If you want to read the report yourself you can read a summary of it entitled: How does church attendance relate to beliefs and values? Or you can read the report itself on pages 7-10 of their publication Tomorrow’s Evangelism, it is entitled: Lies, dammed lies, and statistics: what do statistics really tell us?
The most challenging aspect for me, and what I preached on this morning, is the question of the uniqueness of the Christian faith. What I find deeply challenging in the Church Army article is how the understanding of this question relates to frequency of church involvement.
This really started me thinking. I had a conversation with someone at the end of the service who suggested that there were maybe less than 10 people in our church community who are there at every Sunday service! I don’t think it is quite that bad, but our of an Electoral Roll of 92 I could think of less than 15 people who are involved every Sunday morning! That in itself worries me. However I know St Paul’s is not alone in that the regularity of attendance at public worship is now less than I think it has ever been before, and that includes those who would consider themselves part of the core of church membership.
Sunday has changed and there are many reasons people don’t worship every week, indeed the term ‘regularly’ is often understood these days as being once a fortnight, or even once a month. Those reasons include Sunday sports and leisure, families who are geographically distant, the breakdown of family life for many, and a plethora of other attractions now on Sundays that compete for our attention and participation. As a church leader for instance I know that on a hot sunny Sunday in spring attendance at church services will be reduced, sometimes significantly!
I find this hard as I was brought up with the understanding that worship and God came first, above and before anything and everything else. If I could physically get out of bed on a Sunday morning I went to worship. As our children grew up this was the norm for our family which meant saying no to sports and other activities. As they are now grown up both our children know that we are not available on a Sunday morning, not just because I’m a vicar, but because worship and God simply come first.
Even more worrying is the correlation that the Church Army highlight of frequency of church involvement with belief in the Uniqueness of Christianity. In the report they correlate frequency of church involvement with the answers to the following question:
These are statements one sometimes hears. Please choose the statement that best describes your view?
1 – There is only one true religion
2 – There is only one true religion, but other religions do contain some basic truths as well
3 – There is not one true religion, but all great world religions contain some basic truths
4 – None of the great religions have any truths to offer
Approx 60% of those who are involved in churches on a weekly basis answered either that ‘there is only one true religion’ or that ‘there is only one true religion, but other religions do contain some basic truths as well’ leaving nearly 40% to answer ‘there is not one true religion, but all great world religions contain some basic truths’ – this 40% statistic is worrying to me, however it is the next set of statistics that is even more worrying. For those who are involved less than weekly (a significant proportion of those involved now in many churches) nearly 60% say that ‘there is not one true religion, but all great world religions contain some basic truths.’ The article suggests that those who attend less than weekly should perhaps be viewed as ‘partly-churched’ or as ‘church-fringe.’
This raises lots, and lots of questions. What, for instance, does it say about monthly or bi-monthly services for families like our Tea Service or Messy Church (or monthly 8am Traditional Communion services)? What difference in our understanding of our church communities would it make if we only counted those who were involved on at least a weekly basis? How do we understand discipleship, are we preaching and teaching a form on ‘Christianity lite’?
If you want to listen to my sermon from this morning on the question: Is there only one true religion, or are there many paths to God? you can find it here.