93% of Anglican clergy agree that ‘engaging with the poor and marginalised in the local area is a vital activity for a healthy church’, and yet only 44% admit that ‘tackling poverty is a fundamental part of the strategy of our church’, notwithstanding that 81% identified at least one significant or major poverty-related problem in their parish.
These are three of the many statistics to be found in Growing Church through Social Action: A National Survey of Church-Based Action to Tackle Poverty, published on 6 February 2012 and written by Benita Hewitt of Christian Research Consultancy (not to be confused with Christian Research, for which she used to work) on behalf of the Church Urban Fund (CUF).
The data derive from an online survey of 2,927 Church of England clergy in December 2011, of whom 865 (or 30%) responded. Their churches were broadly representative of all Anglican places of worship in England in terms of churchmanship, location and congregational size.
Although one-half of churches had increased their efforts to alleviate local poverty during the past five years, three-quarters accepted that they could be doing more. Seven-tenths anticipated doing more over the next five years, especially in the area of family breakdown/poor parenting and debt, but there were many perceived hindrances to such activity. Not least were a lack of volunteers (64%) and leaders (64%), pressures on church leaders (58%), and shortage of finance (55%).
A majority of clergy believed that tackling poverty locally contributes to a more outward-looking church (79%), a deeper understanding of God’s purpose (76%), and improved relations with other local organizations (71%), the wider community (71%) and within the church (57%). A significant minority linked tackling local poverty with increased giving (33%) and more worshippers (28%).
The church growth dimension was tested by Hewitt, who analysed changes in congregational size during the previous five years against the extent of a church’s efforts to address local poverty. She found that ‘the churches doing most to serve those affected by poverty are much more likely to be growing. Conversely, only a tenth of the most active churches have declined in numbers, compared with nearly a third of churches that are not doing anything to meet local needs.’
‘Overall the survey strongly suggests that churches that are most actively engaged in serving those impacted by poverty in their communities tend to be healthier and more attractive than others, and that the churches which are least healthy are those that are aware of significant local problems but are doing little or nothing in response.’
The full report is available at:
and a four-page summary at:
The research project also included a qualitative phase, involving in-depth interviews with eight Anglican clergy who had successfully transformed neglected and poorly-attended churches in deprived areas ‘through committed and entrepreneurial leadership, combined with a willingness to discover community needs’.
For a previous CUF survey of clergy attitudes to poverty, based on a much smaller sample, see our post at: