015):

      “The findings show that single church units under one leader are more likely to grow than when churches are grouped together.
      Analysing data across a range of congregation size categories shows that amalgamations of
      churches are more likely to decline. Moreover, the larger the number of churches in the amalgamation the more likely they are to decline. This is exacerbated when amalgamations have more churches.
      For Team Ministries there is no evidence that there is more numerical growth than for amalgamations. Team ministries are less likely to grow than non-teams and perform markedly worse than churches with their own incumbent.”

      My interest in the document was over lay leadership, for instance (p12):

      “Lay leadership is important and the research shows that good quality lay leadership is linked to growth. There are high associations with growth and lay leadership and rotation (when there is change and refreshing of roles, rather than the same people always fulfilling the same roles), although in the survey 37% admitted that the same people tended to serve.
      A church where volunteers are involved in leadership, and where roles are rotated regularly, is likely to be growing – especially where younger members and new members are included in lay
      leadership and service”

  3. The business world has known this for decades. If you reduce your sales force you reduce your client interface and therefore regardless of ability, sales reduce. Investing in companies the moment one reduces its sales teams is a good indicator to get out before the annual report confirms the bad news. (Although the FT once made a plausible connection to purchasing a corporate helicopter).
    The only thing that can change this is divine intervention, like the 80:20 rule it’s just the way things are.

    • But of course there is a big question about what constitutes the church’s ‘salesforce’. Some would argue (theologically) that it is laity, and that the clergy are the salesforce’s trainers…

      • No offence but that appears to be a Socratean answer, that raises more questions than it supplies answers to

        You laid out:
        “But in the present context of numerical decline, addressing the question of how many people actual attend church is at the very least and important part of mission—and attainment of the first goal of the Archbishops’ Council (‘Evangelism’) is measured in terms of growing attendance across the Church.”

        For congruity:
        Your answer:
        ‘But of course there is a big question about what constitutes the church’s ‘salesforce’. Some would argue (theologically) that it is laity, and that the clergy are the salesforce’s trainers…’

        If the objective is growing attendance at church then within the context of the business analogy your reply cannot be correct. What you are referencing appears to be recommendation by a consumer.
        The congregation are consumers of religion or spirituality and in finding one that meets their personal needs can be supported in recommending that to friends, acquaintances and family.
        If it were the case that the congregation were the salesforce then the number of trainers would not have such a strong correlation to attendance figures.
        However that does then raise an interesting question.
        If it follows that the early church are the basis of that response and argument ie. that the congregation are the sales force and in-line with the apostles / didache / scripture are seen as being the main recruitment vehicle to increase congregational numbers, then does it not follow that what is actually being shown is not so much a clean correlation between the numbers of ordained and congregation size but the chasm that has been developed between the modern structure and that early church?

        I would have liked to append this to the thread but cannot find a way to do so – apologies for my low technical skill

        • Thanks Andrew, but I don’t think I understand the differentiation.

          Christians are both ‘fish’ that have been caught, but then they become fishermen/people in turn. They are fish who catch other fish.

          That’s why your business analogy doesn’t quite work. Unless you think about network selling, when those who buy the product in turn become salespeople for the product they themselves have just bought.

  4. Can I ask about direction of causation? My assumption would have been that clergy numbers correlate with attendance because with greater attendance comes a need for more leaders and greater provision of resources to support them. So greater attendance causes more leaders. I suppose more leaders may also cause greater attendance, but the causation surely at least goes in both directions? This leads to a question about the extent to which adding more leaders will by itself impact on attendance.

    Like you, I would have expected social factors to play a big role. Birmingham, like a number of English cities, has low attendance in part because of the high proportion of ethnic minorities, who are usually either of other religions or of other (more culturally defined) denominations. Most cities also have a higher density of people of lower socio-economic status, and church involvement is well-known to correlate with socio-economic status. There are also other reasons, such as stronger sense of community and connection to the parish church, and fewer alternative options for church, that mean rural parish churches in particular tend to attract a greater proportion of the local population.

    The idea that clergy numbers are a key factor in church attendance is attractive in part because it is something we have quite a measure of control over. But is the reality of underlying causal factors not a little more complex than the picture suggests?

    • See the separate comments below. Of course there are many other factors which one would think have an impact…and I haven’t at all here touched on issues around understanding of ministry and quality of training.

      But all these make the correlation even more striking…!

  5. As I note over on Facebook, this analysis just covers stipendiary clergy. You need to include self-supporting ministers, OLMs, retired clergy with Permission to Officiate and licensed lay ministers to assess the full extent of the church’s ‘investment’ in an area and therefore the strength of the correlation. Indeed, it is arguably ‘the worst form of clericalism’ only to focus on stipendiary clergy! Mapping the full extent of ministry by diocese can’t be done easily, as Ministry Division statistics don’t cover PTOs or LLMs by diocese as far as I can see. If someone can give me the data, plus diocese population statistics, I will plot the ‘real’ linear regression line!

