Saturday, 11 June 2016

Conversion to the Diversity Ideology

Part 2 - Justification of Hypotheses


In a previous blog [1] I outlined a system dynamics model of how Christianity is losing ground to a new movement in society, which I nicknamed the “Diversity Ideology”. I chose this name because people in the movement affirm a wide diversity of individual practices and lifestyles, especially in the area of sexual behaviour, where its most public manifestation is felt.

Christianity and the Diversity ideology are competing for the public space – the media, public bodies, private organisations and companies etc. As church declines, it has less influence in this public space, thus leaving areas open to new ideas, the neutral space, figure 1. Thus a new ideology has more opportunity to influence these public bodies. Diversity is doing this through activists that champion the notions of equality, diversity, tolerance and inclusion; through the various LGBT+ agencies and through humanist and atheistic groups. Though not necessarily anti-Christian, it is opposed to the “Christianity of the past”. Thus the more liberal Christian groups can be found in its midst, as well as atheists looking to discredit all religion, especially the “established” one in the West.
Figure 1: Competition Between Christianity & Diversity Ideology for Public Space

The model is only at the dynamical hypothesis stage, and still needs further assumptions for a full implementation. Before doing this I would like to provide evidence to support the hypotheses. Specifically I will provide examples where public bodies, or individuals in the public space, display their conversion to the Diversity ideology.

Ideological Change

When people change their ideology they do at least four things:

A. Rewrite history to fit the new ideology. I dealt with this in a previous blog [2]

B. Public confession of past failures. Either themselves, or those they no longer identify with.

C. Adoption of badges of new identity. It may be just for a moment, like baptism, or permanent, like a dress code.

D. Demonisation of those who have not changed. They split the population in to the enlightened (the new ideology) and the unenlightened (the ones they used to belong to).

I am not saying any of these are wrong. Christianity has all four in varying degrees, just read Paul the apostle’s account of his conversion! My point is that these are true of conversion to all ideologies, including humanist ones. Also they are true of organisational conversion, not just individual.


Ideological Change of Public Bodies

Many countries have already indicated their conversion to the Diversity ideology either by passing legislation on same-sex marriage, or in President Obama’s case lighting up the White House in rainbow colours. However the state government of Victoria in Australia went much further when premier Daniel Andrews issued a long public apology for the past laws that criminalised homosexual behaviour [3].

He apologised for specific events in 1937, 1967 and 1976, indicating the State’s conversion (B) from the morals of the past to those of Diversity. He further re-wrote history (A) by saying: “It is easy for us to condemn their bigotry. But the law required them to be bigoted.” I suspect the people of the past were just as opposed to bigotry as people are now, what has changed is the ideological and moral framework by which bigotry is measured.

There was less evidence of a badge of identity (C) in this speech but the statement: “Here in Victoria equality is not negotiable” comes close. The identifier “equality” is used, but in the restricted sense of the Diversity ideology as, presumably equality of things such as income and housing is not included. Finally the demonization of the unenlightened (D) is seen such phrases as: “Tomorrow, a trans woman will be turned away from a job interview”, and him indicating: “there is still much to do”.

The rights and wrongs of what he said are not relevant here. This is an example of an advocate of the Diversity ideology using his position to influence the public space with the conversion experience of a government. This in turn influences the number of people who align themselves with the new ideology, loop Rd2 in figure 2, and increases the amount of public space with the new ideological sympathies, loop Bd3, figure2 (and 1).
Figure 2: Causal Loop Diagram of the Diversity Ideology Sector

Ideological Change of Influential Individuals

There have been two recent cases in the UK where individual politicians have had to publically express their conversion experience to Diversity. From 2014 onwards education secretary, Nicky Morgan has been confessing (B) her mistake in voting against same-sex marriage in 2013 [4]. She has spoken at the Pink News awards in the House of Commons and at Stonewall as her “badge” of identification (C) [5]. She sort of rewrote history when she claimed she voted against the legislation because of the pressure from constituents (A). When she indicated some people (like her) were slow to take up these things she (gently) put down the unenlightened (D).

Likewise Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron had to undergo something of a public climb-down when he became leader of a party closely identified with Diversity [6]. Both Farron and Morgan are committed Christians [7] and their public identification with Diversity, over their Christian beliefs, weakens Christianity in the public space, loop Bc3, figure 1, while strengthening Diversity’s public profile loop Bd3.

Of course anyone with the slightest bit of compassion would feel really sorry for them for what they had to go through to stay in public life. Public confessions are humiliating, and in the past churches have also been responsible for inflicting these on others, usually on Christians who differ from them. Sadly compassion is not a strong feature of an ideology at the zealot stage.
  

