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The Annual Report is out. And for the first time it includes the total number of members of Unitarian churches in Britain.

The number is 3468.

This number is both small and declining. It's down from 3560 last year. That's a down 92 people, 2.5% in one year. And a drop of 7.5% in the last five years.

The membership numbers are not a completely accurate count of Unitarians. One congregation, for example, seems to have failed to report membership numbers this year. The number of Unitarians is probably a bit more than this. But the overall direction is what's most important.

Here are the numbers over the last few years:

2005: 3952
2006: 3754
2007: 3711
2008: 3642
2009: 3658
2010: 3672
2011: 3560
2012: 3468

Of course this only tells some of the story. Not every congregation is declining. In fact looking at the numbers 38 congregations are in fact growing, 78 are static and 50 have declined in the last year.

It would be more meaningful to look at those numbers over five years, rather than one year. And then ask the questions of what growing congregations have in common and what declining congregations have in common.

This is the sort of empirical work that needs doing.


Robin Edgar said…
"This is the sort of empirical work that needs doing."

This is the sort of empirical work that should have been done years ago, if not decades ago. . .

Just saying.
An addendum to your analysis ;Foy society census in 1965 lists 15800 Unitarians which gives an annualised decline of 3.2% per annum to the present year.In the same time Quakers have declined by only 0.4% per annum ( calculations from figures supplied by Derek Mcauley in the Feb. 2013 edition of "The Unitarian"). More concerning is the number of congregations with less than 10 quota paying members - 63 by my calculations. I suspect that in many of these situations one/two people are doing all the work and their departure might quickly spell the demise of the entire congregation.
Tim Moore said…
As I see what many Unitarians and their congregations are actually doing, I find these year-on-year membership figures increasingly meaningless. I've written before on other forums that membership numbers are output data. They say nothing about the real *outcomes* of lives being changed by Unitarian communities, congregations becoming more active, or the deepening, livelier faith of Unitarians in Britain. I am certain that if the majority of Unitarians weren't doing their bit to ensure growth in the Movement, we would be much tinier and be facing more acute financial problems by now.

If numbers need to be measured, then we ought to see the length of time people have been members: how many have been members for 1 year, <5 years, 5-10 years, etc. How many members were lost through death rate, how many through resignations or lost contact? The trouble is that while the Executive Committee has staked so much into growing numerically, it admits there's still no standardised measure for membership of congregations, and no tools provided to enable more in-depth analysis of membership statistics.

I think the EC has shot itself in the foot here, but when it reports to Annual Meetings in April, it has to be very careful not to talk down the whole movement for losing 95 members, while so many communities are growing - numerically and spiritually.
Tim, it's true that the membership numbers don't tell us everything, but neither are they completely meaningless.

For example, a dozen people might live in a "new monastic" community in an urban estate and be involved in community organising, homework clubs, food banks, etc etc and have MUCH more impact in changing lives and making a difference than 100 people who just gather for worship once a week and then go home.

But at the same time if our numbers reach "0" it won't be possible to do all the things we could be doing. We will be extinct. The curve has an end point.

And you're absolutely right that the EC has shoot itself in the foot in aiming for 20% growth in five years. That was NEVER going to happen. Preventing the decline in five years and keeping the numbers steady would be a huge achievement.

For example, my congregation's aim is to increase attendance numbers by 30% in five years (from an average attendance of 30 to an average of 40). This is a more meaningful and achievable target for us. In terms of membership we're aiming to stay still. That means we are aiming to attract lots of new members, but that's realistically likely to be offset by natural attrition. Our numbers in the annual report are likely to show very little growth, but we will have achieved some significant growth in this five year period. Looking ahead 10 years I would like to see us growing in terms of membership numbers, but it takes a LOT of effort to change the direction of a community so it's better to look at a ten year scale to see anything significant.
Wade said…
5Quota is a mediocre proxy for congregational strength. But I reckon
• If a congregation has changed its quota numbers up or down, that almost always reflects a genuine change in the same direction in that congregation (sometimes only after a time-lag).

