Chapter 5: 2013 and 2015 Surveys of Church Leaders


The days when theology used to doubt that empirical ways of describing reality were legitimate or reasonable are over. Even if there are still church officials who, when confronted with critical empirical data, say ‘Let us pray that the figures and numbers are incorrect’ (Schmälzle, 2003).


Introduction

Workers require the right tools and correct information for the job.  Ministers, as church leaders, need to be able to access a wide array of data pertinent to their locality and particular to the task in which they are engaged.  Church of Scotland ministers have always had access to numerous data sources - local, national and international, usually in a printed form.  The advent of modern computing, together with high-speed internet access, has put many additional online statistical databases within easy reach of ministers.  To supplement data collected by others, Ministers and Kirk Sessions have sometimes arranged for congregational and community data to be gathered for local use.  

 

This chapter investigates a number of questions related firstly, to the level of awareness, Church of Scotland ministers have of various data sources; secondly, the extent to which data is viewed as valuable and helpful to the work of ministry and mission and thirdly, the attitude of ministers towards information, particularly from the 2011 census. 

 

As this part of the study commenced, the Church of Scotland was awaiting publication of data by the National Records of Scotland relating to the 2011 Scottish Population Census (National Records of Scotland, 2017b).  In anticipation of the information to be released, the Church of Scotland had set up a group, ‘Statistics for Mission’, to collate and to publish the information for use within congregations, presbyteries and the wider Church.  The Statistics for Mission Group was also tasked with making the data accessible and understandable.

 

In order to investigate both the general attitude and the broad usage of statistical data sources, it was decided to conduct two surveys to ascertain the views and practices of ministers.  The first survey was conducted prior to publication of the 2011 census information for churches and the second once that information had been distributed and a period had elapsed to allow church leaders to judge the usefulness of its contents.

 

Survey Methodology (Survey 1)

Given the geographical spread of Church of Scotland ministers, four possible methods of engaging with ministers was considered.  The first option was to carry out a series of ‘face to face’ interviews, possibly during the week of the General assembly of the Church of Scotland.  This would provide one of the few occasions when a large number of Church of Scotland ministers would gather in one location.  This option was rejected on the grounds of both reach and timing.  In terms of reach, only a proportion of Church of Scotland ministers gather at the time of the General Assembly and those willing to participate in a survey would be a subset of this group.  In terms of time, with a lone researcher involved, the potential survey completion rate could be anticipated to be small compared with the overall population size.  In addition, the timing of the General Assembly, meeting as it does in May, placed the event after the release of the Scottish census results and after the publication of a raft of statistics relating to parishes.   Since this first stage was intended to gain insight into the settled views of ministers before the release of data from the 2011 census, which would be accompanied by active encouragement from the Church of Scotland for ministers to interact with that data, this approach was rejected.

 

A second method, potentially overcoming the issue of geographical spread, would have been to conduct a telephone based interview.  However, the time and effort it would take for a solo part-time researcher to contact and interview a large enough sample was considered prohibitive, as was the alternative cost of employing an individual, or agency, to conduct interviews.

 

The third option considered was to conduct a survey using postal questionnaires.  This method would allow the fullest potential accessibility to participate in the survey since every minister could be invited.  However, postal surveys tend to be relatively costly and can be time intensive, particularly in the area of later computer input for analysis. 

 

In terms of efficiency, cost and potential effectiveness, a fourth option, a web based survey system, appeared overall to be a better option.

 

Surveymonkey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/) was the chosen internet based platform for the questionnaire as it provided a flexible and customisable product and one with which the researcher was already familiar.  Surveymonkey also provided both internal analysis features and export options to Microsoft Excel and SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) which later would be invaluable in adding efficiencies during the processing and analysis stage.

 

Survey Design

The survey was designed, being conscious of the limited length of time which busy parish ministers were likely to spend on its completion, with many of the questions only requiring answers via multiple choice or Likert scale options, (though usually with an additional option inviting comments, should any explanation be felt useful by the respondents).  The number of questions which requested free form written answers was deliberately limited to encourage full completion of the survey.  A series of screenshots of the SurveyMonkey questionnaire can be found below in Appendix 1: Online Survey 2013 - Forms.  An explanation of the purpose of each question is included along with the results below.