Ideological Change within Churches

The ideological competition between Christianity and Diversity occurs within the Christian church itself. At first glance this seems confusing as it is all called “Christian”. For the purposes of the model the word “Christian” means that part of the church that believes what it has received from the past is fixed and cannot be changed. This is usually divine revelation – the Bible – as in the Evangelical case. But for some it may mean traditions set centuries ago which are not to be changed, e.g. the Anglo-Catholic view of male-only priesthood.

On the other hand the part of the church aligned to the Diversity ideology is the more liberal part, though that includes some Evangelicals who are liberalising.  The key difference is that like in humanism, beliefs are determined by people, not by a fixed cannon.

The Church in Wales is an Anglican church, and like many UK denominations, is indicating decline to extinction [8].  Last year the attempts by its leadership to introduced same-sex marriage were stalled by significant opposition from diocesan representatives. Since then the bishops of the church have issued a pastoral statement that indicates the Church’s conversion to Diversity in the public sphere [9].

Notably there was the display of the rainbow flag as the identification badge (C).  The unenlightened laggards within the church are subtly discredited with statements like  “the Church is not yet ready to accept same-sex marriage” (D). There is a general confession of, and apology for, past damage the church has done to gay people (B). Though the actual offences, and the people involved, are not identified, leaving the reader to re-write history for themselves in order to make sense of the statement (A).

Though the Bishops said they could not proceed with same-sex blessings, they nevertheless produced prayers to be used at same-sex celebrations that omitted the word “bless”. They could take this decision on their own authority without need for corporate ratification. This shows how the influence of the public space by the Diversity ideology is top down, not bottom-up. That is, it is activists working within the controlling elite, or the leaders themselves, shifting the public space away from Christianity towards Diversity, loop Rd2, figure 2.

By contrast religions like Christianity, renewal movements and revivals are bottom up. That is enthusiasts within the church convert individuals through person-to-person contact, loop Rc1, figure 1. These movements have less patronage by their elites, and thus less growth through activism in the public space, loop Rc2. The influence on the public space is more long-term, which of course has been the position of Christianity in the West for some time.
 
Figure 3: Causal Loop Diagram of Church & Christianity

A similar top-down conversion in the public space occurred yesterday when the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to adopt same-sex marriage, with the final decision to be made in 2017 [10]. This strategy has been ongoing for some years, and it shows how with a long drawn-out conversion, an organisation can increase its ideological influence on the public.

The numerical future of the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal church is bleak [8], with or without same-sex marriage. But the public conversions of both bodies as organisations (not individuals!) to the Diversity ideology shows how even small organisations can have a big influence on the public space, provided they back the growing side. Had either church issued negative statements with regard to LGBT+ issues it is doubtful they would have been reported. Diversity has easier access to the public space than conservative Christianity; loop Rd2 is stronger than Rc2, figures 2 and 3.

Conclusion

Hopefully these examples are enough to show how the feedback loops in the causal loop diagrams relate to ideological conversion in the public space. It does mean for conservative Christians the public space is now a very uncomfortable place. A Christian who publically speaks what they believe will feel a bit like the North Korean who stops clapping first in a party meeting with Kim Jong-un! All eyes are on them – they are an embarrassment as they are not politically correct. If not repentant they can quickly face the wrath of the Diversity champions, who will exclude anyone that challenges their inclusive ideology.

But as I said before these situations often display the Christian church at its best. It forces believers to seek conversions within their network, under the radar of the public space, loop Rc1, figure 3, relying on the Holy Spirit rather than popularity. Indeed however unpleasant public ridicule, it can help weaken the internal institutionalism that has stifled Christianity for so long (loop Bc2), as true believers seek like-minded Christians for comfort, rather than their institutionalised and often compromised denominations.

Of course as Christians we are in good company as it was in the public space that the political and religious elite tried to catch Jesus out. They never did, and I really wish I could come up with the responses He did! But He did promise the Holy Spirit would help us speak. And of course we know what they did to Him! And He never said we would not suffer for our faith.

I will return to this model in due course and attempt to turn it into a simulation.


References

[1] The New Ideology


[2] Rewriting History


[3] 'Unimaginably wrong': Victoria's gay conviction apology speech in full. The Guardian, 24/5/16.


[4] Nicky Morgan changes her mind on gay marriage. The Guardian, 29/10/14.


[5] Nicky Morgan heckled at PinkNews Awards as she explains why she now backs same-sex marriage. Pink News, 30/10/14.

Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan, who voted against same-sex marriage, hits out at gay rights campaigners for their 'vitriol'.  The Independent, 10/7/15.


