A team based at the Centre of Church Growth Research have played a crucial role in a major research project for the Church of England. Findings of The Church Growth Research Programme, which were reported at the Faith in Research Conference in London on 16th January, show that many churches are growing across the country. Against a backdrop of decline in church attendance over the last decade, this is startling and significant news for the Church of England. Andreas Whittam Smith, former editor of the Independent, chaired the group who commissioned the research. He welcomed the findings:
“The findings of this research provide facts figures and stories which are helpful to the Church and vital to our understanding of which factors contribute to growth.
There is now a substantial body of evidence and the findings have provided a firm foundation for researching further some of the associations found.”
The team based at Cranmer Hall researched three key areas: new forms of church, cathedrals and ‘amalgamations’ (clusters of two or more churches, working together).
One strand of the Durham research was led by George Lings of the Church Army. This examined new forms of church which meet in a variety of venues and seek to engage especially with non-church goers. These ‘fresh expressions’ have seen significant growth; four times as many are being started now compared with ten years ago. The number of attenders at the 477 fresh expressions of Church within ten dioceses surveyed is equivalent to adding the people of one new medium sized diocese (around 21,000). These are churches but not as normally understood – including Café Churches, churches in schools, ‘Messy Church’ for families with younger children and even churches which meet in pubs and bars. More than half (56%) meet outside of a church building and over half (52%) are run by lay people.
A team led by Canon John Holmes looked at cathedrals. Cathedrals also show significant growth in overall numbers over the last decade and especially in weekday attendance. Overall weekly attendance grew by 35% between 2002 and 2012. Especially significant is weekday attendance, which has more than doubled in ten years from 5,600 in 2002 to 12,400 in 2012. In a survey of cathedral worshippers, peace and contemplation, worship and music and a friendly atmosphere were identified as the top three motivating factors for attending.
The research made crucial conclusions regarding amalgamations (clusters of two or more churches, working together). It is clear that churches grow best when they are led by a priest who has responsibility for just one church – and the more churches grouped together under a single vicar, the less they grow. This finding has major implications for current policy.
The research was commissioned by the Archbishops Council and the Board of the Church Commissioners. This is the first time that a systematic multi-method study of factors relating to church growth has been undertaken within the context of the Church of England. The Church of England recently agreed to validate the training for most of its clergy through Durham University. This recent research partnership with Durham cements that link and shows how the University is playing a key role in an institution central both to England and to a worldwide religious community of some 85 million people.
For more information about the research contact David Goodhew:
Church Growth: Cathedrals & Greater Churches (Strand 3a)
An analysis of Cathedrals and Greater Churches – Research conducted by The Revd Canon John Holmes as part of the consortium led by Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, Durham for the Church Growth Research Programme.
Church Growth: Fresh Expressions (Strand 3b)
An analysis of Fresh Expressions of Church – Research conducted by The Revd Canon Dr George Lings (Director of the Church Army’s Research Unit) as part of the consortium led by Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, Durham for the Church Growth Research Programme.
Church Growth: Amalgamations, Team Ministries and the Growth of the Church (Strand 3c)
An analysis of amalgamations and team ministries – Research conducted by The Revd Dr David Goodhew (Director of Ministerial Practice at Cranmer Hall, Durham) as part of the consortium led by Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, Durham for the Church Growth Research Programme.