 

Survey Distribution

A survey web link for the online survey was sent out to ministers in the Church of Scotland, using a variety of information vehicles (Vint, 2013).  An internet hyperlink to the survey was posted on a number of Facebook pages popular with ministers; it was also sent out by email through the Church of Scotland Mission and Discipleship Council email contact list and details were posted in the Ministers’ Forum magazine, which was distributed by the Church of Scotland to all ministers.

 

The web link was active between the 21st of January 2013 and the 15th of April 2013 to allow time for the fullest participation.  In total, 316 respondents took part in the online survey (255 in the first two weeks).  This sample of 316 from a population size of 847 ministers (37.3%) gives a high level of confidence in the results.[1]

 

Statistical Analysis using SPSS and Chi Square Testing

Glasgow University affords access to the computer program SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) which provides a powerful and useful tool for the purpose of analysis.  The tables below provide both descriptive statistics and, where necessary, a cross tabulation of results.  Where there was a question whether a statistically significant difference existed between observed and expected values in the survey results, then a chi-square test was employed to test the null hypothesis that there was no difference between the observed and expected values.  SPSS output tables for the relevant chi-squared test can be found in Appendix 2.

 

Survey Questions

The online survey began by displaying a page indicating the nature of the study as approved by Glasgow University’s ethics procedures.  The first question invited the respondent to agree to take part in a survey which was part of a postgraduate study.

 

Question 2: ‘What is your Gender?’

The initial demographic questions allow us to test that the survey sample is broadly representative of the population of Church of Scotland ministers.  In Question 2 the consideration is the gender balance within the Church of Scotland clergy.  As can be seen from table 1 (below), there is a small over-representation of female participants in the survey, (27% as compared to 23%) when compared with the whole population of ministers.[2]  When tested against the expected values, if in strict proportion, using a chi-squared test, the difference was significant at the 90% confidence level (p=0.091).

 

 

Sample

Population

Expected Value

 

Number

Percentage (%)

Number

Percentage (%)

 

Female

84

27.45

196

23

71.5

Male

222

72.55

643

77

234.5

Total

306

100

839

100

306


Table 1:Survey Question - Gender

 

Question 3: ‘Which category below includes your age?’

Information received from the Church of Scotland Ministries Council indicated that 282 ministers were under 50 years of age, of which 55 were under 40. [3]   Although only partial information was received, it does, however, support the hypothesis that the sample was broadly representative of the age structure of clergy.


 

 

 

Sample

Population

Category

Number

Percentage (%)

Number

Percentage (%)

21-29

2

0.64

}

 

30-39

16

5.10

55

6.55

40-49

66

21.02

282

27.05

50-59

148

47.13

}

 

60-69

77

24.52

}

 

70 or older

5

1.59

}

66.4

Total

314

100

839

 

Table 2: Survey Question – Age

 

In seeking to discover any possible correlations with age group and the use of statistics it was noted (again using a chi-squared test) that statistically significant results were obtained in a number of areas.

 

The data indicated that clergy under 50 years of age were significantly more likely than other age groups to use the Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics (p=0.007) and The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation Usage (p=0.025) and valued more than the other age groups the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (p=0.01).  There were no other items where age group produced a significant result.

 

Question 4: ‘How many years have you been ordained?’

 

Category

Number

Percentage (%)

Less than 5

42

13.38

5-14

63

20.06

15-29

142

45.22

30+

67

21.34

 

314

100

Table 3: Survey Question - Years ordained

 

This question was included to test whether there was a discernible difference between years engaged in ministry and use of statistics.  Again, using a Chi-squared test there was statistically significant difference noted between years ordained and the use of the Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics website (p=0.000), the use of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation website (p=0.023), the value given to the Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics website (p=0.025) and the value given to Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation website (p=0.003).

 

The data indicated that the difference lies in the higher use being made of these two websites by clergy less than 15 years ordained.  Whilst it might be tempting to think initially that this may indicate younger clergy are using modern media to a larger degree than older clergy, the data does not support this link, given that no correlation with age occurs with usage of the other websites.  The question might be asked whether younger, early career clergy might be more socially conscious or indeed more likely to serve in areas of social need (hence wishing to obtain information of this type).  The questionnaire does not give us an answer to these questions.