  6. I may have misunderstood, but is this saying that there is a correlation between the clergy in a region and the number of people attending church in a region? Forgive me, but isn’t that just stating the blindingly obvious – like noticing there are more dentists in Germany than in Liechtenstein, and thinking that is surprising? (Obviously not: there are more people in Germany than in Liechtenstein, so of course there would be more dentists.)

    Correlation does not imply causation. Perhaps a better explanation is the the causation runs the other way? If there are a lot of people attending church, there is more money around for appointing clergy. Again, not particularly surprising.

    Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood!

    • I don’t think I quite understand the dentist analogy. I am talking about the proportion attending church, and not the population as a whole. And I don’t think I would adapt the analogy of clergy ‘providing a service’ to church members.

      The issue here is that clergy are often deployed to buildings, and not to centres of population. So many urban areas have lots of people, but not many buildings…so dioceses do not deploy many clergy. Net result: lower per capita church attendance.

      See below for some really solid evidence that correlation is indeed causation, and in the direction from ministry investment to church attendance.

      • The point is that, if you have a lot of people, you have a lot of dentists. It’s not that training up dentists causes the population to increase. Similarly, if you have a lot of churchgoers, you have a lot of clergy.

        Both axes on the plot are per population. The x-axis is per 10,000 population, and the y-axis is percentage – per 100 population. So you could factor that out, and have an identical plot that shows that the number of clergy in a diocese is approximately proportional to the number of people attending church in that diocese. It’s something like 1 clergy person per 80 churchgoers. That is basically constant across the spectrum – hence the correlation.

        What you would expect, before doing any research, is that the number of clergy in a diocese is approximately proportional to the number of churchgoers. That is the null hypothesis. The data don’t seem to depart from that.

        Quite simply, I can’t see anything at all interesting or surprising here. There is no need to explain anything, because there is nothing unusual to explain.

        Is it a surprise that the number of clergy in a diocese is approximately proportional to the number of churchgoers?

        • Sorry again (though all these edits don’t affect what I am claiming) – it would not be an identical plot, but one in which each point is shifted diagonally to the top-right or bottom-left, depending on the total population of the diocese. Basically, there would still be a strong correlation. (It’s been a long day…)

        • But the evidence below from Peter Thomas, the fact that large churches don’t have proportionately more clergy, and the actual experience of the C of E in church planting all argue against the causation from people to clergy that you are suggesting.

          • The kind of causation I would actually argue for, based on the data above, is that, in places where people are, on average, more Anglican, you find (1) more people attending Anglican churches, and (2) more clergy (both per head of population). I don’t find this very revolutionary. Basically, I am arguing that the data above are not sufficient to suggest either a people-to-clergy causation, or a clergy-to-people causation. I wasn’t suggesting either of these – simply that correlation doesn’t imply causation, and could be explained by causation in either direction, or by a separate factor altogether.

            However, other data – unrelated to the data in the original post – such as the evidence below – may well provide evidence of causation. I’m not denying that.

  7. I don’t know why someone at the top doesn’t make the executive decision to ‘do a Beeching’! In a benefice of 6 churches with one Vicar it is not possible to create the heart of church – genuine community.
    It costs £22000/year just to keep our church door open even before the costs of clergy and mission. It would be cheaper to bus people from 5 churches to one central one with good resources and create a large congregation with all the benefits of the commensurate synergy.
    If this choice is not made then the buildings will close anyway within 20 years. I appreciate that rural communities might be up in arms about closing “their church”, but they can’t really moan if they never darken the doors.

    • I’d tend to agree…and closing churches does actually happen and I’d close more.

      I wonder if there is both a blessing in it and a danger…like closing shops. They (for better or worse) are ‘retail outlets’ .

    • That works if you want a Tescoisation of the Parish Church. And even fewer people will attend, even if they’re ‘bussed’. Some village churches see 80% of their population over the year. Many suburban and city churches can only dream of that.

      • Though it’s likely that those (few?) who have 80% penetration do so with major festivals. That’s great but but is it an argument for the huge financial support as at present? In reality the strain on other churches contributing to this can be enormous.

        • Well, we are the established church. The Methodist Church withdrew from the countryside. Can the CoE do that?
          Also, it’s the Q. what do you call a congregation of 10 elderly ladies paying their common fund? A. Decline. Q. What do call 10 blokes in a pub sharing a pint and talking about the Bible? A. A fresh expression.

          • Thanks for the laugh, Penelope. We had a fresh expressions bloke speak, who seem to do only the sharing a pint bit. Though “sharing” is a bit of a stretch, unless they had a common fund for the drinks. But it is much cheaper.

          • ‘Q. what do you call a congregation of 10 elderly ladies paying their common fund? A. Decline.’

            Yes, if last year there were 15 of them.

            Q. What do call 10 blokes in a pub sharing a pint and talking about the Bible? A. A fresh expression.

            Yes, if last year there were only 5 of them. It is all about the direction of travel.

          • Q: What do call 10 blokes in a pub sharing a pint and talking about the Bible? A. A fresh expression.

            That made me laugh Penelope! and you are right – good point.

