Monday, 30 January 2017

A Prophecy of Church Decline

At the beginning of the New Year, David Robertson, a well known Free Church of Scotland minister and blogger, gave ten prophecies for 2017 [1]. One of these particularly caught my eye:

The Church of Scotland and the Church of England in the UK will continue to decline …

One of the reasons he gives to support his prophecy is the turning away of these churches from the gospel. In fact, their decline for this year is virtually guaranteed because their senior age profile gives them a high death rate that births into the church cannot overcome. To stop declining both churches would need a massive number of conversions, far higher than anything seen in generations. So, sadly, I think David Robertson will certainly be able to tick this prophecy off!

These two denominations are not alone; the pattern of long-term decline is typical of nearly all pre-1900 denominations. To show this, let me present some data for eight UK denominations and examine their growth and decline patterns.

Institutional Nature of Decline

One cause of changes in church membership is the general growth of the population through births, deaths, and migration. To see genuine growth, rather than look at the actual numbers in a church, I will examine the church’s percentage of the total population of the country. If the percentage is positive, the church was gaining members from society; that is enough conversions were taking place to more than counterbalance its inability to keep all its children. If the percentage is negative, the church was failing to keep pace with any population growth, effectively losing its “market share”. This method works as it is safe to assume none of these churches had a per capita birth rate greater than that of society.

Figure 1 shows membership percentages for four of the larger denominations [2,3], three established and one free (Welsh Presbyterian) [4].  The Church of Scotland and Church in Wales show moderate percentage increases followed by long declines as they fail to keep pace with population growth. The Church of England would probably show the same pattern, but I suspect the membership figures in the 1800s are inflated due to inaccurate measures of electoral roll. However, its recent figures are more realistic, thus its percentage decline since the 1940s is genuine [5].

 
Figure 1: Membership of Church of England, Church in Wales, Church of Scotland, & Presbyterian Church of Wales, as percentages of the population of their countries, where data is known.
By contrast, the Welsh Presbyterians had a much higher percentage membership from the 1700s to the 1870s, due to very high conversion rates resulting from revival sustained over a number of generations [6]. Nevertheless, it has declined ever since and is now only a marginal part of Welsh life.  
All four churches show the pattern of the institutional lifecycle. A rise to prominence, caused by the freedom to channel spiritual life into evangelism, followed by a long decline, as the trappings of institutional maintenance and theological revisions distract churches from a passion for conversions. The Welsh Presbyterian church peaked earlier, perhaps because it was the one not established. Thus, it is further advanced in the lifecycle, explaining why is it now a smaller percentage than the Church in Wales.  The Church of Scotland has the fastest decline, probably because it has started with a much larger percentage of the host population.

Figure 2 shows four smaller denominations. The Methodist Church has the same institutional lifecycle as the Welsh Presbyterian, which is to be expected as both were at the forefront of the 18th century revival in England and Wales [7]. However, the United Reformed Church (URC) is similar to the institutional churches in figure 1. It was formed from the English Presbyterian and Congregational churches, which, like the established churches, predate the 18th century revivals.

 
Figure 2: Membership of the Methodist Church of Great Britain, the Pentecostal & New Churches, Free Church of Scotland, & United Reformed Church, as percentages of the population of their countries, where data is known.
To make sense of these patterns I would suggest the pre-revival churches, established and URC constituents, were declining before the 18th century revival at the end of a previous lifecycle. The revival was driven by new movements, Methodist and Welsh Presbyterian [8], which subsequently became churches and later institutionalised. Some congregations of the pre-revival churches became part of this revival, but many didn’t, hence the slower 19th century growth rate.  These churches were already theologically mixed and not predominantly evangelical, so a partial take-up of revival is not surprising.

By the end of the 19th century the Methodists and Welsh Presbyterians had become institutionalised, revival was no longer welcome, and they entered the decline phase of the lifecycle. The pre-revival churches just moved back on to the decline phase of their lifecycle that they had been on over a century earlier. Data from all these denominations have been fitted to the limited enthusiasm model of church growth and all are well under the extinction threshold, except the Church of England who are marginal For some that extinction is predicted before the end the middle of the century [5]. Lifecycles can come to an end.

The Contrast to Decline

There are still two churches I have not mentioned. I have added together the Pentecostal churches with the “New” churches. The former came from early 20th century revival, whereas the latter came from the 1960-1990 charismatic renewal, thus share similar traits. These churches are at the start of the lifecycle, with accelerated growth coming from the late 1990s due to strategic church planting and immigration enhancing the existing revival. Of course, it is not enough to make up for the losses in the other churches, but if growth is sustained it may do in the future.