[6] For three different views Tim Farron’s public ideological “trial” see:
Tim Farron labelled ‘illiberal democrat’ over gay rights history. Pink News, 17/7/15.

Tim Farron: falling foul of the New Inquisition. Spiked, 22/7/15.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron refuses to say if gay acts are a sin. Premier, 3/2/16.


[7] New education secretary Nicky Morgan on her Christian faith. Christian Today, 15/7/14.


[8] Anglican Church Decline in the West – The Data

Anglican Church Decline – Possible Reasons


[9] Same-sex marriage statement. Church in Wales, 6/4/16.


[10] Scottish Episcopal Church votes in favour of same-sex marriage, Christian Today, 10/6/16.


Friday, 3 June 2016

The New Ideology

Part 1 - Model Construction


In the last two blogs I have referred to the “New Ideology”, an ideology which is gradually taking the place of Christianity in Western societies [1], and causing division in the Christian church [2]. So what is this ideology, and can its spread be modelled?

First some clarification of terminology. By “ideology” I mean the set of beliefs, rules and behavioural norms held by a group of people [3]. They may subscribe to them by choice, inherit them from birth, or be compelled to follow them by some authority. For example communism is a political ideology; vegetarianism is a lifestyle ideology. A religion like Christianity can be an ideology if people follow its norms, without necessarily having a religious belief. Thus a country can be Christian even if most of the population neither attend church nor believe in God. For most of history most people did not attend church in the UK, let alone have saving faith, but enough held to a Christian ideology to make it the accepted standard of British society.

Different ideologies can sit side-by-side if they embrace different spheres of life. But when they overlap and contradict each other there can be competition and conflict. History can be viewed as a series of coexisting and competing ideologies – sometimes one supplanting another. So communism supplanted imperialism, Christianity replaced paganism, and the anti-smoking lifestyle has almost, but not quite, squeezed out the smokers [4]!

New Ideology Defined

Until recently Christianity was the accepted ideology in the West, some countries, such as the UK, more than others, e.g. France. However as Christian practice has declined it has left a void that is now being filled by a new ideology, atheistic in origin, and humanist in practice. The new ideology is humanist because its ethical truth is determined by people, rather than revealed by God. We get to choose what is right and wrong behaviour, both collectively, and in the current outworking of this ideology, individually [5].

As with any new ideology naming it is a problem. Politicians often use the label “liberal progressive”, but as both these words have other connotations I will avoid both [6]. Instead I will plump for “Diversity Ideology”, as its chief manifestation is that a whole range of beliefs, behaviours and lifestyle expressions are acceptable. If it is right for you, it is right and must be tolerated; and the people who practice it treated as equals and fully included in all areas of society, however diverse the people are. Hence the ideology’s four defining words: equality, tolerance, inclusion and diversity.

These defining words can be found just about everywhere in the public space, such as government, education, the voluntary sector and media [7]. Of course the ideology has an inbuilt contradiction as advocates often say they will not tolerate anyone who does not adhere to these principles; the danger of basing an ideology on words whose meanings are not clarified. But that is the stuff of ideology. Just think how many problems occur in Christianity over the meaning and use of words [8]!

The Diversity Ideology often manifests itself in the promotion of sexual diversity, the lifestyle ideologies of the LGBT+ families. Specifically the ideology promotes the gay lifestyle with the continuing adoption of same-sex marriage, and transgender issues with the current “bathroom wars” in the USA [9]. But I think the ideology is much larger than these sexual behaviours and existed before they became current. It has been competing with Christianity in the public space for some generations and has perhaps latched on to LGBT+ issues because this is a clear battlefield between truth revealed by God and truth determined by people.

Anyway the name “Diversity” will serve the purpose of model construction for now. It is not a pejorative name. It fits in with the rainbow flag, a common symbol of the ideology. It also describes a similar movement within the first century Corinthian church, influenced by the culture of its day, whose slogan was “all things are lawful for me”. Paul, the apostle, has to correct this, urging them to flee sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:12).   

Model of Ideological Competition

What I would like to do is model the competition between the Diversity Ideology and Christianity. Part of this competition occurs in the public space, by which I mean the government, business world, voluntary organisations and media, some of which I have already referred to [7].  The public space may well be within a church itself, where the liberal wing of the church competes with the evangelical and/or traditional wings. 

Christianity

Firstly, a model of the rise and fall of the Christian church. This is given as a causal loop diagram (CLD) which expresses hypotheses without taking it as far as a simulation, figure 1. The primary growth mechanism of the church is through the actions of its people, reinforcing loop Rc1. The more people in church, the more conversions, thus more people in church [10]. Christianity has often grown as a mass movement, as in its first few centuries and the 18th-19th century revivals.

