Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Rise and Decline of Western Civilisation

Brexit, Corbyn and Trump

It has been an interesting year in politics! I started writing this on the day that Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected leader of the British Labour Party. Perceived as an anti-“establishment” figure he has challenged the political orthodoxy of his party by mobilising grass roots support to sideline the majority of his Labour MPs [1]. It leaves the party ideologically divided and fragmented, especially at the parliamentary level. By contrast Corbyn, and the Momentum movement that has given him almost cult-like support, have grown in political power, although some believe it will make his party unelectable [2]. Momentum is one of many growing radical political groups in Western Europe, in this case of the left.

Before this there was the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, the so-called Brexit. The referendum, put before the people by former Prime Minister David Cameron, was intended to settle the matter of the country’s relationship with Europe once and for all, by the people voting remain, as Cameron had campaigned. Instead they voted by a narrow majority to leave, seen by commentators as a blow against the “establishment” [3]. In practice what it has done is highlight the magnitude of the divisions that exist in the UK over this issue, and the related issues of migration and economics. Nigel Farage, the father of Brexit, inspires devotional loyalty from supporters, very much like Jeremy Corbyn does from his.  Unlike Corbyn, Farage’s party has only one seat in the British parliament; relying on their seats in the European parliament they dislike so much for their legitimacy!

Then there is Donald Trump, perhaps the ultimate anti-“establishment” figure. Having seized the Republican nomination with what many see as outrageous promises and attitudes, he is now gaining ground in the race for the White House. If mathematician Serge Galam is correct then Trump has a winning formula that could see him as the next president of the USA [4]. One thing is certain, whoever wins it will leave the USA more ideologically divided rather than united.

Trump, Corbyn and the Brexit leaders have two things in common. Firstly they thrive on support from people who dislike the “establishment”; people who have a deep distrust of the politicians who run their countries and parties. Secondly they create more division.  For them success does not come from broad consensus across people with a wide range of conflicting opinions. It is sufficient to get a majority, however narrow, as a mandate to “dictate” on behalf of the enlightened people who voted for them.

There is nothing new in these phenomena, there a plenty of examples in history. My interest here is they could be signs of a decline in social cooperation in the West.

Church Growth & Decline

Now my main interest in modelling is the growth and decline of the Christian church. I prefer the former, but decline does teach valuable lessons. I have written on one model in particularly that explains the transition from growth to decline of denominations in terms of their increasing institutionalism [5]. I have applied it to both the Wesleyan and Welsh Methodists, showing that they fit a lifecycle of dramatic rise followed by a slow decline [6].

A side-effect of the rise in institutionalism has been a disconnect between the denominational leaders and a significant minority of those they lead. The current state of the Church of England and the Church of Scotland are examples. Like the Brexit, Corbyn and Trump phenomena there is increasing division and fragmentation in church denominations.

What intrigues me is the parallel between the decline in the historic Christian denominations, and the decline in confidence in establishment Western politics. Perhaps they are examples of a wider fragmentation principle.

Rise and Fall of Empires

History is full of examples of empires that rose, flourished and collapsed. Rome is the obvious example, documented in the well-known book by Gibbon [7]. A historian, Peter Turchin, has attempted to explain this imperial lifecycle using mathematical models [8]. He does it with two variables of interest: the size of the empire, perhaps measured by its dimensions or population, and the capacity of its population for concerted collective action. This second variable Turchin calls “Asabiya”.

For a group of people to have high asabiya there must be a high degree of cooperation among people of diverse views. This often occurs because a cause that on which they agree is far more import than the ones over which they disagree. Turchin argues that new empires are formed in and around the periphery regions of decaying empires, as the rebellious regions are united by the threat of the old empire.  Sometimes it is a common religious belief that creates high group asabiya.

Empires start and grow through high asabiya. As the empire gets larger, richer and more established it becomes harder to find common ground among its population and among its leaders. With peace and prosperity people have the luxury of choosing to dissent, the leaders become complacent and corrupt, people increasingly distrust their leaders, group asabiya goes down. These dynamics are expressed in figure 1. In this particular simulation although asabiya has dropped considerably after 200 years, the empire is still thriving having declined little.

 
Figure 1: Rise and Fall of an Empire as a Pattern for the Rise and Fall of a Civilisation 

Slowly decreasing asabiya makes the empire harder to defend from outside enemies because it is more difficult for the imperial leaders to obtain the cooperation of its disillusioned people.  These people become increasingly fragmented, divided and dare I say, anti-“establishment”.  Eventually the empire collapses to its enemies before asabiya has had a chance to recover. New empires emerge, only to undergo the same fate in due course.

