From Anecdote to Evidence is available here.
Mark Hart, Rector of Plemstall & Guilden Sutton, Diocese of Chester, has written an 18 page essay which evaluates this report. He has titled it From Delusion to Reality and you can read it in a PDF file located here.
His analysis makes use of a previously unpublished update dated September 2014 to a report by David Voas and Laura Watt, which was originally published in February 2014.
The updated version is now available here.
As the title of his analysis hints, his evaluation concludes that the evidence does not support the arguments now being made for the investment of substantial money by the Church Commissioners in order to stimulate church growth. His concluding paragraphs read:
The Church has recently embarked on a wide-ranging programme of ‘Reform and Renewal’, led with considerable energy and resolve, and this has quite understandably been a great source of encouragement to many. However, the Church Growth Research is cited as the evidence base for the success of these plans, and From Anecdote to Evidence represents the level of understanding of the research among the senior leadership.
It has been estimated that it will be necessary to borrow at least £100m from the future, using Church Commissioners’ funds, in order to implement the Task Group proposals. This paper therefore calls into question the basis for considering this an investment likely to pay back a return, in terms of either finance or church growth. It also calls into question the From Evidence to Action initiative which is designed to encourage parishes to implement the research findings as presented in From Anecdote to Evidence.
Despite appearances, this is not meant to be a negative analysis, even though it asks the Church’s leaders to accept that their research has provided no answer to the question of how to achieve sufficient numerical growth to offset the continuing decline.
The analysis here implies there is a need for much more radical thinking and planning, not less. The questions go wider than ‘How can we increase attendance figures?’ to include ‘What are the reasons for decline?’ and ‘What is an appropriate ecclesiology for a national Church in today’s social context?’ That requires attention to be given to all aspects of the Church’s role in society. And it requires the questions to be asked with a positive, outward look towards the people of the parishes rather than an inward, anxious focus on institutional strength.
The Church has officially moved from delusion to reality on attendance figures. It now needs to face the reality of what its own growth research is saying, and of why it was felt necessary to portray it in a way which would only create another delusion.
Read it all for yourself.
I omitted previously to link to the blog article introducing this written by Mark Hart. He said:
…My paper shows that ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’ systematically misrepresents or misinterprets the underlying report by David Voas & Laura Watt, thereby exaggerating the usefulness of the findings for numerical growth.
This has implications for the ‘Reform & Renewal’ programme (involving many Task Groups) which plans to borrow an estimated £100m from the future, on the evidence of this research, to invest in church growth…
Mark has now written a further note, From Even More Delusion to Reality, which says:
The C of E press release issued when ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’ was published was even more false than the report itself:
“Researchers have concluded that while there is no single recipe, there are common ingredients strongly associated with growth in churches of any size, place or context:
These include: Leadership; A clear mission and purpose; Willingness to self-reflect and learn continually; Willingness to change and adapt according to context; Lay as well as clergy involvement and leadership; Being intentional about prioritising growth; Actively engaging children and teenagers; Actively engaging with those who might not usually go to church; Good welcoming and follow up for visitors; Commitment to nurturing new and existing Christians; Vision” (my bold)
Every one of these factors, it is claimed, according to a professional research conclusion, is strongly associated with growth, in any church in the land.
This is so untrue, as my paper shows (and see previous post).
This is not an academic argument. It is about the people and clergy of the parishes. They are affected by decisions made on the basis of these ‘findings’. They deserve better.