Figure 1: Causal Loop Diagram of Church & Christianity

Growth is limited by institutionalism, loop Bc2, which reduces the conversion rate through the rising organisational and spiritual lethargy of a growing church. Likewise people leave the church, loop Bc1. Growth changes to decline when the dwindling conversions fall below the leaving rate. A full explanation of this institutional model of church growth is given elsewhere [11].

To examine the rise of Christianity as an ideology then the impact of church adherence on the public space needs to be considered. As the church increases, more of the public space becomes aligned with Christianity, part of loop Rc2.  The rise of Christian things in the public space could be taken as a measure of the rise of Christianity as an ideology [12]. A past example of this is Christianity in the Roman Empire, where Christians eventually forced their way into a pagan public space by sheer weight of numbers. This is a bottom-up form of cultural change, i.e. one due mainly to grass-roots movements of ordinary people.

There is potential for feedback here as an increasingly Christian public space may well make conversions easier, no longer does the new convert need to renounce their society. However as a means of conversion it is now much weaker than it was as the public space that was Christian by conviction has become Christian by tradition only.

The final piece of the model is the neutral public space, that is the organisations etc. that were not strongly attached to either the Christian ideology or to its competitor. When Christianity was replacing Paganism much of the Pagan public space had become nominal, the neutral space in those days – it was here that Christians were able to gain public influence. Now as Christianity declines, its presence in the public space is declining leaving it neutral, i.e. Christian by tradition only. This is a balancing loop, Bc3, as increasing Christianity decreases the neutral, but as neutral declines there is less of it to be influenced. More on this in a minute.

Diversity

The model of the rise of the Diversity Ideology is a parallel model to the Christian one, other than the grass roots reinforcing loop, the conversion by individuals on the ground, is missing, figure 2. Instead all its recruitment is through its influence in the public space, loop Rd2. The reasoning behind this assumption is that religions like Christianity have massive grass-roots participation. Christians meet weekly for worship and teaching and thus reinforce each other and engage in recruitment from the local base.

Figure 2: Causal Loop Diagram of the Diversity Ideology Sector

By contrast a lifestyle ideology such as the Diversity one has no such regular local meeting places. There are pressure groups such as the British Humanist Society and a variety of LBGT+ organisations, but active participation in these is only a small minority of those who hold or practice the beliefs. Thus the Diversity Ideology, like humanism and atheism, is top-down in its influence, not bottom-up. Rather than individuals attempting to convert other individuals to the cause, there is instead a core of committed activists seeking to change society. Individuals may then be changed, through the changes in society. But societal shift, as measured by the public space, is more important to them than grass-roots recruitment. A good rally or march is always encouraging to them, but these are occasional, not weekly and relational.


Public Space

The interaction between Christianity and the Diversity Ideology is in the public space, the arena of ideological change. Public spaces tend to be neutral unless there is some effort by an ideology to influence it. This is the natural tendency to apathy, and the loops connected with this are omitted. Connecting loops Bc3 and Bd3 from figures 1 and 2 respectively, gives a systems archetype called success to the successful, figure 3.
Figure 3: Competition Between Christianity & Diversity Ideology for Public Space

Although this subsystem consists of two balancing loops its overall effect is reinforcing, seen by tracing the figure of eight in the diagram. For example Diversity increases, thus the neutral reduces, thus Christianity reduces (+ means same way), thus releasing more public space from which Diversity, currently the stronger influence of the two, can fill.

A Test of the Model

The subsystem in figure 3 can be implemented and run to test its hypotheses. The numbers advocating the Diversity Ideology is allowed to rise from the late 1950s. The Christian church is assumed to be declining throughout. Initially the Christian public space is declining, with the neutral space increasing, figure 4. Once the influence of the Diversity Ideology starts, the neutral space falls, causing the Christian place in the public space to decline faster. Diversity has exploited the weakness of Christianity in society, and because Church numbers are declining, there is little chance for Christianity to recover. By this century Diversity is occupying more of the public space than the Christian [13].

Figure 4: Results of Ideological Competition


The levels and the dates are up for debate, but the subsystem is behaving as intended.

How Can the Christian Church Compete?

The key for the church is the person-to-person conversion loop Rc1, figure 1; the word of mouth mechanism that is natural to Church, but absent in non-religious ideologies with its relative lack of regular grass-roots participation [14].  Church has declined because this loop has become weak through institutionalism, lack of belief, and lack of seeking the Holy Spirit. But the model in figure 1 represents only the average for the whole church. Although most of the pre-1900 denominations are heading for extinction, there are smaller denominations, such as Pentecostal, and individual denominational congregations, for which this loop is stronger. These are the parts of the church that convert people. The alive part!