The Decline of Western Civilisation?

The models of Turchin can be applied to the rise and fall of the great imperial powers of Europe. The 20th century saw the collapse of the British Empire, the last and biggest of the European empires, only to be replaced by the emerging American, Russian and Chinese power blocks. However I am proposing that the imperial lifecycle model could also be applied to the decline of Western civilisation.

Western civilisation had its rise with enlightenment and renaissance.  Free enquiry and trade are good candidates for producing asabiya; causes around which the great and the good could unite. I would further propose that the common religion of Christianity, re-enlightened by the Protestant Reformation, was also a strong creator of asabiya, the one from which all Western nations derive their values.

From the late 1800s Christian influence has been in decline, leading to a greater degree of fragmentation of beliefs, values and moral behaviour. It is one of the signs of the declining asabiya of the West, now also manifesting itself in the Brexit, Corbyn and Trump phenomena, among others. The rise and fall of Western Christian denominations is a contributory factor in the rise and fall of the West itself.

I am not saying that the movements behind Brexit, Corbyn and Trump are causing the decline in Western civilisation.  Instead they are indicators of the loss of widespread social cooperation, society’s asabiya. There are many others including Christianity’s battle to remain in the public space, a battle it has with emerging humanist ideologies [9]. 
Nor am I saying the people themselves are the cause of the West’s decline. The forces of fragmentation are far more powerful than the individuals involved, who just happen to be in that place at that time. The causes of imperial decline are side effects of the causes of its success; causes which eventually getting overstretched to the point they can no longer be maintained. Such causes include prosperity, influence and personal satisfaction.

The Model?

I have not shown the model in this blog. I may do that at another time. To be applied to something as diffuse as a culture the model will need a bit of tweaking. However I hope I have said enough to justify the proposal that civilisation decline is similar to imperial decline in nature and cause – falling asabiya. Also I have proposed that the lack of asabiya, the ability of groups of people, and populations, to cooperate, is manifesting itself in some of the strange political phenomena now being seen.

Empires do decline, as do civilisations, but new ones emerge. Likewise churches decline, but new ones emerge. Christianity is very resilient at surviving and thriving through cultural changes. It is one of the ways God builds his kingdom.

John Hayward, Church Growth Modelling


References

[1] The word “establishment” is in inverted commas as I realise I have not defined it. Like the word “elite” it is often used without its meaning being clarified. I suspect there is more than one establishment, as there are numerous competing elites.

[2] Jeremy Corbyn wins Labour leadership contest in crushing victory, The New Statesman, 24/9/16

Momentum supporters celebrate Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, The Guardian 24/9/16.

Jeremy Corbyn's cult of personality puts Labour ever further from power
The Independent, 24/9/16.

[3] The UK referendum on EU membership delivered the result 48.1% remain, 51.9% leave, with a turnout of 72.2%.

Generally in the media the EU referendum result is described as an emphatic or large victory for leaving the EU. As this is the whole population who voted, rather than a sample, then there is no statistical error involved in the answer to the referendum question. However I have described the result as narrow as the purpose of a referendum is that a large population is required to deliver a policy intention to a ruling elite. Though there is may be no randomness in the answer to the specific question, assuming everyone is sufficiently well -informed, there is a stochastic element in how best the question captures the policy issue at hand. For example the practical ways that the country actually leaves the EU involves a number of options, which the referendum question did not address.

Additionally a referendum can have more than two answers. There is no correct way to frame a question, or the number of answers, yet increasing the number of possible answers (and/or questions) can make a big difference to the policy intention delivered.

Added to that the nature of the question concerns a quantum change, over a long period of time which is difficult to reverse. It is unclear what winning threshold should be used to make that change in order to reduce the risk of a population changing its mind over say a 5, 10 or 20 year period. This is why constitutional change usually requires at least 60% or two thirds majority to enact change.

Thus for these reasons, and others, there is a great deal of randomness in process of a population instructing an elite to make a decision. Thus 51.9% is well in the region of random noise. Thus it is not clear a referendum is a fairer way of making a decision than normal representative democracy.  Former Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee once said: “I could not consent to the introduction into our national life of a device so alien to all our traditions as the referendum, which has only too often been the instrument of Nazism and fascism.” He could have said the same of all “direct” democracy, including the election of party leaders by its membership.

[4] The Trump Phenomenon: An Explanation from Sociophysics, Serge Galam, Centre for Political Research, Sciences Po and CNRS, Paris, (2016).

