So it seems to me that much of the analysis and commentary need to move on from a paradigm in which our population was not growing or was stable or slowly declining.
In such a paradigm it made some kind of sense to look at the absolute numbers. But now our population is growing we really do need to understand church attendance as a % of population. The table below illustrates why.
Columns A to C take various absolute numbers and show that - mostly - the Diocese that are growing are the usual suspects.
But when we use church attendance as a % of population as a measure - the picture changes to one where no diocese are growing.
The best that can be said is that (mostly) the Diocese whose absolute numbers are growing manage to keep their church attendance as a % of population stable.
The table on the right gives a snapshot of the top rankling Diocese using the % of their population that attends a CofE church (though this isn't the same as the diocese who've maintained this % between 2009 and 2013).
Comparing the Growing Diocese in the table above (in absolute numbers) with the high ranking ones in the table to the right - you can see there are no similarities bar Ely & Guildford.
(For Information Coventry = 1.9%, Leicester 1.5%, London 1.9%, Newcastle 1.9%, Southwell & Nottingham 1.5% and Ripon & Leeds 1.9%)
Looking at the overall trend it appears that All Age Weekly Attendance as a % of diocese population has fallen from 2.1% in 2009 to 1.9% in 2013.
(Note that the Winchester % needs to be treated with caution as the estimate for that diocese population in the CofE 2013 statistics seems to have fallen significantly between 2012 & 2013)
So what conclusions have I come to from doing some of this analysis?
1) Those in the religious press need to move away from their traditional analysis of the absolute numbers. The picture it paints is simply wrong in terms of which diocese are doing better than others
(For example - page 6 of the 14/11/14 Church Times had an article headlined "Attendance slope still points downward" - which does paint overall a realistic picture. But then in the same article there is a side box looking at 2009-13. It lists the growing dioceses as being Ely, Guildford, Leicester, London, Manchester and Newcastle. Described as stable are Coventry and Ripon and Leeds. All the other diocese were listed as falling. Although not saying so these statements appear to be based on the Average Sunday Attendance figures in table 2 of the 2013 Report.)
2) Comparison with similar institutions and looking at the falling % share of the general population paints a richer picture. (E.g. In the Guardian newspaper Giles Fraser's Loose Canon column led with the headline "The Church of England is actually holding up pretty well in an adverse market" and a sub-headline summarising the thrust of his argument in the article was more people go to church on Sunday than go to Premier League stadiums on Saturday, or belong to all the political parties put together")
3) A big thanks is due to Dr Bev Botting and her team for getting the 2013 statistics out much more quickly than in recent years
- Others commentary on the 2013 statistics are linked to on this Thinking Anglicans post
- An earlier post on this blog summares insights into church growth from CofE research
- An earlier post on this blog summarises CofE Diocese strategies - in my view the feedback mechanism from new statistics and research into these strategies is often not explicit nor evident