 

The only other factor where significance is noted with years ordained is in the keeping of Communion attendance (p=0.004).  Clergy who were less than fifteen years ordained were less likely to keep this particular record of attendance.  This pattern of result would reflect the fact that a change in practice occurred, coming from a change in Church of Scotland legislation in 1991, which allowed for a discontinuation of the practice of recording communion attendance in Kirk Session records.

 

Question 5: ‘Which one of these terms or which combination of them, would describe your congregation?’

This categorisation of theological emphasis was intended to test for spread of participants when compared against the previously known data gathered by the Scottish Church Census for Church of Scotland participants and to test whether congregations expressing a particular theological style or leaning were more or less likely to use quantitative measurements for use in the local congregation.

 

Category

Number

Percentage (%)

Reformed

105

33.87

Evangelical

104

33.55

Radical

16

5.16

High Church

16

5.16

Broad

179

57.74

Liberal

73

23.55

Charismatic

22

7.10

Low Church

69

22.26

Table 4: Survey Question - churchmanship original

 

The initial dataset, which allowed for multiple categories to be chosen, is summarised above in Table 4. Utilising a process by Peter Brierley the data was analysed and choices were combined to produce broad categories termed ‘Churchmanship’ in the Scottish church census; this resulted in table 5 below:[4]

 


Churchmanship

Number

Percentage (%)

Group (%)

Broad (B)

124

39.4

39.4

Mainline Evangelical (ME)

49

15.6

 

Reformed Evangelical (RE)

26

8.3

 

Charismatic Evangelical (CE)

15

4.8

28.6

Liberal (LIB)

57

18.1

18.1

Low Church (LOW)

4

1.3

 

Reformed (REF)

40

12.7

14.0

 

313

100

100

Table 5: Survey question - churchmanship computed

 

In addition to the answers submitted via the available tick boxes, a number of individual comments were added to suggest some other preferred labels such as ‘contemporary’, ‘liturgical’, ‘traditional town kirk’, ‘creative and eccentric’, ‘middle of the road’, ‘rural’ as well as a few responses indicating a difficulty in selecting any appropriate category.

 

Having placed the respondents’ congregations into theological groupings, it was possible to test whether Churchmanship plays any part in the attitude towards or use of statistics in ministry. Interestingly, there was no discernible statistical difference between different ‘Churchmanship’ categories in how ministers value, or use, the various sources of information listed in questions 6 or 7 below.  No difference was found in the types of statistical information collected, nor in how statistics are viewed or utilised. 

It was postulated that ‘evangelical’ congregations would be more concerned about quantifiable results than more liberal or indeed theologically broad congregations, but that hypothesis is not supported by the data collected.

 

Cross Tabulation Male/Female with Churchmanship

It is noted that when a chi-squared test is applied to consider the null hypothesis that there is no gender difference between the various Churchmanship categories then the results (see table in Appendix 2: Statistical Test Results) indicate that it should be rejected (p=0.000) as female ministers were statistically much less likely to be associated with the ‘Evangelical’ churchmanship category than expected and more likely than expected to be considered in the ‘Broad’ or ‘Reformed’ categories.

 

The result from the survey data is similar to results from the National Congregations Studies carried out in the United States, where a statistically significant result is also observed when gender is cross tabulated with the religious identity of the congregation or indeed with the theological orientation of the senior or head pastor (Department of Sociology, 2014).

 

Question 6: ‘Please indicate YOUR USAGE of the following information sources to inform ministry and/or mission.’

A list of known, accessible data sources likely to be used by church ministers for general information and statistical data, was presented to the survey participants, who were then asked to indicate their USAGE of the various sources.[5]  Options given were, ‘None’, ‘Rarely’, ‘Occasionally’ and ‘Regularly’.  Table 6 below summarises the data by giving a weighted average so that one source can be easily compared with another.  It is clear from the results that the Church of Scotland Yearbook, issued annually, without cost, to every Church of Scotland minister currently employed in a church, was the most accessed resource both for general information and for statistical data.

 

At the bottom end of table 6 are more specialized data sources which, though freely available online, are perhaps less well known and, may also, in some cases, be more difficult to navigate.  We should also note that in relation to the defined data areas available, these may not correspond neatly to parish areas and therefore could cause some difficulty, both in application and interpretation.