Over the most recent seven years (2004/5 to 2011/12), significant growth is rare. There are just eight congregations (5% of the total) with double-digit growth in the number of people they are paying quota for. Any review of “why?” and “what can we learn” could usefully focus on what is exceptional about these eight. They are:

Newington Green (+39 people)
Hinckley (+32)
Hampstead (+26)
Kingswood (+23)
Kensington (+23)
Islington (+20)
Golders Green (+14)
Croydon (+11)

There will be many more relevant facts than I know. What I do notice though is:

• Growth associated with the arrival, and the continued presence for 5 or more of the 7 years, of a new minister who has/had some helpful qualities e.g. warmth, inspirational leadership, passion, American training:
Rev Andy Pakula, Rev Jim Robinson, Rev Ant Howe, Rev Sarah Tinker, Rev Feargus O’Connor, and Rev Art Lester.
I think the same is true of Hinckley and Rev Chris Goacher but I don’t know the facts there.

In several (but not all) of these places, the minister lives adjacently to the church.

• All of the top seven have a substantial social and/or spiritual programme in addition to Sunday worship. (In my own congregation, Golders Green, about 2 out of every 5 people who regularly attend something each month do not come to Sunday worship. The Gita Study Group, meditation, and circle dancing, in particular, attract several non-Sunday people.)

• In at least 3 of them (Hampstead, Kingswood, Kensington), also for a short time Golders Green, the congregation pays a non-minister person to do tasks the minister is not a natural at (in three, maybe all four, cases: administration, lettings).

• None of them are in “traditional Unitarian heartlands” such as where you are Stephen, Lancashire. I don’t know why – I wonder if maybe what you call “natural attrition” is less in London and the Midlands than in places where in the last century (a) many children grew up as Unitarian attenders, and (b) the Unitarian church/chapel was part of the general civic life of its town?
Wade said…
I must amend my comment. Atherton, very much in the Lancashire heartland, records an increase of 23 persons.

As for the sharpest declines over the 7 years, "no names, no packdrill" on public display. The only unusual fact they share that I can see is that the most-declined ten in actual numbers are all congregations which paid for large numbers of people 7 years ago (52 or more people). Four are in Greater Manchester, four are in eastern England-Scotland north of the Humber, and the other two are in let's say central England.
Wade, I think this is a REALLY useful analysis.

It's got me thinking in a number of directions... possibly a plan forming in my brain.

I think we really need to pay attention to this.
Anonymous said…
Hi in the context of membership and that old description of Christianity as" a religion organised by men for women"  I wonder if the American inspired men's spirituality groups may have interest to someone as radical as you. All a bit too new age for me but seems to be hitting a chord in men seeking a spiritual outlet.

Louise said…
I will argue on the EC that we cannot have any kind of growth figure as a target because you only have targets over things that you can control. The GA may have some influence on whether people seek out Unitarianism but not over whether they attend anywhere or whether they stay.

I agree that the direction of travel may be more important than the actual figures. I have been thinking about how we can get a better view of this. I know of several congregations in the list where the figures are not refective of actual figures.

And of course we have the thorny issue of who is and who is not a member. xx
Anonymous said…
On this I do think that Unitarians perhaps would be better to focus on the "offer" with wisdom and insight coupled with an open mind guided by god I wonder why it is so diffident. Make your offer with hope it will help people, and they will come. Look at the "school of life" website for instance and use ideas for the developing website esp. the utube Unitarian TV. Think what you can offer to people and in that way targets will be met. In each service I attend there is ; meditation, story with a point, a bitesize lecture, reflection, community feeling, group singing, opportunities to give, and a chance to recharge and reignite. All in less than an hour. These elements are so wanted in society now go and make your "offer" diffidence isn't helping those who need you but don't know it yet. Nigel

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