            Though personally both the 10 elderly ladies in an old church faithfully keeping the light burning, or 10 blokes in a pub with a Bible and a pint than 10, young adults sat in a circle wearing albs, muttering prayers and lauded by the establishment and heralded in the press as new monastic revival.

          • Ian: “its all about the direction of travel” – I agree, although sometimes in some seasons it is enough to stand, stand and when we’ve done everything to stand.

            Do we have evidence that ‘fresh expressions’ has a direction of travel towards growth? Growth in terms of conversions?

            Do Fresh expressions pay their share?

            10 men in a pub discussing the Bible with a pint is not a Fresh Expression but a fairly normal church men’s night/small group – back in the late 1980s I ran just such a group and it was just Church, doing church stuff.

          • Yes, it’s a joke. Not the whole picture. But the 10 are contributing to the costs of their Church. And probably helping to keep the roof in repair.

  8. As Will says, it’s complex.

    On the graph maybe more can be learned from the outliers (I think that the right term) than from those places which hug the main thrust. Or the thing has so many situation-specific variables that it precludes finding ‘a key to growth’. As someone once said; “For every complex problem there is a simple solution…. which is also wrong.”

    Might it be instructive to try to analyse a single parish over, say, the last 20 years to map changes to growth (+ & -) alongside significant features of its life? Even then I guess it’s complicated and prone to subjectivity rather a lot.

    My own experience and belief is that sharing an ordained leader over multiple typical parishes isn’t best… but I have known some make a good fist of it. There again…its situationally specific to the leader and the place. One can’t always repeat a ‘leader performance’ (ignoring definitions) in the next parish.

    • Perhaps…but isn’t it worth asking how come one diocese in the C of E has more than 2.5 times the number of clergy per head of population than another?

      Quite apart from missional implications, there’s a big question about the deployment of national resources…

      • That same diocese, as well as having more than 2.5 times the number of *clergy* per head of the population, also has more than 2.5 times the number of *churchgoers* per head of the population. This suggests that Hereford is more Anglican than Birmingham. Is that a surprise?

  9. Peter Thomas posted a very interesting summary of research from a Baptist perspective, which addresses to some extent the question asked about by Will Jones and Anthony Smith.

    I first started studying church growth statistics seriously in 1986 looking at Paul Beasley-Murray’s book Turning the Tide (1980). Paul kindly gave me all the data he had collected from his survey of growing Baptist churches (on around 1000 IBM punched cards) which allowed me to enter those figures by hand on to my new nifty Amstrad PCW and repeat and extend the analyses comparing with data on the same churches 10 years later. In 1990s I was asked by the Baptist Union to do similar analyses of church growth patterns from the annual returns of all 2000+ BU churches. As a trustee/director of the Eastern Baptist Association I did the same over the 176 EBA churches a few years ago. Let me draw together what those studies demonstrated.

    Note: Baptist churches are independent, self-governing and self-funding. It is very rare for a baptist minister to serve more than one church. In our context, I can demonstrate the following correlations:

    1 Churches with one minister grow up to a certain size (measured by membership, rather than attendance) but then it is rare for them to grow much beyond that size unless they get a second minister. There is a similar threshold limiting churches with 2 ministers growing until they get a third etc. P B-M’s study identified the 1-2 barrier as around 150 members, but my studies would suggest it is lower at around 120 members. The hypothesis of an explanation for this is the limitations on a minister’s time, memory, and the number of meaningful relationships each one can form. You can only stretch one minister so far.

    Back in 1970s-1980s few churches had paid youth workers, evangelists or community/families workers and there would be an interesting debate about whether actually these help growth as much as some people think they would. I would argue that for church growth the heart of stipendiaryministry is “equipping the saints for the works of ministry” which is not what other paid workers do.

    So your remark “where you have larger urban parishes, and so fewer paid clergy per head, then church attendance is lower” is certainly reflected in Baptist experiences.

    2 Many small churches (usually 20-30 members) in our Baptist family get some support from a central pot to have a full or usually part-time minister. The evidence is conclusive that in EBA, churches with ministers supported by Home Mission are much more likely to grow than similar sized churches which don’t have any minister or have an untrained lay-minister.

    You write ” If there are inner urban areas or outer estates where we are making little impact, and so congregations are small, tying ministry investment to numbers could simply perpetuate this downward spiral. To reverse the decline will need a deliberate, mission-driven decision to invest stipendiary ministry in these areas, in a way not related to the ability of existing congregations to give.” This is the strategy of Baptist Home Mission and there is powerful evidence that it works!

    3. Church membership (open only to believers) has a technical meaning for baptists with a distinct process for joining. The interesting correlation in our situation (which seems intuitive but which I have demonstrated) is that the higher the ratio of attenders to members, the more likely a church is to be growing. In other words, the bigger the fringe, the more likely it is that some of them are on the way to becoming Christians (and showing that by being baptised as believers and becoming members of the church.)

