The Church of England announced on 21 May 2012 the appointment of three research teams to undertake an 18-month programme on Anglican church growth. BRIN featured the invitation to tender in our post on 13 January 2012.
The programme is based on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s strategic goals to the new General Synod in 2010, to take forward spiritual and numerical growth in the Church of England for all communities.
It is supported by funding set aside by the Archbishops’ Council and the Church Commissioners for research and development in 2011-13. According to the current issue of the Church Times, £300,000 has been earmarked.
A team from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, led by Professor David Voas (BRIN’s co-director), has been appointed to undertake the data analysis and church profiling strands of the research.
The former will use advanced methods in social and spatial statistical analysis to obtain the maximum information possible from the Church’s parochial and clerical databases, particularly for the last 10 years.
The hope would be to link these Anglican data with secular data (including the population census, indices of deprivation and other neighbourhood statistics). Such an approach should facilitate the testing of hypotheses around factors relating to church growth.
The latter strand will involve in-depth profiling through a postal questionnaire survey of 4,000 churches (from a wide variety of contexts and traditions), probably in autumn 2012. Three equally-sized groups of churches will be surveyed: growing, stable and declining. There will also be a limited number of qualitative interviews.
The questionnaire will be adapted from the Faith Communities Today (FACT) research instrument, co-ordinated by the Hartford Seminary, which has been widely deployed in the United States, including by the Episcopal Church.
Other investigators in the Essex team include Dr Kirk Hadaway, Officer for Congregational Research at the Episcopal Church (United States) and Dr Ruth Powell, Director of National Church Life Survey Research in Australia.
The second research stream involves a study of factors relating to growth at cathedrals, fresh expressions, and the impact of unions of parishes and the use of different patterns of deployment of ministers.
This will be undertaken by a team led by Revd Dr David Goodhew, from Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, Durham. He is the editor of a forthcoming Ashgate book Church Growth in Britain, 1980 to the Present, which will be the subject of a separate BRIN post in due course.
The third stream, to be undertaken by Dr Cathy Ross of the Oxford Centre for Ecclesiology and Practical Theology (OxCEPT) at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, will investigate church planting through a number of in-depth case studies of a wide range of church plants.
The programme should be completed by the autumn of 2013, with the findings being disseminated widely, although it will be possible to follow the progress of the research through a website which is to be launched soon.