Thus as long as the alive part of the church persists in conversion and discipleship it will currently take the place of the older denominations, and the church as a whole will start growing again. Thus the church will again be able to have a growing influence in the public space, when opportunity returns.

By contrast the time will come when the Diversity Ideology will have been hit by the same institutionalism and complacency that now affects most of the Christian church. This is same mechanism that led to the decline of communism, Paganism, and just about every other ideology of the past. A church that holds on, though small, will in the future be able displace Diversity, or whatever form Humanism takes then, from the public space.

Some final points to note:
  1.  Church may have to survive a generation or more as a vilified minority in a hostile society. This has been the case in the past, and is currently the case in many places in the world. Periods like this often display Christianity at its best.
  2.  Church will get much smaller, and many denominations will go under, before growth returns.
  3. Any Christian influence in the public space in the future may look very different to that of the past, which was connected with European empires and national religions. Church is trying to bring Christ to people, not reconstruct the countries we had in the past.
  4.  Conversion, discipleship and revival are non-negotiable. Without these the church cannot recover, public space or not.
In the next blog I will look at a number of contemporary situations that help support the model. This is a model in development so expect it to change as it goes along.

References and Notes

[1] Rewriting History


[2] Where to Plant a Church? Big City, Small Town, or Rural?


[3] For a simple definition see:
For a more comprehensive view see Wikipedia and references therein:


[4] Is “smoking” a lifestyle ideology?  Perhaps it has become one because the anti-smoking lobby has pursued its aims with such puritanical zeal that smokers have become an almost persecuted minority in the West. I am not defending smoking, which has been conclusively proved to be unhealthy.  But I suspect the ideological approach of anti-smoking campaigns, demonising smokers in the public space, has created an opposite reaction in the smoking community, raising its ideological status.


[5] I would rather not call it the “Humanist Ideology”. There are potentially a number of humanist ideologies, and I know some older humanists who do not subscribe to the current Diversity Ideology. Neither would I call it a secular ideology as both humanism and the diversity beliefs are held by many in the Christian church who have liberal views on the authority of the Bible. Humanism is not contrary to belief in a God, despite the stance of the British Humanist Association. Humanism is about the human source of authority with regard to truth. The liberal/conservative battle within the Christian church is ultimately based on whether the source of authority is determined by people now, or fixed in either divine revelation, or handed-down tradition, depending on the brand of conservatism.  It is a Christian version of the humanism versus revelation conflict.


[6] I prefer not to use the description “liberal progressive”. The word liberal is capable of a number of meanings: open to new ideas; broadness of viewpoint; a political party; advocate of freedom. I suspect liberal progressive people are much narrower in scope than these other definitions suggest. Progressive implies there is always a sense of change. But the new ideology has specific targets, which if achieved it may well stay at, thus becoming conservative!  I prefer to name the ideology by what it is trying to achieve, not its sense of motion.


[7] Examples:
Government: Department of Work and Pensions: Equality and Diversity
Adherence to their equality and diversity principles is built in to their performance monitoring and management.

Education: Sussex Students’ Union
They state: “Any groups or individuals contravening this equality and diversity policy will be subject to disciplinary procedures and patronage and support will be reviewed.” That is, it is possible to be excluded and not tolerated even under an inclusion and tolerance policy. This happens because the words have meanings more limited than they first appear.

Charities: Action for Children
They have diversity and inclusion champions. I guess you could call these a type of activist, or guardians, within the Diversity Ideology.

Media: Huffington Post: Equality, Diversity, Inclusion: The Social Values of Shakespeare
An example of an ideology rewriting history to justify their beliefs, see [1].

International Affairs: Creating an Inclusive Society: Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
An example of elements of the Diversity Ideology, in the context of combating world poverty, but without reference to sexual diversity. In this form it is far less controversial. But its roots are humanist, and as it thus has no religious text to justify its stance, it develops its own ideological position as a substitute.


[8] Words are often used to fight battles of beliefs and ideology within Christianity, leading to more and more refined definitions of those words. Consider trinity, real presence, justification, inerrancy, and baptism with the Spirit. I could go on! Sometimes the battle is about subtly changing the meaning of the word so that they can end up meaning something different to the original.  Sometimes the word represents a real divide in beliefs, sometimes they are an excuse for division over other issues.