 

The statistical data source reported to be least used is the Statistics for Mission data CD which was specially produced by the Church of Scotland to contain relevant information from the 2001 census relating to parish areas.  The Statistics for mission CD was sent to every church minister free of charge in 2003. The data provided on the CD Rom gave both national and presbytery wide information including age profiles, household composition, religious affiliation as well as other data types gathered as part of the census.

 

Given the 10-year gap between the production of the CD-ROM and this particular survey, it may be that the information was considered too outdated to be of significant use, so reflected in the low score.  It is also understood that mapping the census data areas to parish locations was done using postcodes to assign data zone, the results of which had known limitations and errors.  Finally, the CD-ROM required a specialist interface which, for the novice computer user, may also have had a detrimental effect regarding accessibility of the information.

 

Source

Weighted Average

Church Year Book for contact information

3.83

Blue Book for general information

2.58

Church Year Book for statistical information

2.55

Local council website

2.30

Statistics reported on Television/ Radio

2.07

Statistics reported in Local/ National Newspapers

2.07

Blue Book for statistical information

2.05

Statistics reported in Magazines

1.88

Scotland's Census Results Online

1.74

Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics (sns.gov.uk)

1.63

Scottish index of multiple deprivation (simd.org)

1.57

Statistics for Mission Data CD

1.45

Table 6: Information sources scores – usage

 

Question 7: ‘What VALUE do you place on the following information sources (1=Lowest Value, 5=Highest Value)’

In this question, the same group of sources as question 6 was presented but the question this time indicated that a VALUE judgement was required and a numerical scale was offered between 1 as the lowest and 5 as the highest value.  The tabulated results are seen below in table 7.

 

Source

Weighted Average

Church Year Book for contact information

4.35

Church Year Book for statistical information

3.48

Blue Book for general information

3.35

Blue Book for statistical information

2.96

Local council website

2.59

Scotland's Census Results Online

2.31

Statistics reported on Television/ Radio

2.25

Statistics reported in Local/ National Newspapers

2.14

Scottish index of multiple deprivation (simd.org)

2.03

Statistics reported in Magazines

2.02

Scottish Neighbourhood Statistics (sns.gov.uk)

1.99

Statistics for Mission Data CD

1.79

Table 7: Information sources scores – value

 

In comparing the tables 6 and 7 for USAGE and VALUE, there is clearly a strong correlation[6]. It is worth noting that, although the statistical data available in the Church of Scotland blue book is not used as frequently as other sources, it never the less is given a high score for its value. 

 

Question 8: ‘How IMPORTANT are statistics for local church planning processes?’

This question highlights how ministers view the importance of statistics in the key area of church planning.  It is clear from table 8 below that the majority (approximately 56%) see this as an area of worth.  The remainder are either ambivalent (23.6%) or view statistics as unimportant relative to other factors involved in church planning. (20.4%)


Category

Number

Percentage (%)

Very Important

33

10.82

Fairly important

138

45.25

Neither important nor unimportant

72

23.61

Fairly unimportant

53

17.38

Very unimportant

9

2.95

Table 8: Perceived Importance of Statistics for local church planning

 

From the information collected, it was clear that, for the majority of ministers, statistical information given to them or made available to them, was considered important.  However, the survey also sought to look beyond the general data pools to consider other possible avenues of data collection.

 

Question 9: ‘At a practical level do you keep a record of:..’   (a list of options was presented- see table 9 below for full list)

The object of this question was to ascertain which local church statistics were gathered in addition to those normally requested by the Church of Scotland via the annual statistical return.[7]  The options given were ‘Always’, which was given a value of 1 for the purpose of evaluation, ‘Usually’, given value 2, ‘Occasionally’, given value 3, ‘Seldom’, value 4 and ‘Never’, value 5

 

Category

Weighted Average

Church attendance outwith communion

3.42

Numbers attending special events

2.97

Attendance at adult organisations/ groups

2.91

Communion attendance

2.69

Attendance at youth organisations/ groups

2.58

Table 9: Scores for statistics recorded regularly

 

Table 9 above gives a calculation of a weighted mean, using the value substitutions noted.  Clearly, it is church attendance when there is no communion, which is the least likely to have statistical data collected.  This result is surprising given that Sunday worship is the central practice of Church of Scotland congregations.  Of all the data to be collected, the omission of this particular information stands out.  In the discussion section at the end of the chapter, a brief examination of the reasons for this will be considered.