I have also added in the Free Church of Scotland, as it was a comment by a Free Church minister that inspired this blog. Although it looked as if it were on the decline phase of the lifecycle it has recently flattened out and seen some small growth.

Cause of Decline

If, as David Robertson suggests, church decline is caused by “turning away from the gospel”[1], then there should be some correlation between the decline and theological liberalism.  Figure 3 shows the average membership change over the last 10 years; the evangelical churches are growing, the theologically mixed are declining. Of the declining ones, only the Church of England shows a significantly smaller decline rate. It could be argued that it has a greater fraction of theologically conservative congregations than the others; hence its decline is softened. Figure 3 suggests that theological liberalism, one of the causes of institutionalism, is driving church decline, a conclusion that has been reached by others before me [9].
 
Figure 3: Annual membership changes, averaged over 2005-2015, or closely similar period where data is uncertain.

Seriousness of Decline

The critical nature of church decline can be seen by noting that the rate of decline is increasing for most denominations. Figures 4 and 5 shows the annual percentage change in membership, averaged over ten years, for two denominations, compared with population change. This accelerated decline is due to aging in churches where there are few conversions to bring the average age down. This later stage of the institutional lifecycle contrasts markedly with the earlier revival phase, figure 4, where the Methodists managed growth well in excess of population growth for over a hundred years.

Figure 4: Annual change in Methodist Church membership, smoothed over a 10 year period, compared with the annual smoothed population change.

Figure 5: Annual change in Church of Scotland membership, smoothed over a 10 year period, compared with the annual smoothed population change.
Church leaders often express some mild concern over falling numbers [10]. A quick glance at either figure 4 or 5 should provoke the utmost alarm in those leaders and a determination to radically change direction. The trend is so clearly getting worse that it is almost unbelievable that this is not top of the agenda of every church denominational leadership meeting, rather than the endless debates on the church’s response to social trends.

Reversing Decline

It is the Pentecostal church grouping that is seeing clear growth. The lesson for the other denominations from this is that if you want to see growth, embrace the charismatic revival with its Bible centred evangelical doctrines! However, it may not be as simple as that.

Pentecostal growth has not come out of the blue, but from a sustained commitment to its theological stance over generations. Revival is often a long haul. Likewise, the other churches’ decline has come from generations of theological and institutional lethargy. It cannot be turned around overnight. But individual congregations could be turned into growth if the central denomination allows those who wish to go down a Bible-based and revival route, to do so unhindered by denominational pressures. Unhindered doctrinally, financially and in terms of ministerial training and appointment.

Perhaps even small lessons can be learned. Why has the Free Church of Scotland stopped declining? It is not dramatic, but is better than decline! I could point to similar modest success in the independent evangelical churches in England. What have they discovered that the declining denominations have failed to grasp? If nothing else the leaders of the denominations facing future extinction owe it to their members to learn from denominations and congregations that have bucked the trend.


References and Notes


[1] Ten Prophecies re the Church in 2017, David Robertson, The Wee Flea, 11/1/17


[2] Currie, R., Gilbert, A. D., & Horsley, L. S. (1977). Churches and Churchgoers: Patterns of Church Growth in the British Isles since 1700. Oxford University Press.

Brierley P. (2014). UK Church Statistics 2010-2020, and previous editions. Brierley Consultancy. Also Religious Trends Vol 1-7, Christian Research.

Statistics for Mission. Church of England

Statistics for Mission, various editions, Methodist Church.

Church of Scotland Blue Books.

Attendance figures are not known over a time range of centuries, even obtaining membership data is challenging. Attendance tends to be higher than membership in growing churches, and lower in declining ones.  This is due to delays in joining and leaving churches, and due to evangelistically active churches have a large fringe of uncommitted people.


[3] Percentages are calculated in terms of the relevant host population, such as England, Wales, Scotland, Great Britain (GB), the sum of the previous three.


[4] Though technically disestablished, the Church in Wales occupies a similar position in law as the Church of England, sharing rules on marriages and church schools, thus having points of contact with the state.