[5] Institutionalism and Church Decline, Church Growth Modelling

Institutional Model details, http://www.churchmodel.org.uk/institution.html

[6] The Rise and Fall of British Methodism, Church Growth Modelling

Church Decline Caused by Lack of Conversions, Church Growth Modelling

Church Decline caused by Lack of Revival, Church Growth Modelling

[7] The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon, Classics of World Literature (1998) [1776–89].

[8] War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires, Peter Turchin, Plume Books, (2007).

Historical Dynamics: Why States Rise and Fall, Peter Turchin, Princeton University Press, (2003).


[9] The New Ideology, Church Growth Modelling


Sunday, 31 July 2016

Modelling Secularisation

Part 3 of Christianity versus the Diversity Ideology

In two previous blogs [1,2] I have been constructing a dynamic model of the competition between Christianity and the new secular ideology. The idea is that as Christianity declines in the West its role in public institutions and spaces also declines, leaving a neutral vacuum now being filled by an secular ideology hostile to Christianity, especially in its Biblical form.

I (and others) have the named this ideology Diversity, as it often uses the language of diversity, inclusion and tolerance to defeat Christianity in public, knowing that these include areas contrary to Christian teaching. For example in the recent leadership election for the UK Conservative Party two candidates, Stephen Crabb and Andrea Leadsom, both conservative Christians, were challenged in public for not voting in favour of same-sex marriage in the House of Commons, with both having to backtrack in some degree on their previous decisions in order to prove their political correctness to the Diversity ideology [3].

Likewise the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, also mentioned her approval of same-sex marriage in her leadership victory speech in order that people would realise that her church-going and right-of-centre political beliefs did not violate the Diversity code [4]. The issue was not about the rights of LGBT people, who are perhaps secondary in this matter, but about a public confession to humanist beliefs that compromise Christianity. It is a modern day equivalent of sacrificing to Caesar so that the Lordship of Jesus is undermined. In this way Christianity is removed from the public space, with Christians deterred from high office.

The outline model introduced in the previous blog [1] is given again in figure 1. The Church and Diversity sides of the model are almost symmetric; Diversity is missing the direct word-of-mouth conversion reinforcing loop as it has no regular congregations like Christianity. What I will do next is model the population movements on the church side of figure 1, to check the effects of secularisation do indeed work.

Figure 1: Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) of Competition Between Christianity & Diversity

Secularisation

There are two sides to secularisation: institutional - the removal of Christianity from the public space, loops Bc3 and Bd3 in figure 1; and population - the decline in the number of people who identify as Christians. This population effect is not in the above outline model, but in moving to a System Dynamics (SD) simulation it needs to be introduced. Beliefs are held by people, so people must be in the model!

I will consider three stocks to represent the church side, loops Rc1 and Bc1, left side of figure 1. Firstly there is Church, people who participate in church through membership and/or attendance, figure 2. Additional there are Heritage Christians, those who identify themselves as Christian by culture but do not participate in church. Finally there are the Neutral, those who would say they hold no religion. As I am only dealing with a sub-model of figure 1 then Diversity is excluded [5].

Figure 2: System Dynamics (SD) Sub-Model of Church & Society

The church can convert from both heritage Christians and the neutral, so that loop Rc1 in figure 1, becomes Rhc and Rnc in the SD model [6]. Those who leave the church are deemed to become heritage Christians (loop Bc1 becomes Bl) only. Some will go on to abandon the faith, loop Bs, but many will remain Christian in some sense for the rest of their lives.

The sum of the stocks Church and Heritage Christians is the total number identifying as Christian. It is the loss from these combined stocks, loop Bs, that represents secularisation in terms of people. It is influenced by the battle between Christianity and Diversity in the public space, given in the converter effect of secularisation. This converter is part of loop Rc1 in figure 1 and will be modelled in full in a later blog.

Also in the model, but excluded from the diagram in figure 2 are births and deaths from each category. Some of the children born to heritage Christians never identify as Christian and are effectively born neutral. This is also part of population secularisation; the children who do not adopt the identity of their parents. Likewise some the children of church members may never practice becoming heritage, and some may also not identify as Christian either.

So for now population secularisation will mean the decline of those who identify as Christian. I will refine this definition in a later blog when the model is presented in full.