 

Female clergy in the survey noted a greater likelihood to record attendance at both youth organisations (p=0.002) and adult organisations (p=0.013) than male clergy in the survey.  There is no noted difference in record keeping of the other categories presented in the survey.

 

Question 10: ‘How do you intend to use any information gathered (if applicable)?’

A total of 134 responses were received for this open question and qualitative analysis of answers was undertaken, which was coded to produce a list of common themes.  The results are displayed in table 10.[8]

 

Category

Number

Percentage (%)

Planning purposes

67

50

Follow trends/ make comparisons

47

35.07

Report writing

22

16.42

Review of membership

7

5.22

Personal use

5

3.73

Motivational tool

5

3.73

Uncategorised

3

2.24


Table 10: Table of intended use of quantitative data by ministers

 

As is immediately obvious from the limited number of categories, there is a high degree of uniformity in the responses given. The largest group of responses indicated ‘planning purposes’ as the major role for their current practice of gathering and analysing local statistics (50%).  ‘Planning’ would include responses which indicated an element of evaluation of past events or practices and some responses where future strategic decision making was noted, along with more general responses.

 

A set of respondents (35%), pointed towards the value of the information in highlighting trends and patterns to deepen knowledge and aid understanding.  This may have been for planning purposes, but in many cases, this was not explicitly stated. It was noted by some respondents (16%), that statistics were gathered for report writing purposes, which may also include information required and specified for particular funding sources or grant-making bodies.  A small number monitored the information they received or gathered to aid them in reviewing membership (5%); in providing them with a motivational tool (4%) or indeed for some unspecified personal use (4%).

 

Question 11: ‘When making decisions at the Kirk Session do you aim towards SMART goal-setting (Goals which are Specific, MEASURABLE, Attainable, Realistic and Time-limited)?’

 

Category

Number

Percentage (%)

Always

19

6.17

Usually

82

26.62

Occasionally

85

27.60

Seldom

66

21.43

Never

56

18.18

Table 11: Use of SMART goals

 

As is obvious from the way in which Question 11 was framed, the measurement aspect of SMART goal setting was a primary focus.  SMART goals, although seen as coming from the business world, have also been used by the Church of Scotland in training modules for those in ministry of different kinds.  It is noted that only 8 survey participants skipped this question (2.5%) so it would appear the practice is one with which ministers were familiar.

 

Those who would use SMART goals only ‘occasionally’, ‘seldom’ or ‘never’ make up the greater number of ministers (67.2%), with those who utilise this tool more regularly (‘always’ or ‘usually’) being much smaller. (32.8%).

Question 12: ‘During 2013/14 the Church of Scotland Statistics for Mission Group hopes to produce and distribute parish statistics derived from the 2011 census results (e.g. age profile, household composition, religion claimed etc.) - how might this information be useful to you?’

 

Responses to this open question were grouped and coded; a summary of the group heading is listed Table 12.

 

Category

Number

% of respondents

Demographic community information

106

40.5

Mission

89

34.0

Better insight or greater understanding

54

20.6

Not useful

49

18.7

Useful (particulars not specified)

33

12.6

Future planning

30

11.5

Able to make comparison and quantify change

12

4.6

Funding applications

9

3.4

Don't know yet

9

3.4

Table 12: Potential usefulness of Parish Statistical Profile

 

A majority of respondents who answered this question anticipated the information to be produced as potentially useful for them in a number of areas.  The greatest and most obvious use for the forthcoming statistical release would be in gaining an accurate picture of the composition of the community being served by the local church and congregation.  The census data, which then was being compiled, would be presented as parish statistics and therefore would have immediate application for this purpose.  A group of respondents (34%) specifically indicated a hope or a desire to utilise the information as a tool to guide or help to direct local mission activity or focus.  It might be noted that the groupings of ‘Mission’ and ‘Funding applications’ were the only areas which were obviously action based.  The other groupings appeared to be more centred around reflection or information gathering.

 

There was a significant minority of those who answered this question (18.7%), who anticipated the information not to be useful in their area or for their ministry context. A group of a similar size did not answer this question, so, potentially the figure who might be considered sceptical or hostile could be larger.[9]

 

Question 13: ‘Please add any comment you have about the use and/or limitations of numerical or statistical information in the work of ministry.’

