Thursday, 22 April 2010

Local Statistics

I am interested in some of the statistics of the town church I currently attend on Sunday evenings. There is a stewardship campaign coming, beginning on May 4th. Prior to this, there was a survey. I am not involved in any of this, but some of the statistics struck me as being interesting and typical and some just examples of how not to ask statistical questions.

One feature typical of many a church is the age profile. It is top heavy, and of course female dominated (this example not as much as for some churches).
The About Your Faith question shows that either that there are no converts, or that there were some so long ago that they make up most of the life of the person (and 95% are over 46 - 46 to 65 being unfortunately too wide a band for an upper age range population). New people then must be circulated Christians. We know there is a conveyor belt going on here, and sociologists of religion know that religiosity does not increase as one gets older but that patterns of contact and religiosity have changed through present age ranges that shift along. So the largely absent generation, all things being equal, will stay largely absent as it gets older.

Many questions just don't follow a precision-contrast test needed to be useful. So I am reluctant to make anything of the issue of attendance as below, simply because you can be regular and occasional (and what does such mean in terms of frequency?), and how people view their income depends on what people think the average income might be (we tend to think we are below the average!). Other questions fail similar meaningful tests.

Barriers to giving again have a question problem that (changes in) the cost of living that would stop most people giving to the church is not actually related to (changes in) income, and given inflation is a reality most people then should have stopped giving (!), but nevertheless local wasting of money and all going to the diocese (but it never all goes to the diocese so why ask that question?) are identified as the other main reasons people would stop - thus people are reluctant to give into local excess and the higher Church. Question is, what is perceived as waste? For example, how does paying some clergy a salary relate to giving to the diocese/ local waste when there are numbers of unpaid clergy available and paid clergy are paid from above?
Make of these what you will, and the other answers. The statistics are public, so I am not revealing anything. I will reveal an opinion that they might have asked about asking survey questions.

Given that the Unitarian church I attend might one day produce a document for would be intended paid ministry, similar sorts of but different and precision-contrast questions might be asked there. I already know that there are a much smaller number of attenders but that every statistic should be more favourable. And I wonder whether that makes for a better future, or whether the numbers are just too low for anything to be said about the future. I just get the sense sometimes, in attending and looking (and thinking about), that indigenous historically based organised religion in Britain is simply on the way out.