Effects of Secularisation

The base run of the model in figure 2 is set so that church and Christianity are rising in line with the growing population, top curves in figures 3 and 4. The first effect that is introduced is that only 50% of those born to church members themselves become church members [7]. This has no effect on Christianity; it is identical to the base run (figure 4). However the effect on church attendance is devastating, figure 3. The church is not converting enough to make up for this child loss. This has been the story of the last 140 years for the older denominations in the UK. They always lost about half their children, but up to the 1870s had more than enough conversions to make up the difference. The end of revivals spelt the end of high conversions and the red line of figure 3 is the pattern of decline [7].

Figure 3: Church Decline – Effects of Secularisation

Figure 4: Christianity – Effects of Secularisation

Now introduce constant secularisation. The effect on the church is less pronounced, figure 3, but Christianity is now declining. Slowly of course, the time axis is a hundred years, but secularisation, like church decline is slow. The effects of the battles between Christianity and secularism/humanist are introduced by letting the converter effect of secularisation rise over time. Again there is little effect on church numbers (figure 3), but Christianity declines even faster (figure 4), as it does when secularisation also affects child retention. Secularisation in the public space has little effect on church numbers but a massive effect on Christian identity, accelerating the decline of heritage Christians. One by-product is that a greater proportion of those who call themselves Christian practice the faith, but that is because of a loss of identity among non-practising Christians, not conversion to church.

Combating Church Decline

Traditionally the church is better at recruiting members from heritage Christians than from those who do not identify as Christian, the neutral. The temptation is to combat church decline by increasing heritage conversion, loop Rhc, figure 2. Heritage Christians respond well to evangelistic events and courses such as Alpha and Christianity Explored. Increasing these conversions shows a positive short-term effect on church growth, but it still ends up declining, figure 5. The reason for this decline is seen in figure 6 as the church’s policy of conversions from heritage Christians only has made little impact on secularisation. The church is trying to solve its problems by fishing in a smaller and smaller pool! 

Figure 5: Conversion of Heritage Christians – Effect on Church Numbers

Figure 6: Conversion of Heritage Christians – Effect on Christian Identity

Church decline has no long-term solution without also attempting to combat secularisation. Thus the church should aim to have conversions from both heritage Christians and the neutral. That is it must attempt to evangelise the neutral group, and not just rely on reaching those with Christian backgrounds. Figures 7 and 8 show the results of making conversions over both categories; church growth is sustained and secularisation is arrested. Recruitment from both categories is more successful as converts from the neutral category have more long-term effect than those from the heritage Christian category, because even if they or their children abandon church they now have a Christian heritage and are thus easier to “re-convert”.

Figure 7: Conversion of Heritage Christians & Neutral – Effect on Church Numbers

Figure 8: Conversion of Heritage Christians & Neutral – Effect on Christian Identity

It is interesting to note that this improved reversal of church decline is achieved by personal contact alone and without the assistance of Christianity returning to the public space. The church may be tempted halt secularisation by trying to win the battle with Diversity and humanism in the public arena. However a better way is to seek converts from those who deny a Christian identity. The church grows, the people who claim to be non-Christian stop increasing, and thus it becomes easier for Christianity to move back into the public space in the future.

Next Stage of Modelling

So far the model is behaving as hoped. But there is much more to go. In particular the people involved in Diversity need to be added to the model in figure 2. As a sneak preview the stocks and flows are shown in figure 9. The model is symmetric around the neutral with Diversity having both its intentional and heritage parts, though the latter will be small at present.

Figure 9: Full Population Stocks and Flows of Christianity and Diversity in Society

When I return to this model I will compare the current growth in Diversity with Christianity’s decline and how policies to combat secularisation might change Diversity’s dynamics.

References and Notes 

[1] The New Ideology


[2] Conversion to the Diversity Ideology


[3] Stephen Crabb forced to deny he is homophobic as he launches Tory leadership bid, The Independent, 29/6/16.

Andrea Leadsom: I didn't like gay marriage law because it hurts Christians, admits Tory contender to be PM, The Independent, 7/7/16.


[4] Theresa May’s first speech as Prime Minister: full text. The Spectator, 13/7/16


[5] Also excluded are other religions, such as Islam and political ideologies. These are outside the boundary of the model. Other religions as they are not yet large enough to have leverage in public, and political beliefs because they can be held alongside religious or non-religious beliefs.


[6] Loops Bnc and Bhc represent the reduced effects of conversion in populations diminishing through conversion. This is a word-of-mouth effect, beyond the scope of this blog to discuss. See http://www.churchmodel.org.uk/Limitedmodel.html  for a discussion.


[7] Church Decline Caused by Lack of Conversions

Church Decline Caused By Lack of Revival

Here I show that for one denomination child retention is largely unchanged over a long period covering growth and decline. In common with other denominations it is about 50%.  The blogs also show the link between decline, lack of conversions and lack of revival.






