[9] It is almost impossible to track down a neutral and clear account of the wars being waged in the USA over the use of bathrooms (aka public toilets) by transgender people. This one at least gives the extent to which the clash of ideologies has entered the public space:


[10] The reinforcing loop linking people to conversions is used in the institutional model of church growth being used here [11]. It is also used in the limited enthusiasm model of church growth, where only a limited number of people, the enthusiasts, are responsible for conversion, thus in the loop [13]. Dividing the church up into active and inactive members is more realistic, but unnecessarily complicated when outlining a bigger model as here. Such fine detail is left to the implementation or calibrations stages of a model.


[11] Institutionalism model is described in a blog:
and on the website:


[12] Other measures such public opinion or personal cultural alignment with Christianity will be deferred to a refined model.


[13] More people in the UK now identify as no religion than Christian. A possible cnsequence of the shift in balance in the public space. See Britain really is ceasing to be a Christian country, The Spectator, 28/5/16.

  
[14] The Limited Enthusiasm Model describes the growth of the church through person-to-person contact. It appears on the website:
and it described at a more popular level in:


Friday, 13 May 2016

Where to Plant a Church?

Big City, Small Town, or Rural?

Despite church decline, church planting continues at a fast pace. In the cities of the UK the church landscape has a generous number of recently established, glossy, relatively wealthy, contemporary churches. It would appear something in church growth is working.

Reflecting on current trends in evangelicalism, in the light of a visit to Scotland by an American prosperity preacher, David Robertson of the Free Church of Scotland suggested that modern-day church planting was motivated by a similar prosperity ethos [1]. That is, churches prefer to plant in the big cities, where there were plenty of people and influential networks, rather than the smaller towns of the UK. He suggested the reasoning may be due to the “trickle down” theory, that once churches are established in the big centres of London, Edinburgh etc, then Christianity will eventually trickle down to the likes of Hull and Kilmarnock [1].

It is true that new religions use big centres with their changing populations as their bases. Christianity started this way, and that is the current state of Islam in the UK. But Britain has a Christian history, and there are Christians (still) in most towns and villages. Church planting here is about re-evangelisation, not introducing a new faith. David Robertson compared the contemporary approach with that of the Independent Methodists, who planted their churches in small, rural and poor communities, and did so quite effectively despite the seemingly limited prospects of such places [1].

So what is the best planting strategy, go to the big, or go to the small? I will try and show a system dynamics view of church planting using some of the church growth models that I have developed [2]. Three models should be enough to capture the difference between the contemporary and historic approaches to planting.

Supply & Demand Model

In this model the church supplies its religion in a society where at any time there are some people who demand it. Supply is according to the size of the church, reinforcing loop R, figure 1, and demand is according to the size of the unbelieving society, balancing loop B1. Initially demand exceeds supply; thus early growth is determined by how well the church supplies the needs of those seeking a church. However at some point demand will fall below supply, as the pool of potential converts shrinks, thus slowing church growth. Church size reaches a limit when demand B1 matches the leaving process B2 [3].

Figure 1: Supply and Demand Model of Church Growth [3]

Thus to get a bigger church, a church plant needs to be in a bigger community, for example a city. The bigger the city, the more the demand, the more converted. Thus as long as the new church can compete favourably with the existing ones in the city then it will have a big demand. The key is to do things better than the others, be it worship, discipleship, Sunday Schools, so that it is attractive to the whole city, not just a local area. It may also be attractive to those in other churches as well, perhaps hastening the decline of the ineffective ones. 

This suggests that planting in the big cities is the best strategy for a new church, if its growth is the only criterion [4]. But things are not as simple as that. There are other limits to congregational growth.

Bounded Resource Model

A church may face limits on its growth before the effects of demand are significant. Most churches cannot increase their supply in proportion to their size because conversion and recruitment involve generating resources, loop R, figure 2. As they grow they become less effective at increasing these resources further, loop B3.  Such resources as Sunday Schools, teaching programmes, physical space, organisational complexity and friendship networks all become harder to increase the bigger they become [5].

Figure 2: Bounded Resource Model of Church Growth [5]

Thus the church’s growth is limited for internal reasons, leaving much of the external demand untapped. In figure 2 the potential demand is made infinite to drive home the point! Of course such churches are big and lively, and may not realise it is they, rather than the lack of potential converts, that have slowed their growth. Growth stops when the effect of recruitment, loop R, has been reduced by the organisational “lethargy” loop B3, to the point where it matches the leaving B1.

The church in the big city now has less of an advantage because the new church plant needs to be very well managed to ensure that potential demand is met. This favours the wealthy contemporary church, but it could also suggest that smaller cities and large towns would be just as suitable places to plant. The extra potential demand the large city offers cannot be realistically tapped.