    You wrote “So it seems to me that the correlation between ‘investment in ministry’ (expressed in terms of the numbers of stipendiary clergy or lay leaders) and attendance as a percentage of the population is plausible, and is explicable in terms of the relationship between clergy/leader and the whole body of Christ, and the mission and ministry that we share,”

    I would say that Baptist church statistics confirm this suggestion.

  10. In addition to that, I would note that larger churches actually now have fewer clergy per congregation member than smaller churches.

    And the recent evidence from Anglican Church planting/resource churches is that if you invest in ministry, then attendance increases.

    So, whilst it is complex, it appears that *most* of the correlation is indeed causation, and the causation happens *from* ministry investment *to* attendance increase.

    • Thanks, Ian. I agree that there is causation from ministry investment to attendance increase. However, I’m aware that there are many parishes where stipendiary ministry is sustained by cross-subsidy for some years yet attendance continues to decline. I don’t suppose you mean that you want such subsidising of decline to continue?

      One question: your quote from Peter Thomas casts doubt on the value of lay workers (youth workers, family workers etc). Do you share this? My experience is that such workers are of great value for bringing quality and expertise into key ministry areas. Also, isn’t dismissing these itself a form of clericalism?

      Connected with this, one major effect of the Strategic Development Funding from the Commissioners is to have taken away some of the core funding for dioceses which sustained clergy posts in poorer areas and to have replaced it with funding for projects lasting 5 years or so (which in theory will continue without Commissioners’ funding) much of which goes on employing diocesan officers to lead projects focused on kick-starting growth. Given what you are saying here about the growth impact of clergy, do you think is this a sensible approach?

      An interesting example is Birmingham. Largely as a result of the change in the Commissioners’ funding model the diocese is currently in the process of cutting around 30(!) stipendiary posts in order to try to balance to books. I imagine you’ll agree that this is unlikely to make a positive impact on mission. In terms of Strategic Development Funding, they have won a couple of big grants I believe, but these usually go on employing lay workers (family workers etc).

      Interestingly, as part of these changes the diocese has taken the (controversial) decision to only count the nominal Christian population for the purposes of calculating spending on clergy deployment. This means that parishes with high minority ethnic and religious populations are having their provision cut even more than elsewhere. We argued that these areas should receive more investment rather than less, reflecting the additional challenges of reaching people of other cultures and religions, but I guess this logic seems too much like an expensive luxury at this point. However, what does it say about the Church’s attitude to outreach amongst those of other religions, or indeed of no religion, if it no longer factors them into its ministry costs? Is the CofE now only focused on ministry amongst ‘Christians’? The CofE seems, understandably perhaps, to be retreating from urban areas with high minority populations. But then I am not aware of any major success stories of substantial growth through conversions from other religions.

  11. This is all entirely what we would expect if we leave God out of the picture. The direction the church has gone in over the last 50 years or so is, I dare to suggest, for precisely this reason, despite our protestations to the contrary. The message is in this blog. and comments. The CofE and the baptists are following trends followed by commercial organisations. All of our head scratching and strategy is concentrated on measurable/controllable inputs rather than calling upon God and giving Him space to work. We talk a lot about God (sometimes) but leave Him out of our planning meetings and often even leave him out of our meetings despite their stated aim of worship.

    • Thanks Alan–that’s a really interesting interpretation of what I have suggested. But do you mind if I completely disagree?!

      As I have pondered this, and engaged in discussion with various folk on this, I think my conclusion is this: if we are interested in reaching the whole country with the gospel, then clergy should be deployed where the people are, and the numbers of clergy should be in proportion to the numbers of people.

      I am not sure in what way that is about ‘leaving God out of it’.

      But if we did that, it would be the most almighty radical shake up of the whole ministry of the Church—across dioceses and within them. It would mean stopping deployment on the basis of:

      1. where there is money to be raised
      2. where buildings happen to be
      3. where people used to live 100 years ago
      4. where people feel sorry for themselves and shout loudest
      5. where bishops on a whim decide clergy might go

      As far as I can see, it is *these* reasons which appear to be ‘leaving God out of it.’

      I am scratching my head now and thinking: what possible argument could there be for *not* deploying clergy where the population actually lives and in proportion to the population in each area. I cannot think of such an argument. Can you?

      And, remarkably, the statistical analysis of church growth and mission actual supports this common-sense notion as being the most effective. Who’d have thought?!

      • I agree to some extent – though I think we need to respect that ministry needs to be resourced by giving so should reflect in some measure the presence of members who contribute financially. Also, I think we shouldn’t under-appreciate the appeal of many Anglican church buildings for attracting worshippers.

        In terms of counting total population vs (nominal) Christian population, see my comment about Birmingham above, which I believe is an approach also adopted by other dioceses (I don’t know how many).

      • “then clergy should be deployed where the people are, and the numbers of clergy should be in proportion to the numbers of people.”

        I think this is essentially correct. We’re too content to be a “presence” and to limit that to clergy or buildings. I recall one bishop declaring his clergy to be the strength of the diocese…. Lay leadership having no real validation. The presence of resident Christians who bring evangelistic opportunity is what counts and without which clergy and buildings are nigh on useless. We seem to church money (and take it from others) just to keep buildings open. That doesn’t stop other churches (and heaven forbid!) letting other denominations take over or enjoy real partnerships with Anglicans.

