The Methodist Church of Great Britain has an unbroken record of collecting and publishing membership statistics since 1766. However, they tell us little about the sort of people who affiliate to Methodism.
In an effort to fill this gap, Clive Field (Universities of Birmingham and Manchester) has studied data on those who professed to be Methodists in the British Social Attitudes (BSA) Surveys between 1983 and 2008, controlling for survey decade and frequency of churchgoing.
He has now published the results of his analysis in ‘The people called Methodists: statistical insights from the social sciences’, Epworth Review, Vol. 36, No. 4, November 2009, pp. 16-29.
The number of individuals professing allegiance to Methodism is shown to have declined over time, especially when the data are expressed in terms of birth cohorts.
Thus, among those born between 1890 and 1909 9.0 per cent claimed to be Methodists, but the proportion fell relentlessly, to reach 0.9 per cent for the 1970-89 birth cohort.
Even so, more people identified with Methodism in the BSA than show up in the Church’s official statistics on the community roll. These ‘missing adherents’ demonstrate the value of recent empirical research into the potential for church-returning.
Those who professed to be Methodists were analysed by gender, age, marital status, ethnicity, education, social class and housing tenure.
Unsurprisingly, the profile of Methodism is revealed as being skewed, particularly among active churchgoers. Relative to the overall adult population, they are disproportionately female, old, married or widowed, white, better educated, from higher social classes and home owners.