Sunday, 10 July 2016

Churches or Political Parties: Who has the Largest Membership?

I write much about the growth and decline of Christian churches, but given the political events in the UK following the EU referendum I thought I would compare church membership with political party membership to see who is the stronger. One result of the referendum has been a vote of no confidence in the Labour Party leader by most of his MPs, which was followed by a 60,000 increase in party membership in one week [1]. In church terms that would be a massive revival! But what does it mean in political party terms?

Membership of UK Political Parties

First, let me give a sense of the size of the main parties in the UK. Figure 1 shows changes in party membership since 2000 where such data exists [2,3]. The membership of both the Labour and Conservative Parties have declined through the period, though both are significantly bigger than the other parties.
 
Figure 1

Since the appointment of Jeremy Corbyn as their leader, the Labour Party has seen a significant membership rise to over 400,000, probably due to an imminent leadership election. Thus Labour easily has the largest membership in the UK, over 2.5 times that of the Conservatives, despite its relative lack of success in recent elections [4]. Both the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dem) and Green Party have seen recent rises in membership, taking them past the 60,000 mark, well above the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) on 47,000. There is little correlation between party size and electoral performance, or party size with the referendum result!

Declining Churches and Political Parties Compared

Figure 2 compares the memberships of the Church of England and the Conservative Party since the 1940s [5]. The Conservatives had a massive post-war recruitment campaign, but have since fallen from a peak of nearly 3 million to just 150,000 members. The Church of England by contrast has fallen far more slowly from 3 million to just under a million [6]. Despite the well-publicised decline of the established church, it almost looks healthy compared with the Conservative Party! The Church of England were once nicknamed the “Conservative Party at prayer”. I doubt if that is a true description these days. From figure 2 it looks as if the Conservative Party better start praying again!
 
Figure 2

A similar pattern of decline is seen by comparing the Methodist Church with the Labour Party, figure 3. In this case the two almost match each other, though there is no obvious reason why this should be so. Both had just under 800,000 members in 1960, and both had about 200,000 in 2012.
 
Figure 3

It is immediately obvious from figures 2 and 3 that changes in party membership are far more volatile than that of churches. There are a number of reasons for this:
  1. Unlike churches, most party members need to renew membership each year, thus they are more likely to disaffiliate if there are events that disturb them. Note the drop in Labour following its divisions and election loss in the late 1970s, a similar drop in the Conservatives in the early 1990s for similar reasons.
  2. Unlike churches, joining a political party does not require any participation at regular meetings. Churches meet every week and for some you have to make a public confession of faith before you join. That is a level of commitment I doubt many political parties would wish to introduce [7]! 

Thus political parties are much easier to join and leave and can be done so with little commitment. Note the rapid rise of both parties from 1945-1953. The recruitment campaigns behind this increase have similar dynamics to that of Christian revival. A research student of mine explained this rise with a similar model to the Limited Enthusiasm Model of church growth – word of mouth dynamics [3,8]. There is a similar revival in the Labour Party in the late 1990s (figure 3) when Tony Blair came to power. But the general trend of both mainstream parties is down. It is estimated that in these periods of political revival the majority of party members were completely inactive [3].

Growing Churches and Political Parties Compared

Yes there are growing churches! As the mainline denominations decline other denominations are growing and taking some of the vacant space in the Christian landscape. Figure 4 compares the decline of the Methodists with the growth of Pentecostalism, the Eastern Orthodox, and the “New” churches. The latter are independent charismatic churches, including New Frontiers and Vineyard, which came about as a result of the charismatic revival that started in the 1960-70s. Their growth has slowed of late, though not ceased, as many of these churches are in transition from the first generation of leadership.
 
Figure 4

Notice both Pentecostals and the Eastern Orthodox have now passed the Methodist Church. Both are enhanced by immigration, the Orthodox being largely Greek. However there is strong revival growth in Pentecostalism as well.

How does this growth compare with political parties? Figure 5 compares the sum of the revival churches, Pentecostals and “New”, with the Labour Party, and with the sum of the Lim Dems, UKIP, Greens and the Scottish National Party (SNP), all of whom boast of growth. The revival churches are far larger than both political groupings; even with the recent surge in Labour membership.
 