        “Churches with one minister grow up to a certain size ” I can’t recall where …but 30 odd years ago the growth transition from 1 to 2 ministers was put around 110 members. There’s quite a lot of American literature on this. The context is different but the conclusions still have value. I gave my books away in retirement… I may have to beg them back!

      • The assumption behind this is that all clergy are broadly equal, so one priest is good and two are better. It is a typical top-down twentieth century management consultant approach. If any analogy outside the church should be looked to, isn’t it that of Head Teachers in schools? The difference between schools with a good Head and those with a poor Head is vast, and a read-across to gifts of leadership in the church doesn’t look too far a stretch. Of course the C of E, with it’s fear of enthusiasts, will always try to calm the leadership out of its clergy, or at least move them to management positions where they can do less harm. But it will never fully succeed, as seen in HTB.

        As a different rationale, should we not simply look to “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”? Clearly workers are needed to bring in the harvest and it seems reasonable to extend this to say that more workers will bring in more of the harvest. It may be a extending it a bit far to note that a part-time worker who has a day job has less time to harvest, but it is difficult to see how an NSM or unpaid lay leader (unless not in paid employment elsewhere) can be anywhere near as effective as a stipendiary minister.

        • Hi Peter,

          The comparison with head teachers and a school’s educational achievement only works up to a point.

          Clearly, the most obvious difference is that, whereas school attendance is compulsory with guareenteed catchment populations, church attendance is entirely discretionary (thankfully, the Comventicles Act was repealed in 1689).

          Also, there’s a vast difference between the goal of educational attainment revealed in a school’s exam results and the goal of numerical growth.

          While it’s a false dichotomy to highlight that investing in ‘enthusiasts’ is more important to church growth than investment in clergy numbers, the over-emphasis of this post on the latter is equally erroneous.

          Given that the 2015 ministry survey revealed that the clergy who participated spent only 20 per cent of a typical week in active outreach, there’s a good case for identifying, investing in and facilitating the outreach ministries of enthusiastic lay people with infectious faith, instead of the norm of clergy treating their unsolicited God-given zeal with suspicion.

  12. Hi Ian,

    You wrote: “So a second moment comes when Paul is in Corinth, and we read the slightly obtuse comment: ‘When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah’ (Acts 18.5).

    It takes some time to realise that Silas and Timothy have actually brought with them a financial gift from the Christians there which allows Paul’s ministry to be ‘stipendiary’ (see 2 Cor 11.9)—and that seems to make all the difference.”

    It may seem that way, but, you may recall that, far from emulating Paul’s exclusive devotion to proclaiming the gospel, the Experiences of Ministry Survey 2015 revealed that stipendiary ministers spent less than than 20% of their week in intentional outreach (e.g. reaching/Teaching incl. preparation – 9.36%; Intentional outreach – 4.17%; Running nurture courses for new Christians and/or new members – 1.06%; Leadership role in local community – 5.01%).

    This isn’t really analogous to ministry in the early church .

    In contrast with correlating church growth with stipendiary ministry numbers, John Hayward’s mathematical paper, A General Model of Church Growth and Decline, reveals that what truly correlates of church growth is the number of “enthusiasts” in any congregation. He wrote:
    “It is proposed that only a subset of the church, the enthusiasts, are involved in the recruitment process, and only for a limited period of time after their conversion. It is found that the church reaches equilibrium in its proportion of society according to the potential of these enthusiasts to reproduce themselves, and the losses from the church. If this reproduction potential is below a threshold that depends on losses, then extinction occurs. If it is above a higher threshold, then the church sees rapid revival growth.

    While admitting that his model was simplified by treating those joining from other denomination as converts, I would highlight three of Hayward’s key conclusions:
    1. The reproduction potential Rp governs the rate at which enthusiasts reproduce themselves.
    On this basis, it’s no wonder that Paul devoted himself to preaching the gospel and that he instructed Timothy: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

    Also, enthusiasts participated in God’s mission by relaying His message to the world through their changed lives: “And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.” (1 Thess. 1:7-10)

    So, if that abandonment of worldliness and idolatry isn’t being relayed through the public example of radically changed believers, then I doubt that any more can be achieved by a significant increase in the number of stipendiaries.

    2. Changes in the reproduction potential (have more effect on church numbers than
    changes in other parameters

    Leveraging the enthusiasm of newer members as a springboard for outreach is a more effective growth strategy than just trying to prevent the departure of the disgruntled and disaffected.
    3. A church needs to make enthusiasts not just converts if it is to avoid extinction
    “The need to make enthusiasts, or contagious believers, in order to survive and grow is a recognized strategy in many fast growing churches.”

    The fact is that many CofE congregations lack contagious faith. So, when I was on Aldershot deanery and Guildford diocesan synod, the reps were happier talking about rota assignments, study papers, and agendas than about how some experience of Jesus had brought them heavenly joy or how He was at work in overcoming their own and the parish’s day-to-day challenges.

