How would you answer that question?
Over the past few days I have networked with a wide variety of people. Once I have introduced myself and explained where St Michael’s is, I can almost guarantee that at some point in the conversation this question will come up. It’s a useful conversation starter, and it helps people to understand what our church is like. But nonetheless I find it a difficult question to answer, for a variety of reasons.
First of all, St Michael’s and St Barnabas is not my church, it is God’s. That sounds very pious, but there is a hard-edged reality to this point. In my experience most tensions and disputes in churches break out because someone comes to see the local church as their church. So when the church changes for any reason, even if that change is of the Lord, that is when people tend to feel insecure and threatened, and relationships come under strain. After all, we all find change hard, and that is why it is so important to constantly make sure the church is going in the direction Lord intends, following only His agenda and His priorities.
Beyond that, it’s also interesting I am always asked how big my church is, not how small. Now the question may be perfectly innocent, but I recognise in myself the tendency to measure the church by the world’s standards. Size is seen as good, a big church is often valued more than a small church. And in case you think I am exaggerating, when was the last time you went to a conference where the speaker was introduced as the minister of a small, struggling congregation!?
And even if I could give a finite answer to the question, the church, because it is constantly changing, is always fluctuating in numbers. So often when I give a definite answer, I find only about half the people turn up the next week! I think God has a sense of humour and likes to keep me humble. It can be all too easy to boast of numbers and statistics, but God’s interest is people in all their infinite complexity, whose lives are so often so difficult to measure.
Nonetheless… each year I meet with the churchwardens because we are required to fill in the annual Statistics for Mission where we try and quantify what is happening at St Michael’s and St Barnabas. So here is the information we have recorded, to attempt to give some kind of answer to the question.
There are 75 people on the electoral rolls of both parishes.
Over the past ten months, since the merger, we have had an average (median) attendance of 51 adults and 6 children.
We have about 60 regular worshippers who come at least once a month, and plenty more who attend more infrequently. Of these, we have 2 children, 30 aged 18-69 and 28 aged 70 and over (Apologies for those placed in the wrong category!)
How has the merger impacted on the congregation? Our average attendance has gone back up to the levels of 2013. The difference is that since then the number of people who are able to actively participate in various activities have grown.
How does this compare with other churches? According to the Church of England Statistics for Mission for 2015 published in October 2016:
The median church had 37 people attending worship in an average week in October, the majority being adults, with 29 on a usual Sunday. It had 56 people at Easter, 90 at Christmas, and a worshipping community of 45. It carried out 4 baptisms, 2 marriages, and 5 funerals in 2015.
We are slightly above the median in most areas, except for Christmas attendance and weddings. But there is no room for complacency – 60 regular worshippers is well short of even 1% of the parish population. So what of the future? Our aim must surely be to increase the number of children who regularly worship with us and raise up a new generation of believers. And we must do so constantly remembering it is the Lord’s church not ours, and trusting Him alone.
So to finish, a verse from Philippians 1:6 which is fast becoming my verse for this year:
…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.