I just had time to read a recent short paper on church membership and attendance by the wizard of stats, Dr Peter Brierley and I am DISTURBED!
He does the church in the UK a great service by holding a mirror up to us in terms of how things really are, though I suspect the reflection is such an ugly one most leaders will take a glance, then look away quickly and go back to business as usual.
The paper relates as I say to measuring church membership and attendance.
He starts off by saying that attendance – ‘bums on seats’ is not of course the only thing we want to measure and I agree, though often it’s the leaders who are putting the most people off church who voice that argument most strongly. We make ourselves feel better by finding other ways people are ‘connecting’ with church because they are not coming any more.
Membership is harder to define because some churches may set a high bar for membership (I think we do at Ivy) whereas in other churches just putting your name on a list and not letting anyone know you died counts. That’s why generally membership is higher than attendance in his figures, though again our experience is that attendance is way higher than membership, because we have a big ‘fringe’ of people who our churches are connecting with and that we are reaching out to in all kinds of ways.
He looks at the figures since 2000 to now, and then projects forward – pretty much in a straight line – to 2030.
By then, Elon Musk will be on Mars, we’ll all be in driverless cars, Justin Bieber will be President of the USA, and only 4% of the population, just 2.4 million people will be any kind of Christian.
I made the first three up. The last one is Dr. Brierley’s prediction if things carry on as they are.
That’s why I think things cannot carry on as they are.
I can’t do graphs like he does so here’s the rough shorthand version for some of my brothers and sisters.
2000 – you had 1 million attendance, you’ll have half that by then. (Less than the population of Bradford)
2000 – 270,000, you’ll be down to just over 200,000 (the population of Gateshead)
It’s not a graph it’s a slide. From 400,000 to 50,000. (a few more than the Isle of Purbeck).
Independent churches and ‘New’ churches (how long do you stay new?) are also pointing down and right.
Is anyone else not okay with this?
Can I make a plea?
If you have any kind of oversight or say in how resources are allocated, read the parable of the talents. Then, apply the principles – if someone has been given something and does nothing of any use with it, ask them to go and get an honest job where they can mess that up, rather than spoil the most important mission on the planet. If someone’s doing well and multiplying, get behind them and give them ten times as much.
If you are in any kind of leadership or have any kind of say in how the church is going… can I suggest –
Sound the alarm!
Rock the boat!
Press the big red button!
Kick the butt!
Stop wasting time!
Stop wasting energy!
Stop arguing about everything !
Start loving everyone!
Start planting new churches! You. Reading this. I bet you could. You could have a go. Go on.
Reach some people nobody else is reaching by doing what nobody else is doing. Get Jesus in the middle of a bunch of people and make a difference where you meet. Call it church because it is. And don’t let those who say it can’t be done get in the way of you doing it. Whether or not it’s in someone else’s ‘parish.’ I DON’T CARE! I don’t think GOD cares! The people waiting to be reached for Jesus don’t care. The need is too great. The time is too short! Jesus is coming soon!
Sack non-leaders. Stop paying them – God’s people gave that money for the mission. Really. Just get… rid. We are too polite about ineffective people, even nice ones, who either do a lot of harm or very little good. We have seen the future – and NOW is the only time we get to change it!
One of the weirdest passages in the Bible for me is 2 Kings 20.
King Hezekiah had some people come visiting from Babylon. He showed them what he had in the palace, they smiled and said, ‘Thanks for showing us round.’
Then the prophet Isaiah shows up and says, ‘Who was that?’
‘Oh just some nice fellows from a place called Babylon,’
Isaiah says, ‘No – they were from the future! They were showing you where the kingdom is headed. The time will surely come says the Lord when everything you see and everything you trust in will be taken away, and your kids will be slaves in exile.’
What does Hezekiah say? He’s a good king by the way, a faithful one, one of the good guys.
What does he do? Does he repent? Does he put on sackcloth and ashes?
Does he call everyone together for urgent prayer? Does he weep and cry out, saying, ‘How did it come to this sorry state if affairs in the nation – on my watch?’ Ask God Isaiah, while you have him on the phone – what do we have to do?
He says, ‘Ok – that’s good. God is good! Because there’ll be peace and security in my lifetime.’
Peace and security. For me.
Comfort. A pension. A quiet life – and if I’m a ‘church leader’ I get to write books and blogs and articles about theology. Or whatever else I’m academically interested in.
It’s time this Hezekiah generation started to think about the next generation a lot more!
Brierley says the only reason the decline is not as sharp as its predicted is that it’s offset by growth from two segments, Orthodox churches and Pentecostals.
You may not want to become one or the other. I understand that. But surely we can learn from what’s working and (here’s the key) CHANGE?