    This mindset cannot be solely attributable to synod’s deliberative context (it goes on after Sunday services) and it’s that bureaucratic focus which starves enthusiasm and simply precipitates further decline.

    Hayward proposed three policies for restoring church growth, viz.:
    1. halving all losses;
    2. increasing the reproduction potential by a small amount (from 1.08 to 1.15 the Baptist figure);
    3. both policies 1 and 2 together

    While Policy 2 has a greater long-term effect than policy 1, the combined effect of both policies would lead to phenomenal growth.

    My concern is that, at all levels (national, diocesan, deanery and parish), the CofE lacks the political will to do anything more than look for a numerical solution (increasing clergy numbers) to a spiritual problem (decline in infectious sharing of faith and enthusiasm about Christ).

    Unlike the early Church, the CofE faces the stark reality that this kind of infectious faith is a scarce commodity among its clergy and rank and file membership and this has a considerable impact on outreach, which many consider to be best left to the ‘pros’.

    I also suspect that, however well reasoned, as in the past, this argument for the kind of united witness of congregations that can exemplify and spread generous, infectious, outreaching joy and faith in Christ to the wider society and against discouraging the enthusiasm of newer members who want to do the same will continue to fall on deaf ears.

    A ‘top-down’ authority structure mandates belief in a ‘top-down’ solution!

    • David,

      Thank you for this response and the accompanying research and summary statements. The question that I would ask is simply from where do you think that the ‘infectious sharing of faith’ that you describe should come from? Should the Church not seek to appoint leaders that will encourage their congregations and communities to develop in and tell others about this faith? As you helpfully quoted early in your response: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

      I agree that this cannot be the sole responsibility of clerical leaders, but surely appointing such leaders constitutes a helpful way to begin this process? You are right to say that the problem appears to be that the leadership of the church are not always enthusiastic about sharing the good news as a priority, but this is not necessarily to say that the ‘the CofE lacks the political will to do anything more than look for a numerical solution.’ Surely it’s not a case of either seeking to solve a numerical problem OR a spiritual one – if dioceses exercise discernment, they can appoint leaders that will prioritise outreach and enfuse their congregations to do the same.

      I don’t think this is the only solution, but if the current reality is that many disciples aren’t enthusiasts, it would surely be helpful to appoint leaders, lay and ordained, who can encourage them and why and how they should be.

      • Hi Alex,

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I should clarify (as I did on Ian’s FB post) that I’m not emphasising ‘infectious sharing of faith’ at the expense of investment in ministry. Instead, I was challenging the correlation of church growth to investment in stipendiary ministry as a basis for prioritising the latter.

        It’s not that leadership is not required, but, absent further qualification, the graph of correlation provides no evidence of the kind of leadership (stipendiary or otherwise) which is key to church growth.

        Historically, this ‘infectious sharing of faith’ has arisen from renewed collective church emphasis (sometimes to the point of over-emphasis) on some previously neglected cornerstone principles of authentic Christian experience and faith: e.g. new birth, baptism, faith over works, sanctification, public witness, miracles, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, healing (whether through organised medical provision or supernatural), welfare provision, social conscience and alleviation of poverty.

        Such renewals are often evolve from ‘grass-roots’ initiatives, but they can be clergy-led.

        In the darkest hours of moral decline and in response to sincere prayer, God can and does impart seasons during which the convicting power of His Holy Spirit is supernaturally imparted through spiritual movements led by individuals who were going against the grain of church authority.

        Many revivals have been either manifested in a manner which ran contrary to general expectations, or were rejected as wrongheaded by the religious establishment and often led by those who were previously blacklisted by them.

        Two examples of this come ti mind. Firstly, George Whitfield, despite his evangelistic successes, was castigated by Church of England for being divisive. In a sermon at St. Paul’s Cathedral, his journal series was described as “”a medley of vanity, and nonsense, and blasphemy jumbled together”.

        Secondly, whereas today, we celebrate John Wesley’s prodigious travels in furtherance of the gospel; at the time, the Church of England criticised his repeated parish border-crossing.

        What’s clear is that these seasons of refreshing cannot be developed into predictable strategic models of growth and replicated, as the CofE hierarchy is wont to do. Instead, they reveal God’s gracious intervention in response to the church’s genuine contrition over its complacency and to our pleas for Him to revive our flagging faith. The Lord does so to establish and preserve His rightful, all-enduring glory on the earth.

        “Should the Church not seek to appoint leaders that will encourage their congregations and communities to develop in and tell others about this faith?”

        Yes, of course. However, the first question to ask is whether the current discernment and ordination process lays much emphasis on the candidate’s public witness to the saving and sanctifying experience of Christ and on relaying the apostolic gospel as revealed through the scriptural record.

        Certainly, the candidacy process doesn’t prioritise “understanding of Christian faith and ability to communicate it” above 13 other areas of life which require exploration. The Panel itself focuses more on communication skills in the context of group facilitation and how candidates respond to the pastoral exercise.

