Church Buildings Surveyed

The National Churches Trust (NCT, formerly the Historic Churches Preservation Trust, established in 1953) has today published a 72-page report on its survey of the UK’s estimated 47,000 places of Christian worship.

The study was conducted between 16 April and 28 July 2010, with the assistance of McKinsey & Company (on a pro bono basis). The report, and associated press release, will be found at:

http://nationalchurchestrust.org/explore-and-discover/national-survey.php

The survey was primarily completed online. Churches were either contacted directly, by email (in 17,000 cases) or post (3,200), or indirectly through 26 denominational networks (representing an additional 13,000 places of worship).

There were 7,200 useable responses, equivalent to 15% of the whole universe (not all of which was reached) or 22% of places of worship which were actually approached, directly or indirectly.

This is a not untypical and thus quite respectable ‘response rate’ for a survey using this type of methodology. Of this total of 7,200, 77% replied to an email, 11% by post and 12% self-registered online.

The key issue, of course, is how representative these replies were, especially bearing in mind the debate about potential non-response bias which took place in the columns of the Church Times when the survey was first announced. See BRIN’s coverage of the correspondence at http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=165

NCT believes that responding churches did broadly reflect the UK scene in terms of denominational and geographical spread, building age and congregational size. A sample balancing process, rather cursorily explained in Appendix 1 (p. 55), was used to calculate national totals. 5,100 returns had sufficient data to be included in this balanced dataset.   

The scope of the survey was wide and often innovative, extending to the maintenance, funding and management of places of worship and their contribution to their local communities. A copy of the survey instrument (which ran to 45 questions) is reproduced in Appendix 2 (pp. 58-65) of the report.

Only a few key findings can be highlighted here:

  • Nine-tenths of churches were used for a religious service at least once a week, including 100% of Roman Catholic places of worship and virtually all Free Church buildings (about one in six Anglican churches had between one and three services a month)
  • Nearly four-fifths of churches were used for purposes other than worship, including community activities, but more so in unlisted than listed buildings and in urban than rural areas 
  • Community activities were most likely to be found in the Free Churches, followed by Anglican and Roman Catholic premises, with private events also being most prevalent in the Free Churches but more numerous in Catholic than Anglican places of worship 
  • Among non-worship events, young people’s activities (54%), educational services (43%), arts, music and dance (43%), and support and counselling services (42%) were most common 
  • The lack of volunteer time (33%), of suitable space (33%) and of suitable facilities (28%) were cited as the main impediments to further community engagement by the local church 
  • The average church building had 33 volunteering in it in any capacity, of whom 28 were from the congregation, suggesting a possible 1,600,000 individuals involved in church volunteering nationally, including 200,000 non-churchgoers 
  • 92% of churches were self-assessed as in good or fair condition, but 8% were deemed to be in a poor or very poor state, disproportionately listed buildings, with the average cost of urgent repairs estimated at £80,000 each

The report contains 42 charts, many of them including disaggregated results (for example, by church location). BRIN readers will probably feel the desire for more methodological detail and greater access to the raw data, and hopefully the NCT will be able to facilitate this in due course.


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