Figure 5

Just as important as the level of membership of the revival churches is the consistency of their growth, reflecting their long-term member commitment and regular meetings. We live in times where churches are scorned, secularism applauded, and political parties get much media attention for their growth. But from figure 5 it is clear that churches have a far healthier, and more sustainable, growth pattern. I could have added to their number all the independent evangelical churches, and all evangelical and charismatic churches in the mainstream denominations. Evangelical revival is dwarfing political party revival!

Membership in 2016

Indeed Christianity has far greater membership than political parties. Figure 6 shows the state of play at this point in time in 2016. Of course church attendance is lower than membership, but political party activism is also much lower than their membership [3]. Thus membership comparison between the two types of organisations is a fair measure of their relative strength.
 
Figure 6

Despite its decline the established Church of England is by far the largest grouping, figure 6. By contrast the Conservatives, the party of government, are dwarfed by Pentecostals and the Eastern Orthodox. Lib Dems, Green and UKIP look tiny by comparison. Though note the SNP is significantly larger than other “small” parties despite drawing from the smaller base of Scotland. Proportionally the SNP is the most successful UK political party in membership terms at present.

The largest political party is the Labour Party, figure 6, and it may well be even bigger by the time I post this blog as people are joining so fast! Nevertheless it is still only the same size as each of the Pentecostal and Eastern Orthodox churches. It is possible that once Labour has had its membership election it will decline again, perhaps forming two parties, due to disputes about leadership and direction.

The British National Party (BNP), estimated at 4,200, cannot be seen on this scale, figure 6. Even the Momentum group, currently influencing the Labour Party, barely registers, even though it doubled from 6,000 to 12,000 recently [1]. There is little correlation between party size and media coverage. If only churches could get the same positive media attention as Momentum and UKIP do! Well Jesus never went down well with the powers that be, so we Christians can’t really expect positive press!

Even when it comes to change over time churches fare better than political parties, Figure 7 shows the Anglican Church falling less than the Conservatives over the last 60 years, as already noted [9]. However the figure also shows the dramatic drop in participation of all organisations over this period.

Figure 7

Why such a drop of involvement in voluntary organisations? There are probably many reasons; rising wealth is one. Most people now have both the money, and the time, to spend it on pleasure pursuits. That is an external reason. Another may be organisational atrophy, an internal reason. Older churches and mainstream political parties have become institutionalised. That is, they have large bureaucracies to maintain, and they occupy prominent positions in society. Such organisations lose the ability, and perhaps the will, to recruit to their cause. I have been modelling this with system dynamics, showing that most organisations have a lifecycle and find it very hard to survive without a serious dismantling of their institutional structures [10].
 
Figure 8
 
Perhaps what we are seeing is the demise of the older political parties and churches, and the rise of new ones to replace them. Figure 8 compares the growth of the newer parties with churches, showing that it is the Christian Church that is making a better job of this growth than its political counterparts. Rather than secularism taking hold, it looks as if Christianity is having a revival.

Ideological Battle 

Of course organisational membership is not the whole story. As I have previously written Christianity is losing out in the public space to a new ideology, which I named Diversity [11]. It is humanist in belief and makes use of various single-issue movements, especially the diversity/inclusion/equality one, to pursue its cause. It has no party as such, but all political parties acknowledge it and promote it to some degree, as do some of the older church denominations. It is this battle where secularism is winning out over Christianity, driving churches to the margins of society, even though those churches are numerically healthier than political parties.

So although Christianity can take some comfort that is having more success than political parties, with some churches having a measure of revival, it comes at a cost – public hostility. Not from all the public, not even from most of it, but the hostility of activists and their various elites in government, media, campaign groups and employment. However we can take comfort as Biblically we know true revival is given so we can face persecution, and through it, win many to Christ.

John Hayward
Church Growth Modelling


References & Notes

[1] Labour leader issues defiant message as pro-Corbyn organisation doubles its membership in a week, The Independent, 4/7/16.
By the time I post the blog the Labour Party may have increased by over 100,000 members.

[2] Membership of UK Political Parties, Richard Keen, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper SN05125, 11/8/15. Also previous versions: Keen (2014), McGuiness (2012), Marshall (2009).

[3] Activist Model of Political Party Growth. Jeffs R.A., Hayward J., Roach P.A. & Wyburn J. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, 442, 359-372, (2016) . http://arxiv.org/abs/1509.07805

[4] Figures for Labour Party membership are for full members. In addition Labour has affiliated members from Trade Unions, and registered supporters who may vote in leadership elections, but not in branch meetings.

[5] Membership figures for the Conservatives are limited, partly due to its organisational structure. Like most parties they are reluctant to release membership figures when they do not tell a good story.

