Monday, 27 April 2015

The defence of From Anecdote to Evidence is unconvincing

We reported earlier on the critique of From Anecdote to Evidence.

This week’s Church Times contains a letter to the editor from the Head of Research and Statistics for the Archbishops’ Council, and the Senior Strategy Officer for the Church Commissioners which purports to respond to that criticism. Do read the letter before the reply below. Professor Voas’ presentation mentioned in the letter can be linked to here.

Mark Hart has now responded to that letter with this: From Misrepresentation to Misrepresentation. Please read the whole of his article, which rebuts the letter’s claims point by point. He concludes with this:

…More positively, the letter does not try to contradict 7 of my 8 concluding points, nor my overall conclusion that ‘according to the research, the increase in growth to be expected from the use of these factors will be nowhere near sufficient to halt the relentless generational decline, even if the resources could be found to move every lever as far as possible’.

However, they end by trying to defend the claim to have an evidence base for the Reform & Renewal programme by saying that the Church Growth Research Programme is just one part of the evidence. Yet it has repeatedly been cited as the basis, it is claimed as ‘hard information’ compared with the anecdotal, and it is undoubtedly the most comprehensive and detailed research available.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 27 April 2015 at 4:57pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

If the main thrust of this proposed new development in the Church of england is designed to encourage more young people to join the Church; then perhaps a more simple expedient might help to achieve that primary objective: Prove to young people that the Church really cares about those on the margins - like the more honest people who want to be open about their true sexual identity. That's just a start!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 at 9:55am BST

Is the reason why Mark Hart's work has been defensively dismissed from Church House, chiefly by not allowing the statistics and methodology to get in the way of the pre-defined strategy, that the episcopal elite have already decided that no other theological, methodological, statistical or ecclesial discourse will be allowed to prove that there are 'other levers to pull' (as Ian Paul has put it)? Just imagine how loudly I laughed when I found an envelope on the doormat, yesterday morning, containing a letter from the Archbishop of York asking for my support (on almost a side and a half of his A4 headed notepaper) for "Feed the Minds"!

Posted by: Simon R on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 at 11:23am BST

I worry that this is turning into a spat which means we take our eye of the ball once again. I realise that the statistics are not perfect. None are. But they are not completely false. I have done a fair bit of teaching on evangelism and growing the local church, and when Anecdote to Evidence came out I thought it was not far from the mark. Countless others have said the same.

So, we have wonky data, but its not completely flawed. It is evidenced enough by other pieces of work to show that it affirms what has been thought for a long time.

I for one long for the church to grow - numerically, and in discipleship and in its impact on society. I for one want us to be a generous inclusive church. The report and all the work that is happening can help us.

It is not taking us down an untrodden road. Many have been before and are reporting back good news.

For the church to invest in this way to me does not seem unwise, but necessary.

As we invest, we need to make sure that we see that the money bears fruit and is invested well and wisely.

There is also mystery in all this and I refer everyone to the wonderful words of John Holmes after his work on Cathedrals and Greater Churches.

"Any wise student of church growth should always acknowledge the mystery of God's loving action in the world and admit that we really don't know why this cathedral or Greater Church has grown at this time. But then God is God and we are not."

Posted by: Tim S on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 at 2:57pm BST

If only wanting something to be true made it so. If only anecdote was evidence, but it isn't. If only 'common knowledge' and 'loads of people say the same' meant scientific proof, but they don't.

Critics of Anecdote to Evidence are not saying the church doesn't need to get a grip on this right now, or that we don't care about growing the church. It's simply that the interpretations being made of AtoE by the Archbishops Council and the Church Commissioners etc. are scientifically illiterate and will waste- I repeat waste- millions of pounds of church money. Anyone who truly cares about evangelism should be shouting loud that this cannot continue.

Here's a challenge for the Archbishops Council: gather some respected scientists together- perhaps start with Ben Goldacre- and ask them if, on the basis of Anecdote to Evidence, they recommend that the C of E proceeds as planned. If they do, I for one will shut up.

We need to do something about decline, but this is not it. How about using A to E as a springboard to generate and fund some proper research?

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 at 8:31pm BST

Why waste breath? The policy has been decided. It WILL be implemented. Nothing I say will make the slightest difference, and I suspect this is true for us all. I push on, doing my best to look after my people and care for three buildings, two of which are large money guzzling architecturally splendid edifices. Already, we are dipping into reserves to pay the quota. I am in my 60s. I enjoy what I do but I genuinely feel for younger people embarking on parochial ministry.

Posted by: Fr William on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 at 9:28pm BST

It is all very well arguing about the position of the deck chairs. There was a graph in the papers for General Synod which showed national projections of 6,397 stipendiary clergy by 2021 - down from over 8,000 in 2012. Dioceses collectively were planning for 7,465 stipendiary clergy and hoping for 8,115.

That is a challenging situation, and shows that we have work to do: the existing models we have are creaking at the seams already. It also shows a weakness in strategic leadership - a failure to identify and deal effectively with the decline in numbers of stipendiary clergy. No wonder some intelligent people think that our leaders need new skills and insights - Green may not be the answer, but at least it is an attempt to deal with the question.