Limited Enthusiasm Model

The flaw in the above arguments is that they can apply to any organisation, not just a church. Surely there needs to be something different about the way a church grows! David Robertson makes the point that the Independent Methodists came out of the revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries [1]. They grew not because of the size of the demand (there was little), or the effectiveness of their church organisations (they were not professionals), but the efficacy of their individual Christians, who were so full of the revival life of Christ that they imparted it to others.

Growth by infectious faith is captured in the Limited Enthusiasm Model [6]. Here only a subset of the church, the enthusiasts, make converts, loop R figure 3, but some of those converts become enthusiasts, thus the lively Christians reproduce themselves in others. Although enthusiasts do not stay effective for ever, loop B2, they do so long enough for the revival contagion to keep being passed on, effectively creating demand, loop B1, rather than waiting for it.

Figure 3: Limited Enthusiasm Model of Church Growth [6]

This mechanism matches the experience of the church in the New Testament. They did not seek demand for salvation through Christ, or organise a great church to attract people – they went into places and created demand through the Holy Spirit in individual believers. The faith spread like a disease, adding to their number, and they spent the rest the time trying to put any sort of organisation on the ensuing mess, hence the need for the New Testament letters!

Such a church in revival is therefore more effective where people have the most meaningful contacts. The place you stop to talk to those you meet, rather than pass a thousand in the street. The place where you see the same people over and over again,  building a relationship, not the place where you may not see the same person again, hoping to attract a stranger. Essentially, the village is a better place than the city. The small town is better than the big one.

Go through the history of revivals and see how many flourished in the small places, rather than the big. The Welsh revival centres were Llangeitho, Loughor and New Quay, not Cardiff and Swansea. 

Evangelism is primarily personal not organisational. It seeks to persuade people not attract them. Thus the best place for a new church plant is the small community not the large. Of course it requires long-term commitment, and it does require the reviving work of the Holy Spirit. But there will be no recovery of the church in the UK without revival because church decline is caused by the lack of revival, as I have tried to show many times [7]. The rural communities clearly show this need of revival. Sadly the big churches of the larger cities, thriving on good organisation and large populations, mask this lack of the Spirit; and as David Robertson put it, act as a cover for decline [1].

Rural Areas

I often travel through the rural parts of Wales and Scotland and see so many areas with no church at all, just closed or converted buildings. In those where a church remains it is usually an established one – part of a denomination now facing division through the spread of the new ideology that promotes sexual diversity [8]. As a result many more will close, or become unacceptable to a Christian seeking a church with Biblical standards.  There is a desperate need for rural church planting; that is for revived Christians to move to these places.

Ah says someone – “I will plant the church when the revival comes”. No! The revival will come when you go and plant! Paul the apostle did not wait for the Spirit to come before he went somewhere new – he went, and as he preached the Spirit fell. It is a time to go, not a time to wait – the church has been waiting very effectively for far too long.


References and Notes

[1] Creflo Dollar, The Independent Methodists, the Gospel of Power, Health and Wealth, and Revival of the Church in Britain Today. The Wee Flea, David Robertson, 8/5/2016.


[2] A description of the church growth models can be found on the Church Growth Modelling website

Some have been published in academic journals and conferences:


[3] The Supply and Demand model of church growth is described in the blog:

Further details of the model construction and results are on the website:


[4] It could be argued that the growth of the planted church should not be the only criterion. The needs of the lost, who are in small places as well as large, and the effect of its competition on the existing churches are also important, to name but a few. I am deliberately staying clear of discussing the moral case of planting a new church to compete with existing ones!


[5] The Bounded Resource model of church growth is described in the blog:

Further details of the model construction and results are on the website:


[6] The Limited Enthusiasm model of church growth is described in the blog:

Further details of the model construction is on the website:
Long-term change with demographics:

Results:
Revival and application to revival data:

Application to long-term growth and denominations:
Application to long-term decline and denominations:

Publications:
Church Growth via Enthusiasts and Renewal. Presented at the 28th International Conference of the System Dynamics Society, Seoul, South Korea, July 2010
A General Model of Church Growth and Decline. Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 29(3), 177-207, 2005.
A Dynamical Model of Church Growth and its Application to Contemporary Revivals. Review of Religious Research, 43(3),218-241, March 2002.
Growth and Decline of Religious and Sub-cultural Groups. Presented at the 18th International System Dynamics Society, Bergen, Norway, July 2000.
Mathematical Modeling of Church Growth, Journal of Mathematical Sociology. 23(4), 255-292, 1999.

A good introduction for the non-specialist is Tipping the Church into Growth.