[5] Blog: Anglican Church Decline in the West – The Data

Blog: Anglican Church Decline in the West – Possible Reasons


[6] Blog: Church Decline Caused by Lack of Conversions

Blog: Church Decline cause by Lack of Revivals

Blog: Why Revivals Stopped in the UK


[7] Not the sudden drop in combined Methodist membership in the middle of the 19th century. Although the data includes all the constituent Methodist churches before and after splits and mergers, it is likely that for a couple years a number of members failed to be counted. The temporary drop is a recording issue not a genuine drop in real members. The same effect can be seen in figure 4.


[8] The Welsh Presbyterians were Methodists, but of the Calvinist variety. The name change to Presbyterian came at the beginning of the 20th century.


[9] The correlation between theological stance and growth patterns has been discussed many times in the literature, much as a response to the seminal work by Dean Kelley:
Dean Kelley, Why Conservative Churches are Growing: A Study in the Sociology of Religion. Mercer University Press, revised 1986, originally 1972.


[10] The following is typical of church leaders avoiding the issue. The soon-to-be-retiring Archbishop of Wales in an interview with the BBC admitted attendances at church had not done "terribly well" but said he has seen church communities become "more engaged" with society than ever before.  Given there has been sixty years of decline in the Church in Wales, which has accelerated in the last few years, then his comments are something of an understatement.

Archbishop of Wales Dr Barry Morgan on his retirement, BBC News, 27/1/17.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Infectious Church Growth

An “Agent-Based” View

The central hypothesis I use to model church growth is that religious belief spreads like an infectious disease. This principle is built in to the limited enthusiasm model of church growth. The church contains enthusiasts, who pass their faith on to unbelievers, who convert to the faith. Some of those new converts also become enthusiasts for their newfound faith. Eventually enthusiasm wanes, the convert runs out of people to positively influence; they cease to be enthusiasts, thus becoming inactive believers.

The essence of this model is expressed in the stocks and flows of system dynamics, figure 1, and it works well for periods of revival, and, with a few additions, sustained periods of growth or decline [1,2].

Figure 1: Outline of Limited Enthusiasm Model in System Dynamics

This type of model is called macroscopic, because people of the same type are treated as a single unit. The stock, “Enthusiasts”, stands for the total number of enthusiasts at any one time. What this type of model does not do is give a picture of events at the individual level. For this we need a microscopic model; one example of which is called an agent-based model.

Agent-Based Model

In an agent-based model each person is modelled individually – they are called agents. Every agent is capable of being in more than one state, and the hypotheses of the model determine how an agent changes their state. There are also hypotheses that describe how agents relate to each other – their network [3].

For the limited enthusiasm model of church growth, the agents are the people who can have one of three states, depending on whether they are: unbelievers, enthusiasts, or inactive believers. The simplest form of network is to use a rectangular grid so that each person, a mini square, relates to 8 neighbours. In figure 2, the green squares are unbelievers (U), the red squares are enthusiasts (E), and the blue squares are inactive believers (B).

Figure 2: Outline of Limited Enthusiasm Model in an Agent-Based Model 

The unbeliever at the centre of figure 2 can be potentially influenced by any of the 8 surrounding agents. Conversion may occur in a given time period if there is at least one enthusiast connected to the unbeliever. The more enthusiasts in that network, the more likely the conversion. Thus in figure 2, there is a 2 in 8 (= 25%) chance of the central unbeliever having a contact that may lead to conversion. The green turns red. That conversion is still not inevitable, but the longer an unbeliever has an enthusiast in their network, the more likely a conversion becomes.

The process of an enthusiast becoming inactive does not depend on neighbours. Instead, after a fixed period of time, there is a chance the enthusiast will cease to have influence. Thus the red turns blue.

The two preceding hypotheses are called transition rules. They are the algorithms that drive the model. The transitions green to red to blue are the individual level equivalent of the stock/flow diagram of figure 1.

A Simulation.

For a simulation I will use the agent-based simulation software NetLogo [4]. Let us start with a church of enthusiasts in one block, figure 3, plot 1. The world is the entire green square of 121 by 121 cells, 14641 agents.  Some of the initial enthusiasts have no contact with unbelievers, but the ones on the edge do. Thus as time progresses the church grows, plot 2, leaving a church of mainly inactive believers in its wake. These are inactive in conversion, though they may be active in other aspects of the church.

Figure 3: Four Snapshots From Agent-Based Version of the Limited Enthusiasm Model. Green Unbelievers; Red – Enthusiasts; Blue – Inactive Believers

As time runs on further, the church grows, figure 3, plots 3 and 4, though there is always a chance that it could stall as it runs out of enthusiasts. Many of its boundaries with society have no enthusiasts – thus no conversions. Also there are unconverted people who can no longer be reached, the green agents surrounded by blue ones.

