Church of England 2001-2011/12
Application of the Limited Enthusiasm Model with Demographics
Attendance data for the Church of England from 2001 to 2011 was fitted to the Limited Enthusiasm Model of Church Growth. It was found that although the church is slowly declining, the most likely scenario is that it will avoid extinction and start growing again around 2035. The enthusiasts in the church, those responsible for the growth should start increasing around 2020. Although church attendance will stabilise, it will be well below current levels. The church has some work to do in conversion and retention if it is to see the revival-type growth needed to regain its impact on society
In May 2013 the Church of England published its attendance figures from 2001 up to 2011, Statistics for Mission 2011. The figures have shown a steady decline but without the decline accelerating. In some years the decline has got smaller. There are figures for Sunday attendance only and for Sunday and weekday attendance combined. The latter is used in the data fitting below as weekday meetings have become better attended with the spread of Sunday trading and the church's age profile.
The church quotes highest, average and lowest figures. The average has been used. Because the Limited Enthusiasm model is interpreting changes over time, it is not critical which of the three data sets are used, providing they have been consistently measured each year.
The data was compared with the Limited Enthusiasm with Demographics model, which assumes growth is driven by a subclass of church members called enthusiasts who eventually lose their potential to reproduce themselves through the conversion of unbelievers.
A best fit between model and data gave a value for the reproduction potential and the two thresholds of extinction and revival growth. Many such "best fits" were obtained for a variety of initial values of enthusiasts and hardened unbelievers, as their values cannot be measured. From that range of "best fits" the number that show extinction was compared with the number that indicate survival.
Other parameters are determined as follows:
The majority of best fits, 66%, indicate that the church will avoid extinction, however there is no convincing sign that there is any underlying revival growth. The most likely scenario is that the Church of England will survive, but at a significantly reduced level.
A pessimistic data fit, where the Church of England eventually becomes extinct, can be compared with an optimistic fit, where the church survives. Figure 1 compares two such fits with the data. There is little to choose between them on the basis of the data from 2001 to 2011. However extrapolating from 2012 onwards the optimistic scenario shows increasing signs of a slow down in decline. The predicted difference by 2020 is significant.
On the basis of attendance figures alone it is not possible to distinguish between the pessimistic and optimistic fits. To draw a clearer conclusion additional information is required, such as the number of enthusiasts, which would be very difficult to measure. However evidence for the effect of enthusiasts, such as increasing use of the Alpha course, community engagement, prayer meetings, church planting etc. might be easier to obtain, and would help in given more confidence in one scenario over the other.
The two scenarios can be extrapolated further into the future, assuming enthusiasts remain at the same effectiveness. The top graph of figure 2 gives church attendance. The pessimistic fit shows decline at the same rate to almost 2040, however the optimistic fit suggest the church starts growing again after 2035. This is due to a recovery in enthusiasts, as seen in the bottom graph of figure 2. In the optimistic scenario the enthusiasts start increasing again, nationally, after 2020. This is enough for the church to avoid extinction and dropping below an attendance of 800,000, but not enough for it to return to the 2001 figure.
As optimistic scenarios were the more common of the data fits then there is some confidence that the Church of England may not be declining so much as to become extinct and will see a small recovery in the next 20 years.
There are a number of conditions that must be applied to this result.
An update for 2012 data shows no change in the above analysis. A downward revision of the number leaving, has forced a downward revision of the number of conversions, thus making extinction more likely, though slower. Discussed in the Blog.