Church Decline in England?

I wanted to add some form of contribution to recent debate over whether there is decline in numbers worshipping in the Church of England. I took some figures from the Statistics department of the Archbishops’ Council and analysed them on a diocese by diocese basis to try and assess whether the Church was really in decline.

My first analysis was on simple numbers. If you download the spreadsheet I used you will see that I rebased each diocese’s All Age Average Sunday Attendance figure for each year so that 2001 to 2010 was stated as a percentage of the 2001 figure. I then ran a simple linear regression regressing ASA against year. The results were as follows.

Significant Decline

34 of the 44 dioceses showed significant decline over the decade. This is defined as a negative coefficient with 5% or smaller p-value (indicating at least 95% significance). These dioceses are listed below in order of decline.

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Put your cursor over the chart and you can see figures for individual dioceses. For example, the worst diocese is Liverpool with an average decline per year of -2.43% of the 2001 ASA. Over a decade that has led to a quarter less people coming on average per Sunday.

No Significant Change

The next group of dioceses are those which so no significant pattern of change. These are defined as either positive or negative coefficients, but where the coefficient does not reach the 95% significance level. Put another way, we can discern a trend over the decade, but we cannot be sure that the trend is anything more than just random fluctuations (whereas in the group above we are pretty sure that the downward trend is significant).

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For example, London has a coefficient of 0.45%. This means that over a decade it has seen around 5% growth in Average Sunday Attendance. However, the p-value for the coefficient is 0.291, so (putting it in simple terms) we think that it’s only about 70% likely that’s a true growth trend. We normally like 95% certainty to say we confident a trend is a real trend.

Significant Growth

The last group is where the diocese shows a positive coefficient and the coefficient is significant to the 95% level. There is only 1 member of this group and that is the Diocese of Europe with a coefficient of 0.44% and a p-value of 0.008. Europe has seen small but solid growth for the past decade.

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Change in Growth Pattern

It’s one thing to see who is growing or declining, but of equal interest is seeing which dioceses are managing to slowly turn the problem around and which are seeing accelerating decline.  To examine this I regressed first differentials for each diocese.

There were only two significant results. First, London Diocese produced a coefficient of -0.00748 with a p-value of 0.032. What this means is that even though London has seen some growth over the past decade (0.45% a year, but with a p-value of .291) that growth is slowing down and has now turned into decline. What the first differential regression tells us with such a low p-value is that we are pretty sure that the trend of the past few years does not appear to be a blip.

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The other diocese that shows a clear trend in the first differential is Southwell and Nottingham. The coefficient is -.00974 with a p-value of 0.053, just shy of 95% significance. What this means is that we’re almost certain that not only is Southwell and Nottingham seeing significant decline, but that decline is accelerating.

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Summary

If we are honest, when we look at ASA figures over the past decade it is not a good picture. 34 of the 44 dioceses show significant decline and of those 34, none show any sign that that decline is slowing down and at least one diocese shows that its decline is accelerating. We have another nine dioceses where there is no significant decline or growth and only one diocese with clear significant signs of growth (Europe).

Of course none of this analysis explains *why* the decline is happening, simply that it is. What it does tell us is that in most places the decline is not getting any worse, but equally there is no real hard evidence of substantial growth or even a “slow turning of the liner” across the country.

In my second post I’ll turn to look at Adult Baptisms as a measure of conversion rates to see whether there are any signs that evangelism is growing in the nation. In the meantime, please feel free to comment below.

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