[7] See the blogs
Church Decline Caused by Lack of Conversion

Church Decline Caused by Lack of Revival

Why Revivals Stopped in the UK

See also the 1999 and 2005 papers in [6].


[8] I talked about the New Ideology in the blog Rewriting History

I will describe a model of how it is replacing Christianity in the West in a forthcoming blog.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Rewriting History

The other day I was visiting a mining museum in Wales. The lady showing us around was describing the poor working conditions in the early 1800s, 10 hours a day underground, plus a long walk to work and back. She then said: “they worked like this six days a week, then had to go to church on Sunday. It was a grim life.”

I immediately thought, “HAD to go to church?” What version of history was this? She made it sound that early nineteenth century Britain had full churches; full of people who really did not want to be there. The truth was rather different.

Missing Church

In Medieval times people sometimes got fined if they missed church, but given the services were in Latin, not much participation would have been required. Generally the ruling was applied to the influential and wealthy, with the poor noticeable by their absence. Such laws were dropped.

A law was brought back in 1559 making attendance at the now Protestant national church compulsory. But this was done to counter the remaining illegal Catholic services, rather than any desire to fill up churches. Dropped in Commonwealth times it was restored in 1657, mainly to stamp out nonconformity. but it failed to have much impact.

By the early 1700s the established church was in a desperate state, run down buildings, poor attendance, clergy absent for weeks on end, and many holding deist beliefs rather than the official doctrines of the church [1]. The non-conformists, though largely orthodox in belief, had withdrawn into a shell after they had been legalised.

One Anglican, Bishop Butler, had noted:

It is come, I know not how, to be taken for granted, by many persons, that Christianity is not so much as a subject of inquiry; but that it is, now at length, discovered to be fictitious. And accordingly they treat it, as if, in the present age, this were an agreed point among all people of discernment; and nothing remained, but to set it up as a principal subject of mirth and ridicule, as it were by way of reprisals, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world. [2]

Christianity was a laughing stock, church ignored, moral behaviour owed little to Christian teaching, and the church leadership had lost sight of the doctrines of salvation and mission. You had to be brave to go to church in that climate. A bit like now really!

Revival

What changed this situation was a series of revivals from 1735 onwards. These first occurred amongst the Anglicans, who formed religious societies, the Methodists as they were nicknamed. This gave steady growth in church attendance to the end of the century, but nothing dramatic, see the graphs in [3]. The Methodists left the established church, but they left a changed and partly renewed church. The non-conformists also benefitted considerably from this new movement.

However in the early 1800s, with more revivals across most denominations, church attendance increased much faster than the population, making church attendance a significant fraction of the population, and at last a respectable pursuit.  Church held its ground until the twentieth century then, as most people know, started its slow decline [3].

So in the period the lady at the mining museum was telling us about, revival was common, but church attendance less so. There would have been a number who did not go to church worship – they would have had Sunday free. For those who did go, they went because they WANTED to, not because they had to. They had been converted in revival, born of the Spirit, saved from their sins. It was these convictions that drove them to church. Far from being grim, it was a joy!

Rewriting History

What this lady was repeating was a piece of modern day historical revision where past religious observance has been reinterpreted by a secular age in non-spiritual terms. Of course she did not originate the viewpoint but was merely repeating what is now the standard secular narrative.  

Rewriting history is what always happens when a new ideology takes hold in society and replaces the declining one. People’s identity is partly determined by past events. With a new ideology the old past becomes an embarrassment and must be revised to support the new identity, and ridicule the old one.

That is the situation for Christianity in the West. However many people still believe it as a faith, it is yesterday’s ideology as far as wider society is concerned. The void it has left in society is ripe for a new ideology, in this case one that is atheistic, man-centred and secular. The unbeliever cannot understand spiritual things, such as revival, conversion and the work of the Holy Spirit; such things are foolishness to them:

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14.

So neither can we expect society, with its new ideology, to understand church history. So no blame on the lady at the mining museum, she is a product of our current culture.

What is this new ideology? How can its competition with the church for the heart of society be modelled? Is the church, as currently formed, up for the challenge? That is another blog, or two.


Notes and References

[1]  J.C. Ryle, Christian Leaders of the 18th Century, Banner of Truth Trust.

[2] Bishop Butler, The Analogy of Religion Natural and Revealed. Quoted from the advertisment prefixed to the first edition. Also quoted in J.C. Ryle [1].

[3] The rise of the Presbyterian Church of Wales (Calvinist Methodists) is in the blog: Church Decline Caused by Lack of Revival,

The rise of the Wesleyan branch of Methodism is in the blog:  Institutionalism and Church Decline