I was playing around with some figures today ready for a talk I have to give over the weekend. The talk is about our desperate need to engage with the communities in which we live and breath and have our being. The communities which God loves and cares for and is already ministering within.
Anyway, I did some hunting down of the actual membership figures for the Methodist Church via British Religion in Numbers and the Methodist Church's own Statistics for Mission. Then I put all the figures into a spreadsheet and then asked it to create a chart and then added some projection lines. It is disappointing.You can see the trendline in green showing a normative development curve. We missed the S-bend moment back in the 1950s - see Grace Davie for the reasons why. Now we have possibly another moment for the S-bend to kick back in because of Fresh Expressions and Fresh Ways, but if we don't then straight line decline or long tail decline mean that we will not be operational as a national body for much longer - Peter Barber once said it would be 2020.
Yes, I know that numbers are not everything. And, yes, I know that there is a big push to be a discipleship movement shaped for mission. But I'm not so sure that that is as strong a motivation as some think. I am yet to see a big increase in membership or attendance based on Fresh Expressions initiatives. These tend to be smaller expressions of intense richness theologically, missionally, pastorally. But the issue is they tend to be small. Large sustained growth tends to be in suburban churches, community-specific churches, and the new churches.
Just playing with some figures, just seeking to get us talking...
Any comments would be very very welcome.