There were 156 answers to this open question.   The answers given were analysed and coded to reflect the themes contained within the content.  Table 13 contains the summary information:

 

Category

Number

Percentage (%)

Useful Tool

74

47.44

Statistics alone insufficient

51

32.69

Dislike Statistics

45

28.85

People not numbers

34

21.79

Interpretation required

31

19.87

Provides trend information

26

16.67

Statistics manipulated/unreliable

24

15.38

Statistics not relevant or not required in current situation

14

8.97

Uncategorised

4

2.56

Table 13: Attitudes towards Statistics in Ministry

 

47% of responses indicated an acknowledgement that statistics provided a useful tool for the work of ministry, a sub group of 17% indicating the role statistics played in identifying trends and patterns.  However, it was noted by some that, in order to have continuing usefulness, statistics must be kept current, reflecting the most recent information available.   A group of respondents (33%) sought to highlight a concern that statistics, on their own, were not sufficient and that qualitative information was required to usefully interpret the local situation.  Additionally, it was held that whilst statistics played a role in producing a partial picture of the situation within a parish, this required to be augmented by qualitative data.  Indeed 22% of respondents represented the view that, both in terms of understanding the local context and planning for the future, people, rather than numbers, needed to be at the heart of that task.  Whilst for some, numbers would play a role in strategic planning, for others there would appear to be a wholly negative view taken towards statistics playing any significant role in ministry and mission.  Overall 29% of respondents to this question indicated a dislike for statistics in ministry.  A significant group (15%) indicated concern about the manipulation and misrepresentation of statistics for ecclesiastical planning purposes.

 

The picture produced from the answers to this question exhibits a wide range of attitudes, sometimes strongly stated, positively and negatively, towards the place of statistics and quantitative data.  This becomes clearly evident when such a strategic approach is employed at congregational or presbytery level planning.

 

Introduction to Survey 2

In the Spring of 2014, the Statistics for Mission Group released online Parish Statistics for each Church of Scotland congregation, containing a range of data from the 2011 census mapped according to newly digitized parish boundary information.  This wealth of new information provided ministers with fresh data on the demographic and social make up of their local community.  At the beginning of the chapter, it was noted that previous data, provided by the census of 2001, was, with time, considered unreliable by ministers and consequently less frequently referenced for mission and planning purposes.  Now that new and more precise data[10] was available, new questions emerged, such as, ‘were ministers likely to engage with this improved information?’ and ‘If the Parish Statistics package of information was well presented, would it encourage a greater proportion of ministers to view statistics in a more positive light?’  This survey also investigates possible gaps in available information as judged by ministers.

 

Methodology

This survey, like the survey previously conducted, was designed and delivered using the SurveyMonkey survey tool, for the same reasons outlined in Chapter 5.  The survey contained only nine questions to allow full participation by as many respondents as possible. The transport mechanism for distribution of this survey was first of all via a number of minister specific Facebook pages.[11]  Further distribution was initiated by sending an email to all Presbytery clerks to distribute the survey web link via their email distribution list.  Through the offices of Mission and Discipleship and the statistician working with the Church of Scotland, Rev. Dr Fiona Tweedie, further emails were also sent encouraging recipients to respond.

 

Although the survey had been targeted at ministers, the distribution mechanism involving Presbytery Clerks had resulted in the web link being sent to elders and session clerks, in addition to ministers, who were part of Presbytery distribution lists.  The situation was noted at the outset and the online survey form was modified to include an additional question to identify the leadership position held within the congregation (Appendix 4: Online Survey 2015).

 

Responses were collected over the period 19th of October 2015 until 7th of December 2015 during which time 411 individuals took part.  The respondents were grouped to produce Table 14:

 

Category

Number

Minister

138

Elder

184

Session Clerks

58

Others: Retired ministers and church members

13

Others: Church of Scotland employee including OLM, Deacons, MDS, probationer ministers

18

 

411


Table 14: Categories of Survey Respondents

 

Question 3 of the online survey asked participants to select one or more responses from a list of options.  The choices would indicate knowledge, or otherwise, of the Parish Statistics project, details produced for their particular parish and whether or not it had been used as a point of discussion or a tool for planning with the Kirk Session, Presbytery or others.  The checklist also allowed a simple response to indicate whether data was generally helpful or not.

