National Churches Trust Survey [Updated]

The National Churches Trust (NCT) has recently issued a press release to announce the imminent launch, on 15 April, of a questionnaire-based survey of all 47,000 Christian places of worship in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This is intended to provide ‘a national picture of the current status of these buildings, including how they are maintained, funded and managed and how they interact with their communities’.

Each place of worship will be contacted by email in the first instance, wherever possible, and encouraged to complete the survey questionnaire online at http://survey.nationalchurchestrust.org For those who cannot be reached in this way, a paper version of the questionnaire will be sent by post. The questionnaire was piloted with 125 places of worship late in 2009.

The survey, NCT explains, has been designed in close co-operation with heritage organizations and Christian denominations. It is being guided by an advisory working group. The project officer for the survey is Charlotte Walshe, who can be contacted at nationalchurchestrust@surveylab.co.uk

The provisional timetable is for the responses to be collated in July and a report prepared by the end of September.

A news article about the survey in the Church Times for 26 March prompted Revd Ian Hill, statistician turned Anglican clergyman, to write a long letter to the newspaper’s editor. This was published in its issue of 1 April under the heading ‘National Churches Trust survey has flawed basis’. In particular, Mr Hill expressed concerns about non-response bias, with the potential result that the survey ‘may be less helpful than hoped’. Instead of the NCT’s census-style approach, he advocated ‘a properly sampled and stratified statistical survey’.

Andrew Edwards, NCT’s CEO, wrote in reply to Mr Hill, and his letter was published in today’s (9 April) issue of the Church Times under the heading ‘Churches survey: methodology defended’. Mr Edwards argued that the NCT had factored potential non-response bias into its planning from the outset. Having consulted with statisticians and heritage experts, he was confident that the NCT’s approach was robust and that it would ensure that the results will be representative. This will partly be achieved through the application of ‘sample balancing’ to ensure proper weighting of particular groupings of churches. Meanwhile, Mr Edwards urged places of worship to participate in the survey as fully as possible.

NCT, formerly the Historic Churches Preservation Trust (established in 1953), was relaunched in 2007. It is the only national, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and supporting places of worship used by Christian denominations throughout the UK. It promotes the use of these buildings both by their congregations and the wider community.

In a parallel initiative, as part of its Heritage at Risk programme, English Heritage is surveying a representative one-tenth of the 14,500 listed places of worship in England (85% of which are Anglican) to find out how many are at serious risk of decay. It will announce its findings on 30 June.

[Note: this post updates and replaces our original post on the same subject, dated 31 March 2010]


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