[6] Church membership figures are taken from:
  • Religious Trends, Volumes 1-7, Peter Brierley, Christian Research (1991-2008).
  • UK Church Statistics 2010-2020, Peter Brierley, Brierley Consultancy (2014).
  • Churches and Churchgoers: Patterns of Church Growth in the British Isles since 1700. Currie, R., Gilbert, A. D., & Horsley, L. S. Oxford University Press, USA, (1977).
  • Statistics For Mission.  Various volumes from 2007-2014, Research and Statistics Department Archbishops' Council.
  • Statistics for Mission. Various volumes. The Methodist Church.

[7] Churches are primarily about worship – thus are God-centred and have a sense of eternal destiny. Political parties are about events of this world and changing things in the near future. Those differences could make changes in party membership more volatile than that of churches.

[8] The Limited Enthusiasm model of church growth is explained in a number of publications, e.g.
A General Model of Church Growth and Decline. Hayward J. Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 29(3), 177-207, (2005).

Further information is on the website http://www.churchmodel.org.uk/
and explained in lay terms in Tipping the Church into Growth,

[9] The start figure of 1953 was chosen because it was a year where membership figures were known across all organisations.

[10] Institutionalism and Church Decline

Institutional model of church growth applied to the GB Methodist Church

[11] The New Ideology – Part1: Model Construction

Conversion to the Diversity Ideology – Part 2: Justification of Hypotheses



Saturday, 2 July 2016

Revival is Real

After all the blogs on church decline I felt I needed to write on something more positive. Not that I am negative about the future of the Christian church. The Lord Jesus promised that his gospel would cover the earth before his return, and he said the gates of hell would not stop him building his church. So atheism, humanism, and the like, have no chance ultimately, whatever passing problems they cause the church at present.

The way Jesus builds his church is by pouring out his Spirit, often called revival. I live in Wales, a place that has had many revivals in the past. I am sure we would have them again if churches took the concept seriously, but sadly they don't.

One reason revivals may not be high on the agenda is that people don't believe they are real. They read the stories, perhaps getting excited by them for a short while, but rarely look at the hard numerical evidence to validate their effect. They remain just stories. I have recently shown how one Welsh denomination grew faster than the population for 130 years, through revival and conversion [1]. I will soon show the same for the Wesleyan Methodists [2]. In each case decline set in when revival ceased. But I wonder if the national scale of these revivals is too big and impersonal to bring them to life.

To help make revival more personal I will look at some congregational membership figures from the Rhondda Valleys around the time of the 1904/5 revival. I will focus on the Ystradyfodwg area, which includes the communities of Pentre, Ton Pentre, Gelli and Ystrad. The best membership data is for the three main Welsh non-conformist denominations at the time: the Calvinist Methodists, the Congregational and Baptist [3,4].

The three denominations had 18 congregations between them. This may seem a large number, but the area was very densely populated. Before the days of widespread public transport people expected to walk to church, and to one in the language of their choice, Welsh or English. Hence some duplication. Although there were a variety of denominations, providing a level of competition, the evidence from history books, newspapers, and the memories of older people was that the churches cooperated and were friendly to each other. Nothing like the stereotyped image of division and protectionism that is often portrayed in the popular media.

Calvinist Methodist

The Calvinist Methodists, also called the Presbyterian Church of Wales, had five congregations in the area [4], table 1.  Four were Welsh speaking with the one English-speaking church started between 1891 and 1901. Between these dates the five churches grew by 2.1% per annum, largely thanks to the new church in Gelli. Compare this with the period covering the 1904/5 revival and the same churches grew by an average 6.6% per annum. This shows the massive effect of the revival on membership, and is in line with the national denomination’s growth during the revival [1].

Table 1

The church with the largest increase was Duffryn in Ystrad, with a 9.5% annual increase. However all the churches saw significant membership growth due to the revival, the lowest being 4.7%. This compares with a typical annual increase of 0.3% before the revival. Revival is real – there were many converts.

The congregation with the largest numerical increase was Jerusalem in Ton Pentre with 139 added. It is worth noting that by 1911 there was little change in numbers. Membership in the Calvinist Methodists was still quite strict at this stage, and new members had discipleship classes. It took the First World War and the industrial decline of the twenties and thirties to undo the effects of the revival. Despite this decline the sum of the five congregations were still only at 1891 levels by 1937, a testament to genuine conversion.

