appeared in The Times on 5 March 2005 discussing a new church survey,
with the following headline: "Liberal and
weak clergy blamed for empty pews". Although the article itself
did not give any sources for this survey Thinking Anglicans had it linked: Church
Survey. The report is called "Let the People Speak" and claims
to be "the results of an independent ecumenical investigation examining
the reasons why church going is declining in Britain and Ireland
and the solutions people offer to reverse the decline." According
to the Introduction, 14,000 responses were received from across Britain
and Ireland in answer to the following questions:
you attend church regularly, what are the main things which encourage
you to attend? If your attendance is merely out of a 'sense of
duty', what could be changed so as to make it more appealing?
you used to be a churchgoer, but now only attend infrequently or
not at all, what were the main things which led to this? What could
be changed in order for you to attend again regularly?
you have never been a churchgoer, what could be done to encourage
you to begin?
traditional custom of 'clergy visiting' has steadily declined in
spite of the maxim 'a house going minister makes a church going
people'. Do you think the demise of this customary visiting role
been asked about the Times article by a few friends, I decided to
have a look at the report for myself, and see what I thought of its
conclusions. (Text in quotation marks is taken from the report.)
people from every age range responded, 70% were over 40 years of
age ... Of those who indicated, 75% attended church at least once
a month, of these 31% attended weekly. 20% stated that they had
stopped attending church altogether."
two points alone it is clear that the vast majority of people who
responded to the survey were in the two older generations, and were
still attending church fairly regularly. This is fine given that
a goal of the report was to let the 'people in the pews' speak about
the church, but it should be noted that this means that only a minority
of responses can be said to address the concerns of those outside
of the church or those who have left the church, despite the claim
of the report to let those people speak as well.
1 - The Need for Apologetics:
want churches to emphasise the many reasons why believing in God
and Christianity makes sense and to challenge a doubting society
... increasing disbelief is a significant reason why church attendance
agree that this is definitely a good thing, and that there is certainly
a hunger amongst many people to learn and better understand the basics
of the Christian faith. However, from the responses quoted in this
chapter and the websites mentioned as resources, it is clear that
the kind of information that people felt was lacking in Christian
education was particularly evangelical in character. It seemed strange
that there were not any responses recorded for any other understanding
of the Christian message.
2 - The Desire for Holiness:
want churches to give clear teaching on the nature of God's holiness
and the implications this has for individuals and our two nations."
I think this is a good thing, but the report seems to describe only
one particular understanding of the holiness of God. This involved
a strong emphasis on the cross (many respondents said that they were
influenced by Mel Gibson's film 'The Passion of the Christ'), and
a general uneasiness at the rise of 'immoral' behavior in society
such as "premarital sex, cohabitation, illegitimacy, abortion, divorce
and depression." These behaviors were taken as necessarily morally
wrong with no explanation, and there was no mention of the Incarnation
as a mark of God's holiness and interaction with the world.
went on to say that at the beginning of the 20th century, crime was
at a low at the same time that churchgoing was at a high and so concluded
that "it was not people's fear of arrest which kept them from breaking
the law, but their inner morality and fear of God." This seems like
a bit of pseudo-statistical analysis to me, especially as the report
does not choose to provide references to the statistical data that
it mentions in support of this idea.
was also an emphasis on the ordination of homosexual clergy, with
205 people in favor of it and about 8,000 against it. That second
number is actually a guess on my part because the report, without
providing any actual numbers, simply states that "out of 10,400 responses
approximately 85% of those who referred to the morality of God and
the implications it had for us, specifically mentioned this issue."
3 - Worship:
want churches to give priority to the ministy of worship, satisfying
all the various aspects worship involves."
with much of the first part of this, specifically about how the emphasis
on 'trendy' worship has served no useful purpose in the life of the
church, and how traditional and contemporary forms of worship and
music should be able to find some common ground at the expense of
neither one nor the other. However, the strong emphasis on the sermon
with no mention whatsoever of the Eucharist does make me wonder exactly
what kind of worship was being discussed.
4 - The Attraction of 'Visionary and Prophetic' Churches/Teaching:
respondents want churches to respond to the needs of this frightened
generation by adopting a 'visionary and prophetic role'."
of all, this chapter, although given equal weight to the other sections
of the report, was actually only mentioned by 23% of respondents,
and the majority of those were not members of mainline denominations
or non-churchgoers. The responses describe the perfectly normal emphasis
in the so-called 'free churches' on an understanding that Biblical
prophecies are not mythological, but that they represent the truth
of what God is going to do in the world, and they see the recent
world events as evidence that the End Times are near at hand. However,
these beliefs are not generally shared by most people in mainline
churches, and it was surprising to see them carry so much weight
in the report.
5 - Requests for More Home Visiting and Greater Pastoral Care:
want clergy to give greater priority to home visiting and pastoral
care, in order to reflect God's love and concern for the individual."
actually agree with most of what this section had to say, including
the suggestions for allowing lay people more of a role in the 'physical'
side of running a parish so that the clergy can concentrate on the
'spiritual' side of things. The only thing to take issue with would
be the fact that the fourth question in the original survey that
led to these responses was not particularly open-ended, unlike the
first three, and so gave a lot of weight to one particular issue
that the authors of the survey clearly wanted to
6 - Other Related Subjects:
thing that I have to say here is though the report states that "thousands
of respondents asked for churches to listen to those who held 'traditional
beliefs and traditional moral values' and accept them," it chooses
not to say if any respondents held the opposite viewpoint.
the goal of the report was to 'let the people speak', it seems clear
to me that its authors only let certain kinds of responses be heard,
in spite of the claim from the report that "91% of the responses
[expressed] the same opinions" on what was causing the decline in
church going. In addition, since the report mainly consisted of quotations
from responses to the questions posed in the survey, it would be
difficult to claim any kind of statistical relevance to the data
collected. There was also very little description of the members
of the "Ecumenical Research Committee," the group that organized
the effort, beyond the statement that it was "composed of 15 individuals
providing a range of skills in statistical analysis, market research,
publicity and media management." The claim of the Forward by Lord
Bromley that the report "shows that the vast majority of people in
Britain and Ireland are still morally conservative" seems to me to
indicate that he only read the report itself and its narrow conclusions.
I would be very interested to see what the rest of those who took
the survey had to say.
McMahon is a graduate student at Jesus College, Cambridge University
and a member of the Standing Commission on Episcopal Church Communications
(USA). You can read more about -- and by -- him by visiting his