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The Church Growth Research Programme

This research project has been completed. Please contact a team member for further information.

The Church Growth Research Programme is an 18-month project funded by the Church of England, which aims to provide a comprehensive study of the causes of church growth and decline.

ISER is one of three organisations commissioned by the Church of England to undertake the research. ISER’s work will involve comparing thousands of churches across the country in an effort to identify where, why and how some congregations are especially successful. The results will help the Church of England to shape its plans for the future.

Additional work on related topics is being done by groups based at the University of Durham and Ripon College Cuddesdon.


The Church of England Growth Research Programme is based on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s strategic goals to the new General Synod in 2010:

to take forward spiritual and numerical growth in the CofE for all communities

The research project as a whole consists of 3 main strands:

  1. extensive analysis of existing church attendance and other data to test hypotheses around factors relevant to church growth
  2. in depth profiling of a sample of growing churches (from a wide variety of contexts and traditions) and a randomly selected control group
  3. a study of factors relating to growth at cathedrals, church planting and the impact of amalgamation of benefices and the use of different patterns of deployment of ministers

The project forms part of a wider area of work by the CofE around research and development (2011-13). ISER’s work relates to strands 1 and 2.


For strand 1, the ISER-led team is using advanced methods in social and spatial statistical analysis to obtain the most information possible from the Church’s existing database, which contains figures collected in thousands of parishes over many years.

For strand 2, the team will carry out a questionnaire-based study of a large sample of Anglican churches.This will make use of a specially revised version of Faith Communities Today, an important American study that has covered tens of thousands of congregations over the past decade.

They will look at approximately 1,330 churches in each of the following three groups:

  • churches with growing congregations
  • churches with clearly declining congregations
  • churches with numerically stable congregations

What the researchers will do

The team will look at the past ten years of data for every parish in the country (of which there are more than 12,000), with a focus on growth over the past five years. The researchers will be closely involved in the cleaning and linking of the datasets, which will be used to analyse how the situation in each parish has changed over time.

Church records will be linked to census data, indices of deprivation and other neighbourhood statistics so that demographic and socio-economic variables on the local context are available.

The survey described above (‘strand 2’) will provide a great deal of additional data on churches in the sample. Multivariate analysis will be used to identify which factors are particularly associated with growth or decline. After carrying out the survey, the investigators will select 30 churches of particular interest for follow-up interviews.

Team members

Professor David Voas

Professor of Social Science, head of department - University College London

Ruth Powell

Researcher and writer - NCLS

Ruth has been a researcher and writer with the NCLS since 1991, completing her PhD on age differences among church attenders. Prior to becoming Director (July 07), she has also held a communications role, including media liaison, speaking, newsletter production, and website design for the NCLS.

Kirk Hadaway

Church medium
A comprehensive study of the causes of church growth and decline