Congregational

The Congregational church, also known as Welsh Independents, or Annibynwyr, had four Welsh-speaking congregations [4], table 2. Additionally there were two English congregations, one started in 1891. Sadly there is no data for 1891, but the six churches grew by an average annual 6% over the revival period. Only one congregation took a hit and declined. Perhaps they lost people to the new church in Ton Pentre that went from nothing to 246 during the revival period, the largest numerical increase of them all.

Table 2

Although Bryn Seion in Gelli had the largest percentage increase, they were unable to retain their numbers by 1911. One of the effects of the revival was the emergence of new churches; largely mission halls and Pentecostals. Often new converts who had “caught” the revival found the established churches hard to belong to. The worship lacked emotional expression. Such enthusiasts found a better home in the newer churches where worship allowed more freedom.

Baptists

The Baptists had seven churches in the area, three in English [4], table 3. There were two Baptist denominations, largely reflecting the language split. The data clearly indicate the biggest effect of the revival is with the Baptists, with the annual rate of 0.2% rising to 11% per annum over the revival period. One small church, Hope in Gelli, added 184 people, a 38% annual increase. I suspect that raised some interesting pastoral care issues, which perhaps accounts for some falling away afterwards. But again it shows the massive numerical impact of the revival.

Table 3

Personal Interest

One church here is of personal interest. The pastor of Hebron Baptist in Ton Pentre was my wife’s great grandfather, the Rev EW Davies, figure 1. Her grandfather, Griffith, was in the Sunday School at the time and also went on to be a Baptist minister himself.

Figure 1: Rev EW Davies (my wife’s great grandfather) pastor of Hebron Baptist, Ton Pentre. Her grandfather is the small boy top left. The photo is in the year the revival started, with a small selection of the 200 strong Sunday School.

Stories have been passed down in the family of services that EW Davies took in the mines during the revival; making converts at the coalface. There are also stories of members and deacons who had been bad boys in the village until EW Davies had persuaded them to follow Christ and join the church. These are people who kept the faith and worked in church to the end of their lives. They were ever grateful to him for being bold enough to confront them in their former lives. But that is what revival does; it gives Christians boldness.

Revival is definitely real! Real people, real conversions. God moved, and history shows the evidence.

Decline

I could show a similar pattern across all the regions of the Rhondda Valleys. One church I preach in, Noddfa Baptist in Blaenclydach had 304 in membership in 1901, with the revival adding another 160. These days, in a different building, numbers are more like 10 to 15, yet still a lively church.

Noddfa is one of the survivors. Look at the last column of each of tables 1-3 and you can see that of the 18 churches in the Ystradyfodwg area of the Rhondda only 3 are still open in 2016. The Calvinist Methodists, the drivers of the revival, are wiped out completely. A small number of other churches have opened since that time, I can think of two in this region. But in the hundred or so years since the revival Christianity has been decimated here, and across Wales. Why?

The 1904/5 revival was the last one to occur in Wales. Indeed as I have shown elsewhere, it was a revival out of time [1]. The long period of revivals really ended in the 1860s and the churches had been losing ground since the 1870s. The absence of revival has been the cause. That is the absence of the widespread outpouring of the Spirit. This led to reduced conversions, giving a slow decline through death and demographics, the two forces revival had made the church robust against. But the church got too clever, preferring the things of this world to the eternal hope that God gives, and worldly churches have insufficient recruiting power to build a church [5].

The one comfort we can take is that God has not gone away; neither has his desire to pour out his Spirit. The revival period that started in Wales in the 1700s did so from a much lower base than we are in at present. If his people humble themselves, pray, seek his face, and turn from their wicked ways then, in his time, he will bring revival [6]. And as I have shown, revival is real, people will be converted, churches will be built up, and the valleys will again sing the praises of Jesus Christ.

John Hayward, Church Growth Modelling

References & Notes

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

Blog: Church Decline Caused by Lack of Revival

Blog: Why Revivals Stopped in the UK


[2] Forthcoming blog on the rise and fall of the GB Methodists using the institutional model of church growth.

[3] The Wesleyan Methodists only have data for one year, and the Anglicans provided no breakdown of data for different congregations. Thus they are excluded.

[4] Kidger, Margaret E, (2012). Colliers and Christianity: Religion in the coalmining communities of South Wales and the East Midlands c1860 to 1930s with a particular focus on the Rhondda Valleys in South Wales and the Hucknall and Shirebrook areas in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. PhD Thesis, University of Nottingham.

[5] This is discussed using the traits of leniency and weakness of liberal churches in:
Kelly, Dean. (1986). Why Conservative Churches are Growing: A Study in the Sociology of Religion. Mercer University Press.

[6] From 2 Chronicles 7:14.