The indefatigable Dr Peter Brierley has recently produced what will perhaps be the highlight of the religious statistical publishing year: UK Church Statistics, Number 2, 2010 to 2020 (Tonbridge: ADBC Publishers, 2014, ISBN 978-0-9566577-7-0, £27 inclusive of postage and packing). Copies can be obtained directly from the author at The Old Post Office, 1 Thorpe Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent, TN10 4PW. Cheques should be made payable to Brierley Consultancy or you can arrange to pay via BACS by contacting email@example.com
The first edition of UK Church Statistics was published in 2011. However, the title is, in effect, a continuation of UK Christian Handbook: Religious Trends (seven editions of which appeared between 1997 and 2008), which was edited by Brierley when he was director of Christian Research. Although Religious Trends nominally survives as an online publication on the Christian Research website, accessible to the organization’s subscribers, it is but a shadow of its former self and is not especially current. Even further back, the origins of UK Church Statistics can be traced to the statistical sections pioneered by Brierley in the main UK Christian Handbook, starting with UK Protestant Missions Handbook, Volume 2 in 1977.
UK Church Statistics, Number 2 extends to 184 densely-packed A4 pages, so the book cannot be easily summarized and critiqued in a single BRIN post. Here we simply strive to give an overview of the principal contents, as follows:
Denominational statistics (sections 0-11)
These sections comprise about one-third of the volume and, for this reader, constitute its most important part. The number of members, churches/congregations, and ministers are given for each of 292 UK denominations, based on a survey by Brierley during the second half of 2013. Comparative data are shown for 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2012 (2009 being omitted on the rather flimsy grounds that it was covered in the first volume of UK Church Statistics), with forecasts for 2015 and 2020 (which denominations were also asked to supply). Gaps arising from non-response or other reasons are filled by estimates, which generally seem plausible. Data have been summed for ten broad denominational groupings (the same as have been used by Brierley for reporting over the past 35 years), with Fresh Expressions of church separately recorded, while each denomination’s figures are disaggregated by the four home nations comprising the UK.
One conclusion is that, although church membership in the UK is continuing to decline overall, the rate of decrease seems to have lessened significantly, with the result that the membership level previously anticipated for 2020 will probably not now be evident until 2025. Moreover, the trend is bucked in Independent, New, Orthodox, and Pentecostal Churches, as well as in the category of smaller bodies, all of which reported absolute growth between 2008 and 2013, much of which can be attributed to the effects of immigration. Partly for the same reason, church membership has flattened out in England, with the traditionally more religious Wales, Northern Ireland, and – most notably – Scotland proportionately losing most members between 2008 and 2013. It should be noted, of course, that the Churches do not have a common criterion of ‘membership’, and thus Brierley has needed to use multiple indicators (including attendance in the case of the Roman Catholic Church and the New Churches). Perhaps a more substantive explanation of this point would have been beneficial. The number of denominations rose by 6% during the last quinquennium, of places of worship by 2%, and of ministers by 6%.
Additional to the data for membership, congregations, and ministers which he has gathered from his 2013 survey, Brierley reproduces other statistics collected by individual denominations. This is especially so for the Church of England, Roman Catholic Church, Methodist Church, and Free Church of Scotland.
London church census, 2012 (section 12)
A report on the census of church attendance in London in 2012, conducted by Brierley for the London City Mission, has already appeared in Brierley’s Capital Growth (Tonbridge: ADBC Publishers, 2013). In UK Church Statistics, Number 2, some of the finer, borough-level detail from this research is provided for the first time, with comparative data for 1989, 1998, and 2005 and contextual information from the 2001 and 2011 censuses of population. There is also a useful executive summary of the census, whose importance and interest stem from the fact that attendance in London actually grew by 16% between 2005 and 2012, largely on the back of immigration.
Distribution of English and Scottish churches (section 13)
The numbers of churches by denomination are given for counties and local authorities. These are derived from the 2002 Scottish and 2005 English church censuses, undertaken by Brierley, with revisions to the 2005 data in respect of the Roman Catholic Church.
Religion in the population census, 2001 and 2011 (section 14)
There are 31 pages of tables (and some maps), but no substantive commentary, exploring the results of the religion question posed in the 2001 and 2011 UK census of population, with breaks by age, gender, ethnicity, and local/unitary authorities or counties. There are also comparative data on the spatial distribution of English churchgoers, including in 2012 (estimated by Brierley since, apart from London, there has been no census of church attendance in England since 2005).
International religious statistics (section 15)
The section comprises 15 rather disparate sub-sections abstracted from collations of data by Patrick Johnstone and Todd Johnson or taken directly from primary sources such as the Australian and Irish censuses. Other international data appear in sub-section 5.6.
Other UK religious statistics (section 16)
This miscellany of 11 sub-sections is a slight misnomer, since much of the content relates to secular rather than religious data. However, there are useful tables of baptisms of children and of marriages by denomination back to, respectively, 1991 and 2000 (data on funerals are to be found in sub-section 2.8); estimates of usual Sunday attendance in England by age and denomination at five-yearly intervals back to 1980; and of passes in public examinations in Religious Studies, back to 2010.
Essays on UK religious life (section 17)
There are five essays by Brierley: ‘Church Families and Young People’ (2012); ‘Nominal Christians’ (2011); ‘Democracy and Protestantism’ (2013); ‘The Optimum Length of Ministry’ (2013); and ‘Norwich: “the Most Godless City”’ (2013). Also included is the article by Steve Bruce and Tony Glendinning on ‘The Extent of Religious Activity in England’ (2013). All essays have previously been circulated with FutureFirst, the bi-monthly bulletin of Brierley Consultancy.
Index (section 18)
With a claimed 4,000 entries, this is a helpful tool, not least since some data appear in sections where one might not necessarily expect to find them.
In general, this is a valuable resource, a great credit to the seemingly boundless energy and creativity of one man, and well worth the money. However, the exact extent of its value may depend upon your starting point. Experienced users of British religious statistics, with ready access to earlier volumes by Brierley and otherwise already familiar with some of the sources such as the population census, will derive the greatest benefit from sections 0-12, which incorporate the results of important original research by Brierley. In contrast to religious practitioners, they may also be less interested in, and occasionally more sceptical of, some of the forecasts of future trends. Those seeking a more one-stop-shop guide to British religion in numbers will find their needs very substantially, but by no means completely, met by this book, the single major omission being sample survey data touching on religion (albeit these often do not relate to institutional Christianity, which is Brierley’s principal preoccupation).