The church eventually stops growing leaving many people unconverted, figure 4. A fundamental result of the spread of an infection is that it burns out before everyone gets the disease.  Likewise the limited enthusiasm model predicts that revivals burn out before everyone is converted. Figures 3 and 4 show this principle at the microscopic level.



Figure 4: Final State of a Simulation of the Limited Enthusiasm Model. No Enthusiasts Remain and Church Stops Growing.

The total number of people in the church (red and blue) can be plotted over time, figure 5; along with the total number of enthusiasts (red), figure 6. The growth patterns of the agent-based model are very similar to the system dynamics model, figure 7, but the former has more randomness due to its microscopic nature [5, 6]. To fully replicate the smooth system dynamics predictions, the agent-based model would need to be run many times and the results averaged [7].

Figure 5: Growth of Church Over Time in Agent-Based Limited Enthusiasm Model

Figure 6: Number of Enthusiasts Over Time in Agent-Based Limited Enthusiasm Model

Figure 7: Results of System Dynamics Limited Enthusiasm Model

Conclusion

Agent-based models give a very visual view of how the church grows and running a simulation can really bring a model to life. Try the online version of the agent-based model to get feel for its behaviour:

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(Instructions under Model Info)

The real drawback with agent-based models is that it is very hard to describe the model. Unlike system dynamics, the agent-based methodology has no intuitive and visual representation of the model structure and its hypotheses. Also you do need to run an agent-based model many times to see a clear conclusion. A system dynamics model can achieve this in one run, and quickly connect behaviour with model structure. Try the system dynamics version of the limited enthusiasm model yourself and see the contrast:

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Hopefully this quick introduction to agent-based modelling has given further insight into the nature of church growth, and the mind of the mathematical modeller!

John Hayward
Church Growth Modelling


References


[1] The limited enthusiasm model of church growth is explained in:




[2] I have other models of church growth, whose main aim is to explain why the effectiveness of believers in conversion may vary over time. Issues include limited resources, the generation of spiritual life and the accumulation of institutional baggage.

[3] For introductions to agent-based modelling see:


[4] NetLogo is freely available from https://ccl.northwestern.edu/netlogo/

[5] The argument runs that the behaviour of an individual cannot be exactly predicted. Prediction only becomes possible when the behaviour of large numbers of individuals are combined and the unpredictability is smoothed out. Getting the nature and extent of randomness in individual behaviour is far from straightforward.

[6] The system dynamics simulation was performed in Stella Architect available from isee Systems http://www.iseesystems.com/


[7] Averaging does not give a complete replica of the system dynamics results. This is partly due to the unrealistic network used. Some people have many contacts; some have few. Scale free and small world networks give better results. Further replication would require an improved model of how long an agent remains infectious, i.e. an enthusiast.




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Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Rise and Decline of British Methodism

Application of the Institutional Model of Church Growth


Some while ago I introduced a model of church membership that explain the rapid growth of a church, only to be followed by decline as institutionalism set in [1]. The primary effect of institutionalism is on the conversion rate. Thus it is possible for a once vibrant, growing church, be it congregation, or denomination, to end up heading for extinction, as it is unable to sustain enough conversions to counteract its losses.

The primary purpose of the model was to provide an alternative explanation of church decline to the limited enthusiasm model. The latter uses the metaphor of the spread of a disease and can work well for periods of revival, and as a model of decline on its own. However it can’t model decline whose cause is a loss of vitality.

By contrast the institutional model uses the metaphor of overshoot and collapse due to the production of a resource with unintended consequences. As the church grows it becomes more organised, more professional, and becomes a pillar of society – all traits of organisational intuitionalism. After some delay, this institutionalism restricts recruitment, eventually causing decline. But because of the delays the church is not able to spot the unintended effects of a professional church and cannot take action fast enough to correct the problem. It knows it needs revival not regulation, but can’t quite bring itself to let the chaos of a spiritual outpouring spoil its neatly ordered structures. The ultimate result is extinction.

Most of the pre-1900 denominations in the UK display the growth and decline pattern, and are thus candidates to fit the institutional model [2]. Unfortunately few have consistent data over the time span required, the one church that does are the Methodist Church [3]. As they were birthed in revival, and are now declining, they are therefore an excellent candidate to have their membership pattern explained by institutionalism.

