Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I'm Reporting You

Today Tearfund released a report (here) which was a statistical analysis of why people go to church and why people don't. This was done through questioning a sample of 7,000 adults and scaling up the results. It claims there are three types of people. The first being the "unchurched", second "de-churched" and finally the churched (those who regularly attend). To go into the labels slightly more, the "closed de-churched", these are those who have attended but then drifted away from/chosen to leave and not going to return. They were joined by "Open de-churched" who were those who had left etc but may choose to return. Whereas the "closed non-churched", these are those who have never attended or been involved with their church during their life thusfar and have no interest in starting. The "open de-churched" are those with no contact thusfar, but wouldn't rule out/be persuaded. The main argument of the report is a mixed one, building upon other reports done it trys to present an evangelical perspective (that is the only theological label it examines, past denomination) within the churched/unchurched/dechurched sector on what reasons people attend church, may attend church. Unfortunately it suffers from this. The outcomes, whilst interesting, don't take into full account the wide breadth of religious (let along christian) experience within the uk. It doesn't tackle if any of those who don't attend are of other faiths, it doesn't tackle buzz-word worship (eg Fresh Expressions etc) nor the manor or style of events that people attend, beyond a wee note (reproduced beneath) that says friends asking are of more importance then programmes such as Alpha.
The more personal the influence, the more influential it is likely to be. In terms of positive contributory factors, accompanying a family member is more influential than accompanying a friend. A personal invite from someone is more powerful than an invite from the church as an organisation, or the offer of an Alpha course or similar (Page 25)
That said, one underlying message within the report, that must be heeded, is that of the ticking timebomb of membership, in relation to age, and the challenge that (within itself) will bring
Older people are more likely to belong to the Christian Faith. Three quarters of 65-74 year olds and 82% of over 75 year olds, compared with an average 53%. At the other end of the age spectrum only a third of 16-34 year olds are Christian, and among under 45s the non-religious outnumber Christians. So the proportion of Christians increases with increasing age. This may be due to a cohort effect - that is older generations have greater affiliation to Christianity and younger people will not age into religion, to any greater extent.
So, whilst the outcomes are of some interest, particularly amongst those who claim to attend and their regularity (As well as the usual social-economic breakdown) it cannot be as important as a census result nor will it add much to the wealth of literature already out there. The one positive about it is it begins to present a figure of those not only unchurched , but unwilling to listen (32% - scaled up to 15.6million people). A certain wake-up, nay clarion call to all religions to look at what messages are put across. That said, these criticism can be levelled against some of the Methodist Churches recent reports about connecting with people (eg the 20-30s report). It is very easy for us (institutionalised Christians) to think that people, if attracted to religion will only look at Christianity. This is not true, many pray to an unspecified God (though it will sometimes be shown to have Christian attributes due to social factors)because they want to pray. Yet church reports never show this, so for all the acres of paperwork produced they are, in some respects, a waste of space whilst on others terms providing fascinating incite into the stratification between Christians within the UK and those not of a Christian bent. Take Care Y'All John [Edited to note: When blogger spell checking it said "unchurched" wasn't recognised and recommended "unhitched - how prophetic!]

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