        The Pioneer Ministry criteria holds more hope, specifically asking for candidates to:
        Demonstrate with examples how they have communicated the Christian faith to those outside the Church naturally, sensitively and effectively.
        Demonstrate with examples how they have communicated with and related easily to people outside the church.

        The issue for the church is that the funding of pioneer ministry is focused on transient initiatives, rather than a normative investment. So, as with so many church plants and Fresh Expressions, at some point, the central funding for initiative (oftentimes, in a parish which follows a completely different tradition) is withdrawn and the diocese may decide that it will focus on funding the normative parish system instead.

        If we want to see an explosion of ‘infectious sharing of faith’, we can begin as many of the successful new churches have done:
        1. In house groups, we should intentionally encourage people to testify to their personal experiences of God’s goodness and spiritual guidance. At some point, their confidence may grow to the point of sharing their testimony in Sunday service. It’s also a good way of identifying those with a gift for communicating the faith.
        2. Community engagement, such as food banks, clothing exchanges and even concerts also provide a great opportunity for lay Christians not only to collaborate with the clergy, but also to intersperse their activities with the sharing of a short personal narrative of modern-day redemption, whether from financial woes, health scares, or relationship breakdown.

        The constant hindrance to this opportunistic sharing of faith is the oft-repeated fear of the potential ‘turn-off’ (read, rejection) caused by sharing one’s own journey towards faith in Christ.

        Yet, it comes as a surprise to many that this kind of potential ‘turn-off’ hasn’t hampered the growth of the Newer churches. Perhaps, we can learn something from them.

  13. Fascinating report and like all statistics needs to be taken with some scepticism. Firstly the numbers of non-anglican churches are very much higher in cities than in rural areas. I think you would be hard pressed to find a vineyard, AOG, etc church in the countryside. Single denomination assessments of church attendance and leaders are surely always going to be of poor quality in regard to god’s Kingdom.

    I would argue that the church minister/leader/ordained person is not a member of the sales force. They are the Chief executive, possibly the sales director. They are there to facilitate the sales force who are the congregation. I suspect that far more anglicans expect the vicar to evangelise than vineyard members. Vineyard may see the leader as the “closer” but the sales force are the members. If you want to look at other religions, look at the cults. Recruitment is done by members.

    David Shepherd is quite correct in his assessment of a top down structure.

    • ‘The diocese removes the pressure on churches to produce Mission Action Plans, Vision Statements and the like. Churches can still do them if they want to, but it isn’t compulsory.
      Instead the diocese conducts a prayer audit of all churches. Who is praying, how often, how long for etc’

      I rather like this idea…though to what extent is it being enacted in ‘Thy Kingdom Come’…?

      • I think Thy Kingdom tends to focus on praying for individuals rather than what should we, this particular (local) church, be doing at this particular time. Also it is focused on 11 days rather than week in week out.

  14. Not so sure about what Will said, about the buildings attracting worshippers. Depends on age and style and place, setting maybe? Some buildings may be distinctly off-putting and intimidatory to outsiders. But does this not conflate all attendees as true worshippers?
    Would an expensive new build on a council/social housing estate attract those living around it? A social disconnect, perhaps?
    But a deeper question is why would anyone unchurched, go to the CoE even as the Established Church of England, rather than any other church grouping such as New Frontiers or a FIEC associated church, or Assemblies of God? Charismatic Church… you get the picture.
    Even the dog collar uniform gives out a message.
    Who was it, Peter Drucker perhaps, said that culture (of an organisation) “eats strategy for breakfast”?
    Is the CoE culture and the unspoken, implied message in services and in outreach not the confluence of the separate points made by Stephen Kneale and Alan Jenner above? Is not social outreach easier than gospel engagement?
    The question is not what is being offered but whom
    Point 4 of IP’s comment above, is something that the NHS has struggled with in the past: “planning by decibels” -whoever shouts the loudest gets the most. If I recall correctly, it’s not the way the Methodist Church operates (in theory) where placements of stipends takes place centrally, seeking to match posts vacancies with people. It would not be at the whim of the Chair/ Bishop of a geographical District.
    Who are the enthusiasts, participants in the Good News of Jesus. How do they become and maintain enthusiasm? T Keller has for a long time acknowledged the rp as noted David Shepherd is highly dependent on the enthusiasm of fresh, converts, bringing others along? But Keller also contends that the preaching is crucial even in the context of Manhattan and 20-30’s age grouping of professionals and modern arts culture. A long way, I know, from estates and suburbs in the UK?

    I presume surveys have been carried out to reveal what locals think of their local CoE church, what it does, and what happens in the buildings.

    Also I’m unsure about full -time stipendiary minister. On holiday, my wife and I attended a local independent evangelical church. The pastor was bible college trained , but was part time, dividing his time as a postman. How long did Paul work as a tent maker while devoting himself to the gospel? But, I know in almost goes without saying that it is contended that Paul is s not to be treated as an example to be followed today in this regard, though he is in his theology. No doubt I’ll be corrected on this.