The Institutional Model

The model is constructed using system dynamics, a methodology that explains behaviour in terms of feedback [4]. There are two variables: Church meaning church membership in this case, and Institutionalism, figure 1. These are indicated by rectangles, called stocks in the diagram. The more people in church the more people are added to the church, feedback loop R1. People are the primary resource of the church, contacting those outside the church, and bringing them to faith.


Figure 1: Institutional Model of Church Growth
Of course the more people in church then the more will leave each year, balancing loop B1, figure 1. R1 needs to be bigger than B1 for the church to grow.

As the church grows there is a build up of institutionalism, which in turn restricts the number added to the church, loop B2, figure 1. Whereas loops R1 and B1 only involve one stock, B2 involves two. Thus its effects are subject to more delay as the marks of institutionalism take time to build. Indeed there are delays in the church building the institution and in its effect on conversion/recruitment (not shown in diagram). These delays make the effects of institutionalism much harder to handle.

There is only so much institutionalism any organisation can take, it becomes harder to generate as it gets bigger, loop B3. Indeed there may be attempts to reduce institutional, loop B4. However there will be people in the church who want to maintain the institution regardless of its size, loop R2.

Data Fitting

The model of figure 1 is fitted to membership data for the Methodist church in Great Britain, that is excluding Northern Ireland [5], figure 2. The earliest reliable data is 1767, which is well within the church’s early revival period, thus a good starting point [6]. The data fit is given in figure 2, where the membership figures of the different branches of Methodism have been combined in the periods where they were organisationally separate [7].

Figure 
2: Data Fit of GB Methodist Church 1767-2014

The model gives a remarkably good fit, except around the times where a major division occurred (1850), and the subsequent rejoining of different streams (early 20th century), figure 2. This may be connected difficulty in collecting data in such periods, or genuine loss to the church.  

The model takes into account population growth, and the higher death rate and lower birth rates in an aging church [8]. However these effects are hard to estimate accurately as the church get smaller. Note the discrepancy in the last two data points; the model is more optimistic than the actual data, which currently predicts extinction before the middle of the century.

Generally membership the church peaks around 1900. However if the growth of the population is factored out then real growth, i.e. proportional growth, ended mid-1860s,  figure 3 [9]. After this time the church is making no further inroads into the population, losing ground instead. The year of this turning point compares well with some other denominations [3].
Figure 3: Methodist Membership as a Percentage of British Population 

Thus Methodist church dynamics can be divided into three periods: revival growth, saturation, and decline. What is the reason for this change to decline?

Reasons for Methodist Decline

The model explains decline in terms of rising institutionalism. For the Methodist church the model indicates that institutionalism rose fast late 1700s to early 1800s, around the time it moved from being an Anglican renewal movement to a separate denomination. Since the mid 19th century, the transition from revival growth to saturation,  institutionalism has remained intact, figure 4.


Figure 4: Simulation of Methodist Church Membership & Institutionalism for Best fit to Membership Data
The effects of rising institutionalism can be seen in the various rates of change, figure 5:

Inflows:
recruitment to church,
biological addition to the church, i.e. children of church members who enter membership;

Outflows:
leaving church,
deaths of church members.


Figure 5: Rates of  Addition and Loss, Methodist Church GB

From its inception up to the mid 19th century Methodist dynamics were dominated by conversion, that is recruitment from outside the church. This accounts for the church growing faster than the population during that period. These conversions cannot be explained by transfer growth from other denominations alone, as all denominations grew during this revival growth period.  Note conversion is much bigger than biological additions. The sum of the two is much larger than the losses due to deaths and leaving.

From the middle of the 19th century, the saturation period, recruitment stops growing and is slowly caught up by the leaving rate of a still growing church. Meanwhile the biological additions peak in 1900 as the church starts to age due to there being a smaller margin between conversion and leaving. However the death rate continues to rise. The transition from the saturation period to decline around 1900 is largely due the changing balance of these additions and losses

In the decline period conversion/recruitment and leaving rates are more less the same, thus conversion no longer drives the dynamics. Instead, with falling national birth rates, and aging congregations, the decline dynamics are dominated by the church death rate, which becomes the largest from 1975 onwards. Churches never retained more than about 50% of their children [3], thus without a vibrant conversion rate, unhindered by the effects of institutionalism, the church cannot possibly make up for its losses.

