According to statistician John Hayward, a retired university mathematics teacher, there is a clear pattern in which church networks or denominations in the UK are declining or growing.
His article has been covered by The Times and reproduced by Christian websites such as Anglican. Ink.
Some churches are growing numerically in the UK, Hayward says.
He has used statistics from the past five years to calculate the growth rate for churches. He notes that the Free Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) is growing slowly at less than 1 percent per year. The Vineyard network (a Pentecostal network) is growing fastest at 6 percent yearly.
Most churches founded before 1900 are declining – United Reformed at over 4 percent and the Church of England and Methodists at about 3 percent yearly.
“Both the decline and the growth have remained constant for many decades,” Hayward writes. “I could have presented a similar card 20 years ago! The main factor in the decline of the church is the lack of conversions. Higher death rates exacerbate these churches’, then age and their losses. Why have the shrinking churches not been able to increase the number of conversions? How have the growing churches managed to support conversions?”
It’s about enthusiasm.
We have become accustomed to the statistical language of an “R” percentage during Covid. Hayward uses membership numbers to calculate the “R” rated for churches.
“For churches, I call it the ‘Reproduction Potential’. If this number is less than one, enthusiasts will not be able to reproduce themselves, the conversions will be too weak, and the church will die out (the shaded area, Figure 2). If the reproductive potential exceeds one, the conversions are strong enough to absorb losses, and the church can grow.”
This chart is based on membership statistics from 2000 to 2020.
How many people convert depends on what he calls the “Limited Enthusiasm Model.” To stretch the Covid analogy, this shows how many Christians are contagious spreaders of the good news.
“Three churches increase their number of enthusiasts: FIEC [Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, conservative evangelicals [similar to the Australian group of the same name], New Frontiers [Pentecostal], and the Elim Pentecostal Church,” notes Hayward. “Although their R numbers are slightly more than one, that is typical of social diffusion. If they maintain this converting potential, they could reach five times their current number by the end of the century. But they should keep this value for 80 years. Quite a challenge!”
Will some churches cease to exist?
Hayward predicts that most pre-1900 churches are in serious trouble and on the brink of extinction. He sees the Baptists and the Church of England as best placed to survive in this group, but with significantly reduced numbers.
He believes predicting extinction dates for one group of aging churches is possible.
“Membership data for aging churches follow a straight line down. [The graph below] shows a typical linear decline and predicts that the United Reformed Church will be extinct by 2038.
Churches with less than one R have time to turn around before going extinct. Hayward urgently suggests prayer for revival. The Baptists and Open Brethren have until the end of the century. Catholics and the Church of England until 2060 or so.
The Taste of the Church Affects Decline and Growth
According to Hayward’s statistics, evangelical denominations and networks are more likely to grow, and the more liberal/progressive ones to decline.
All the evangelical groups in Hayward’s lists of denominations and networks are growing, except the brethren. Mixed (liberal/progressive and evangelical) and liberal/progressive churches are declining. In the graph, he has analyzed the relative amount of evangelical presence in the mixed churches, and there appears to be a connection between growth and decline.
Hayward believes God’s blessing can shift from older denominations to fresher evangelizes.
“These products of the Reformation and the Puritan times have run their course. They have fulfilled God’s purposes and are no longer part of His plan. The Church of England will cease to be a national church, and the Churches of Scotland and Wales will disappear by the middle of this century. Instead, God will work through the next cycle of denominations – Pentecostal and Evangelical – picking up the pieces left behind by the extinct historic churches.”