    Ian P has hit the nail on the head when stating that the data is about people. But data, seldom reveals the information contained, perhaps hidden. Figures have faces as I liked to remind my former NHS Public Health colleagues.
    And to end: a local cycle shop closed this last weekend, could afford to keep going, despite trying to provide personal, lack of footfall was given as the main reason. Perhaps it wasn’t in a prominent place, but it couldn’t, ultimately, compete with the internet, couldn’t afford to pay staff. That is how they managed decline. Another, with a national reputation over a number of years, owned by a former professional cyclist, closed in liquidation.
    Sure there is not and can not be a direct correlation with a business model and neither closures were a result of understaffing.
    Today, church services and excellent preaching is available on-line and in today’s culture of widespread expressive individualism they exert a pull. My wife and I have benefited greatly from some some of the them even after attending our local church.

    Another factor which must have been researched is how much faith has been “passed on”- retained from generation to generation, to children to grandchildren within families What struck me at first as a new believer, and this is a generalisation, was the number of evangelical families with three and more children, as if they were seeking to fulfil to fill ing the earth through family growth rather than evangelism.
    Even in families with one or two children I wonder how many have children have been raised in the gospel and how many have fallen away and have contributed to any decline?

  15. How reliable are the attendance stats? The form that needs filling in is very difficult to answer in many places – it even asks you to estimate the ages of the congregation. It also includes attendance at baptisms, civic events etc which require a clergy person present. I am sure in some ( ? many) churches these one off events that require a clergy person present boost the stats considerably. If it is causation and not correlation what is the chicken and what is the egg and what kind of egg are we taking about?

  16. I think an important point in the data is that this is about church attendance as a proportion of the population, not the number of people attending a given church. In my Area of the Diocese of London there is an LLM/Reader who recently moved from a rural parish in Salisbury, if memory serves. His comment was that, although fewer people attended the rural church, it was a higher proportion of the population of the parish than happens in London.

    The diocese of London has, I think, the highest ratio of clergy to parishes. However, that does not equate to the highest ratio of clergy to parishoners. There is one parish near me with a population of over 30,000 and just the one priest. Getting 2% of the parish attending would make that a very well attended church indeed. In case you are wondering, its ethnicity is 64% white.

  17. The attendance stats record different types of people. Some are disciples and some are what we might call pew-sitters. Traditionally the CofE has not been very demanding of their congregations and it has been argued that the decline in attendance is a decline in pewsitter rather than a decline in disciples.

    Rural areas are different to urban areas in a lot of ways. For one rural communities are often older and more middle class. They are also often more wed to tradition. It is possible that the higher percentage attendance in rural parishes contains fewer disciples than an equivalent sized congregation in an urban area. Even if this is not the case they may just be reflecting the CofE’s base. Of course it is in practice impossible to gather objective statistics on disciples as opposed to pew-sitters so we will never be able to prove anything.

    I believe that there is an argument for increasing the numbers of stipendiary clergy, but given what I have said above I am not sure these graphs actually prove this.

    In the medium term with the number of retirements and new ordinations we are not really in a position to increase the numbers of stipendiary clergy. we are in a position of reducing the decline in stipendiary clergy rather than increasing their numbers.

    Many clergy get bogged down in administration rather than ministry. There are too many tasks that the clergy end up doing these because they are the only person in the parish who is available during the working day. One thing that could make more clergy time available is to ensure we have appropriate administration staff or volunteers available to free Clergy time from these tasks.

  18. There’s some relevant evidence from the Catholic Church in France. When dioceses put resources into amalgamating parishes – thus ensuring that whenever there is church there is Mass – numbers decline; but when dioceses put their resources into training up lay teams to run church life – with services of the word – there is less decline and some evidence of growth.

  19. As a Reader (Local Lay Minster) who has just retired after 45 years ministry in Hereford Diocese and also still a non-exec director of Hereford Diocesan Board of Finance I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading all the above!
    My support is for Anthony Smith: Correlation does not imply causation. In our parish of about 900 souls we have a weekly church attendance of say 35: 3.8%. We are in a benefice of 4 parishes with one incumbent. The other 3 parishes are much smaller in population. Regret I do not have the population figures for the other parishes.
    Some of our attendees are Baptist, Methodist and Roman Catholic.
    ‘Correlation does not imply causation.’ Q.E.D.?

  20. I find this conversation extremely helpful, especially looking at stipendiary ministry. I am an SSM and I have found many more SSM’s coming on board. In discussion with other SSM’s and ordinands, many would have chosen to have been stipend but have been told that there is no money. May I ask a couple of simplistic questions, How long will it take before there are more SSM’s, PTO’s, lay readers than stipends in a diocese covering vacant stipend places and then what happens to the pastoral care of our congregations? Some SSM’s I trained with cover 4 – 7 rural churches, with only a small amount of time each month in each church, while trying to hold down a job to live. How can we grow rurally in the long term if this remains the same? If the large “modern” churches in cities are used to plant, are they going to plant rurally if the percentages are higher in rural areas and if they do, is their style of church the type the rural community wishes?


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