Application of the Limited Enthusiasm Model with Demographics. Written in 2005, in the paper a General Model of Church Growth and Decline

The Church of England is in decline. Based on church attendance surveys, its attendance has fallen from 1.7 million in 1979, through 1.3 million in 1989 to 980,000 in 1998. Fitting this data to the limited enthusiasm model with demographics gives a reproduction potential of 1.08, under the extinction threshold of 1.11. Thus, the church is heading for extinction but over a very long time scale. Extrapolating the model into the 21st-century show attendance down to 500,000 by 2022, and a mere 80,000 by 2100, figure 1. If this forecast is correct, the church will be a very different institution by the end of the 21st century with most parishes closed.

Figure 1

Remarkably, the attendance of the church will be less than that of the “new” churches by 2025 as they are undergoing revival growth. As there are similar growing congregations in the Church of England, the above forecast maybe pessimistic because the evangelical and charismatic revival could become the dominant force in the Church of England. However, there is no reliable data to determine these effects numerically, and that revival could be coming to an end.

As noted above, the reproduction potential is not far below the extinction threshold. Several scenarios can be given that would see the decline slowed or reversed, figure 2.

Figure 2

Curve 1 is the extrapolation based on current figures. Curve 2 shows the effect of keeping all the children in the church. The church avoids extinction, but the decline is very similar. Curve 3 shows the effect of halving adult reversion. Although the loss of children and teenagers is tragic, they can get converted later in life. The main losses are among adults.

Curve 4 is with the child loss stemmed and the adult losses halved. This time containing child loss has more effect, as it is not swamped by adult losses. Curve 5 is with no child losses and the adult reversion a quarter of its current rate. This is enough to tip the church into revival growth. Of course, an increase in enthusiasm, i.e. the reproduction potential, would have far more effect. However, it does show what could be achieved if losses were stemmed.

Updates using the Church of England’s own data for 2001-2011 shows the Church of England either just above or just below the extinction threshold. Thus extinction may be avoided. This is a much better position than the Methodist, URC and Catholic denominations in the UK, and the Church of England should survive the century giving hope and time for recovery.