The Future

The time for the church to deal with its institutionalism was in the 1860s, where the end of proportional growth, figure 3, would have been sufficient evidence that something was wrong. By the early 1900s when decline starts, and a generation had past without revival, it was too late to make effective changes to its dynamics. Such is the effect of delays. So what can be done now?

At this stage of denominational decline it is best to think in terms of congregations rather than the denomination. There will be strong Methodist congregations, even in 2016. These could be identified and allowed more autonomy to act independently of the denomination, especially in terms of finance and theology. Such strong congregations could then be free to seek partnerships with other church groupings, either local or national. They could also be encouraged to take control of other Methodist congregations whose prospects are poor perhaps by a church plant.

I realise such deregulation of denominational structure might lead to the end of the Methodist church as a denomination. But what it could lead to is new church movements that emerge from its now freer, stronger congregations, who would be the seeds of future denominations. This is not a just a Methodist issue, but a strategy that could be replicated across all declining denominations.

The Christian church in the UK is in a state of transition, the old is passing and the new will come. Yet managed well the best of the old will survive and flourish in the future. The Methodist denomination may go [10] but the spirit of Methodism will emerge, perhaps stronger, in churches with new names, but believing the age-old beliefs that made Methodism so strong in its early days.

References & Notes


[1] Blog: Institutionalism and Church Decline. 27/4/2015.

[2] The Baptist Union of Great Britain is an exception to the growth and decline pattern. This may be due to it being a collection of independent churches – often very independent!

[3] I have already discussed the reasons for growth and decline using data from the Welsh Calvinist Methodist Church, aka the Presbyterian Church of Wales. Like the Wesleyan Methodists they have a rich data set, recording births, deaths, joining and leaving rates. Indeed their data shows the stability of leaving rates, and child retention rates, over long periods. Instead it is the change in conversion rate that affects growth and decline.

Blog: Church Decline Caused by Lack of Conversions

Blog: Church Decline cause by Lack of Revivals

Blog: Why Revivals Stopped in the UK

[4] For more information on System Dynamics see:
Sterman J.D. (2000). Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World, McGraw Hill.

Morecroft J. (2007). Strategic Modelling and Business Dynamics: A Feedback Systems Approach. John Wiley and Sons.

Systems Dynamics Society, http://www.systemdynamics.org/


[5] The division of Ireland into North and South in the 20th century makes it difficult to include figures for Northern Ireland over a 250 year timescale.

[6] Currie, R., Gilbert, A. D., & Horsley, L. S. (1977). Churches and Churchgoers: Patterns of Church Growth in the British Isles since 1700. Oxford University Press, table A3, pp. 139-144.

Brierley P. (2014). UK Church Statistics 2010-2020, and previous editions. Brierley Consultancy. Also Religious Trends, Christian Research.

Statistics for Mission, various editions, Methodist Church.

[7] Data fit was performed using optimisation in the system dynamics software Vensim. Ventana Systems http://www.vensim.com/

[8] The growth of the GB population is given in the graph below. Note how population growth accelerates in the 1800s with the industrial revolution, then slows a bit in the twentieth century.


The GB birth rate peaks early 1800, see graph below. It drops significantly from late 19th century onwards. Even with the falling death rate no church in the 21st century can expect to grow as fast as those of 19th century, family size is so much smaller. Likewise the church cannot expect to be as young as those of the 19th century, and are made even older by the longer life expectancy. However the church can expect revival as in the 19th century, and it can expect to grow faster than the population.


In the 18th and 19th century, the church was generally younger than the population average, hence the birth ratio being above one, and the death ratio below one, see graph below. The most likely explanation is that the converts into the church were younger than the population average. Modern studies on conversion shows that it peaks in the twenties age group. When conversion rates were high, and the church growing, the church was relatively young, even though it only kept half its own young people. As conversions fell the church became older. Thus from 1900 the death rate rises and the birth rate falls, graph below. With the current levels of birth and death rates in church, even a large revival would not turn decline into growth overnight. The effects of revival now may not be fully seen for 30 years or more.



Further details at:

[9] Analysis graphs produced in Stella Architect, also used to draw the model in figure 1. ISEE Systems http://www.iseesystems.com/

[10] Although statistically most pre-1900 denominations are heading for extinction, this does not mean they will inevitably go extinct. Some may survive in a much smaller form, probably in large towns and cities, providing a valuable link with the past. Indeed there is no reason why a church that is almost extinct cannot grow again if it turns back to God and receives his power. The Lord looks at the heart not the denominational name, or the statistics!