We are in new territory when we face this reality. God, we believe, will provide. We have access to resources, human and financial. We badly need to develop and cherish the gifts we have to meet the challenges of the present. The first steps of a large and conservative organisation facing a new situation will rarely be confident steps in the right direction, but unless they are taken, the direction will not change.

I hugely regret that this seems to be becoming an issue between liberal and evangelical "factions" - it need not be so. Organisations which fracture under pressure very often fail. The whole reform programme (I attended the From Anecdote to Evidence launch) could have been dealt with differently - I could sense the evangelical fervour and see the language which would irritate a liberal catholic - it needed more care.

The underlying research was pretty good - the fresh expressions material doesn't deal enough with the question of maturity and moving on from the first generation and what makes a long-term success. I thought the material on amalgamations and multi-parish benefices was weaker than the other strands. There is more work to do, and I hope that it is being done. Spending £100,000 of the £100m suggested to support some doctoral research in practical theology (I declare an interest as treasurer of BIAPT and a member of the Church of England) would be a cheap way of developing new talent and a better informed debate. And it would be the beginning of a declaration of confidence by the sponsors of the programme that the answers to the questions were not determined in advance.

By all means provide a critique of "Something needs to be done. This is something. Therefore it needs to be done." That is a logical fallacy. But who is arguing that nothing needs to be done?

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 at 10:56pm BST

This is very helpful Mark. I am right with you.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Wednesday, 29 April 2015 at 8:18am BST

Mark Bennett raises some interesting and worrying figures concerning the future number of clergy. I am wondering why TA has not to my knowledge posted any news concerning the Archbishops' Council's initiative "Reform and Renewal". I can't remember seeing anything on this Blog about this important development. I know that I live a fairly sheltered life but the first I ever heard of its existence was at a recent meeting of the Diocesan Synod when two members of the Archbishops' Council gave an excellent presentation about it. One item on the inevitable Power Point Presentation stated that one Reform and Renewal aim was to see an increase of 50% in the number of clergy by 2020. This is a most ambitious target, is it realistic and achievable or simply a pipe dream?

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 30 April 2015 at 3:54am BST

Father David - I believe the 50% increase target is in the number of ordinands, not clergy. Still an ambitious target, but more achievable than a 50% increase in clergy!

Posted by: Chris Routledge on Thursday, 30 April 2015 at 10:03am BST

"One item on the inevitable Power Point Presentation stated that one Reform and Renewal aim was to see an increase of 50% in the number of clergy by 2020."

Realistic or not, is this an appropriate or necessary goal, given CofE demographics at present?

Posted by: Jeremy on Thursday, 30 April 2015 at 1:37pm BST

Chris don't ordinands become clergy, just as sure as tadpoles become frogs?

Posted by: Father David on Thursday, 30 April 2015 at 10:38pm BST

Father David - yes, of course! Just making the point that a 50% increase in the number of ordinands won't lead to a 50% increase in the number of clergy.

Posted by: Chris Routledge on Friday, 1 May 2015 at 8:20am BST

Surely it will eventually? Although the reduction of stipendiary clergy by 40% in the next few years due to retirement must be added into the equation. Anyway, whatever the outcome, it is good that the powers that be are at long last being proactive in recruiting and not telling embryonic ordinands to go away and get some experience in the real world. After serving 38 years of ministry, I can tell you from the heart that if the parochial ministry doesn't put you in contact with "the real world" then I don't know what does.

Posted by: Father David on Friday, 1 May 2015 at 8:33am BST

Fair point, it will do eventually! And yes, I completely agree with you regarding recruitment; I do hope we will see the number of people coming forward for ordination continue to grow - no matter what their age or 'life experience'.

Posted by: Chris Routledge on Friday, 1 May 2015 at 10:13am BST

Though of course that 50% is even more ambitious than it appears as it no longer includes gay ordinands...

Posted by: Fr Andrew on Friday, 1 May 2015 at 3:13pm BST

Indeed. Good luck finding young people willing to lead an organisation that openly and shamelessly discriminates against LGBT people.

Posted by: Jeremy on Sunday, 3 May 2015 at 2:46am BST

The reality (@Jeremy) is that there will be no shortage of young ordinands willing to maintain the discriminatory policy. Oak Hill, Trinity, Wycliffe, the new (quasi Moore in Sydney) institution about to go live in Winchester will be packed with them. And with all the new bishops coming from Cranmer Hall, we can be sure everyone will be fully on message and taking their orders from Welby's cherished 'Global South'!

Posted by: Simon R on Monday, 4 May 2015 at 8:48am BST

Simon, I take your point that there are institutions lined up to endorse the CofE's policies, which at present discriminate against LGBT people. And these institutions do train ordinands.

I wonder, however, whether such ordinands will find themselves without any lay leaders of their own generation.

Query too whether the new Parliament could have a major impact on the CofE's "no openly gay people in the House of Bishops" tradition.

If an LBGT person becomes a bishop, then where will that put the likes of Oak Hill, Trinity, Wycliffe, and Cranmer Hall? In a rather difficult position, I think--having to choose between their own national church and their theological fellow travelers abroad.

It's only a matter of time.

Posted by: Jeremy on Wednesday, 6 May 2015 at 2:33am BST
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