Church Growth – Adult Baptisms

Two months ago I wrote a blog piece looking at Average Sunday Attendance figures in the Church of England over the past decade. I showed that the majority of dioceses were in decline and that even the celebrated cases like London diocese were no longer growing and now had statistically significant rates of decline.

I now want to turn to look at how well the Church is doing at evangelism. The Church of England does not maintain “conversion” figures so we need to use a proxy in the data to stand in. Conveniently, dioceses do record adult baptisms and trends in these can be examined to see whether we can identify evidence of convert growth.

As before, the data I used is available to download so others can replicate my work.

Baptism Growth

Our first set of dioceses are where there is significant growth is adult baptisms over the past decade. Significant is defined as reaching a 95% significance level on a standard t-test. With all of these dioceses we are confident that the growth in adult baptism rates that we see is real.

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For example the first diocese, Durham, has seen a year on year increase in adult baptisms of 14.8%. Even St Albans at the bottom of the list has seen a statistically significant increase of 2.45% per annum.

Static Baptism

Our next group of dioceses are where any change seen is not statistically significant. As before this means that even if we discern a large average annual growth rate, we are not sure that this is nothing more than random fluctuation. These are the dioceses with non-significant adult baptism changes.

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You might be asking why a diocese like Salisbury with a 5.91% average growth rate per year does not register as having significant growth. Here are the annual numbers for adult baptisms for that diocese.

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Regressing those numbers brings back a p-value of 0.058962 for a coefficient of 0.059 -the values vary so widely that we cannot be confident that the true trend is actually flat or even negative. That seems an absurd notion, but take out the large jumps in 2003 and 2010 and you see a less certain growth rate with declines in 3 out of the 10 years. Compare this to Lichfield Diocese which has a similar coefficient but a lower p-value (0.000433).

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Can you see the difference? Even where there is a decline one year to the next (eg 2003 to 2004) the declined value is still larger than the value two years previously (2002). The overall pattern of growth is clearer and more consistent.

Discussion

Although there is significant decline in Average Sunday Attendance across the whole Church of England, adult baptism numbers have increased over the past decade. In over half the dioceses there is significant annual growth and in the other dioceses, though growth is not statistically significant only two dioceses show an annualised decline.

The reasons for this may be varied. First, there may simply be better collation at a diocesan level of adult baptism statistics. This means that any increase seen is simply a by-product of better data management at a local level. However, it may be that there is something more significant going on. Some dioceses have seen significant growth over the past decade, and even those which have non-significant growth, the figures are positive and in an upward direction.

Could it be that two things are happening at the moment in the Church? First, a generation is (literally) dying that has high levels of church attendance. This explains the plummeting numbers in some places which we saw in our previous post. At the same time there are obvious signs of convert growth. At the moment those growth elements do not outweigh the “death rate”, but it does mean that the future is not as bleak as some might make out.

Thoughts?

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