I feel for Benita Hewitt, the Director of Christian Research, and indeed currently their only full time person. She seems to have found herself in the middle of a media storm about apparently conflicting statistics on her organisation’s newly published Religious Trends 7.
Ruth Gledhill reproduces some tables from this publication giving a clearly shown estimate of church attendance in England in 2050 of 718,100. But this page on Christian Research’s own website, reproducing a March 2008 magazine article supposed to be summarising the figures in Religious Trends 7, gives a figure for church membership in England in 2050 of 1,898,000. That is a discrepancy of over a million! Are these supposed to be members who don’t attend? Even on the higher figure the predicted decline from 3,554,200 attenders or 3,764,000 members in 2000 is worrying, but by no means as catastrophic as the figure quoted by Ruth in The Times, and disputed by me and many others, yesterday.
So, what is going on? Even in the magazine article the final table suggests a total for “churchgoers” in Great Britain (not just England) in 2050 of 0.9 million, which agrees with Ruth’s figures. It also suggests that a mere 3% of those churchgoers will be under 30 – but on what basis are they predicting the habits of people not yet even born?
It seems to me that Christian Research has got its figures mixed up, or else there are some explanations of them in the full report which have not been picked up by newspapers or bloggers. This also illustrates the dangers of extrapolating current trends for long periods in the future
But, as David Keen writes in his take on the situation:
no complacency, the picture is still one of decline, and there’s no reason for folk to pat themselves on the back and reassure themselves with the knowledge that the Titanic isn’t sinking as fast as we thought.