Assessing the Decade of Evangelism

Resolution 43 of the 1988 Lambeth Conference called on ‘each province and diocese of the Anglican Communion, in co-operation with other Christians, to make the closing years of this millennium a “Decade of Evangelism” with a renewed and united emphasis on making Christ known to the people of his world.’ The Decade of Evangelism was certainly a strong theme in English Anglicanism throughout the 1990s, but the cause was also taken up by other denominations in the UK and overseas.

Previous research by Leslie Francis and Carol Roberts, based on the Church of England’s official annual data, has suggested that the Decade of Evangelism was a relative failure in that ‘the majority of dioceses were performing less effectively at the end of the decade than at the beginning, in terms of a range of membership statistics’. See their article ‘Growth or Decline in the Church of England during the Decade of Evangelism: Did the Churchmanship of the Bishop Matter?’, Journal of Contemporary Religion, Vol. 24, No. 1, January 2009, pp. 67-81.

Francis has now teamed up with Patrick Laycock and Andrew Village to extend this analysis in ‘Statistics for Evidence-Based Policy in the Church of England: Predicting Diocesan Performance’, Review of Religious Research, Vol. 52, No. 2, December 2010, pp. 207-20. This is a subscription journal from the Religious Research Association, and the text of this paper is unfortunately not yet freely available online, although copies can be purchased (including through the British Library Document Supply Centre).

The article begins by computing percentage changes in six performance variables for 41 mainland Anglican dioceses (all except the Diocese of London, which is excluded on the grounds that it is not a homogeneous unit but a set of discrete episcopal areas). The six measures employed were: usual Sunday attendance, Easter Sunday communicants, Christmas communicants, electoral roll members, total baptisms, and total confirmations. Means were calculated, cumulatively and severally, for the start (1990 and 1991) and end (1999 and 2000) of the Decade of Evangelism.

The resultant data are presented in tables 1 and 2, with the dioceses clustered into three groupings according to the relative strength of their performance during the decade. Although all dioceses experienced decline, they decreased at a differential rate, the extremes on the aggregate basket of indicators ranging from -12% for the Diocese of Salisbury to -30% for the Diocese of Durham.

The authors then devise a set of 62 predictor variables, derived from various enumerations of the Church’s resources, comprising clergy, buildings and finance. Complex statistical modelling techniques are applied to establish links between these predictor variables and the performance variables, in an attempt to see whether diocesan policy (whether intended or unintended) impacted upon performance.

The upshot of this analysis is that, as revealed in tables 3 and 4, several policy-related factors are shown to have been positively associated with church growth (or, more pertinently in this context, a reduced speed of church decline) at the diocesan level during the 1990s. They were:

  • the number of non-stipendiary clergy
  • the number of female clergy
  • the number of planned subscribers
  • overall diocesan income
  • charitable giving as a proportion of total diocesan expenditure

There was also an inverse link with the number of church closures, suggesting that resisting church closures helped to boost diocesan performance.

In these ways, the authors infer that they have qualified any sense of the inexorability of church decline, stemming entirely from circumstances external to the influence of the Church of England. Rather, they have identified policy-related areas which, if acted upon by the Church, could make a positive contribution to diocesan performance, or at least might have done during the Decade of Evangelism in the 1990s.

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One Response to Assessing the Decade of Evangelism

  1. Pingback: The Church of England: a church that’s sick of itself | Andrew Brown | Kronosim

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