 

As is obvious from

Table 15, the vast majority of ministers both knew about the project (93.5%) and had, at some point, accessed the available Parish Profiles online (92%).  The extent to which the project was known demonstrates a keen interest by ministers and perhaps also an effective communication system between the work of central church committees and church leaders.  Even those who were not ministers still had a high level of awareness of the project (72.5%), with 61.5% having accessed the available information.

 

The majority view (84%) was that the statistics and information contained in the Parish Statistics profiles (appendix 5), was helpful.  It might be noted that the majority of those who checked the statement ‘found the data presented to be unhelpful’ also ticked the statement ‘found the data to be helpful’.  In the text comments, connected to those responses, it appears to be the case that the answer reflected ongoing debates and discussions over the placement of parish boundaries.   There was no indication, in those particular responses, that the data itself was erroneous.

 

Statement

Number

%

know about this project

129

93.5

have accessed, downloaded or viewed the data for your parish

127

92.0

have used the data in your own planning

86

62.3

have used the data with your congregation or Kirk Session

92

66.7

have used the data in a Presbytery context

38

27.5

found the data to be helpful

117

84.8

found the data presented to be unhelpful

8

5.8[12]

were unaware of the available statistical information

3

2.2

Total Respondents: 138 (Ministers)

 

 

Table 15: Usage of Parish Statistical Profiles by ministers

 

Table 15 responses, when compared with responses in the 2013 survey above (see Table 13 etc.), appears to show a more positive response both to the initial approach to data and its practical worth at congregational and presbytery level to inform decision making.

 

The produced Parish Statistics profiles (Appendix 5) contain a wide range of detailed information and question 4 asked respondents to give a rating between 1 and 5 for each item category in respect of its usefulness.  A summary graph (Graph 1) presents a weighted average score for each.  What might be noted, initially, is that every part of the Parish Statistics profile was considered useful, the lowest scores given producing 3.4, out of 5, for ‘educational qualifications’.   The community demographic information in ‘Population Breakdown’ attracted the highest scores.  Later in the survey, the view is expressed by respondents that information of this type is valuable, but only if it is current.  The suggestion put forward is that the Parish Statistics profiles should be regularly updated, perhaps using mid-year population estimates between the times of the larger census.

 

As might be expected, another area of particular interest, was the information on religious affiliation.  Comments made by some survey participants suggest that providing trend information from the previous census for this and some other values might also be helpful.

 

 

Graph 1: Parish Profile – usefulness of information areas

 

 

Question 5: ‘In what ways have you made use of the information presented in the parish profile?’

This free form question elicited an array of responses which were grouped according to themes which emerged.  These are listed along with examples of the type of submission which gave rise to the headings. Table 16 includes the percentage of respondents mentioning each item, with bracketed percentages being added to distinguish the answers of the 110 respondents who were ministers)[13].


Understanding the community

35.3%  (51.0%)

‘To understand the make up and needs of the community and to their lifestyle. To focus on certain age groups and to think more of sections of the community that we are not touching with the gospel.’

Mission Planning 

34.9%  (42.7%)

‘Background to thinking and planning outreach policies and practice.

Aid to reflection 

23.3%   (29.1%)

‘I have found the information useful in helping the congregation and the Kirk Session to reflect on the position we hold within the parish.

Help direct resources

19.0%  (21.8%)

‘In particular it has been useful in funding applications and consideration of how and where to focus resources and mission activities.

Local Church Review

16.7%  (10.9%)

‘Used as part of Local Church Review process.

Vacancy information

16.7%  (9.1%)

‘To help prepare our parish profile for a vacancy’, also ‘In understanding a parish for which I was applying, and preparing for interview.

Hard Facts 

10.1%  (13.6%)

it gave Session a picture of the parish based on actual facts and figures.

Challenge assumptions 

7.8%  (10.0%)

‘To prove to ourselves that we don't know the community as well as we think we do.’

Not used 

7.4%  (5.5%)

‘Haven't used the information yet.

Table 16: Utilisation of Parish Statistical Information

 

Question 6: ‘Is there any other information collected in the 2011 census which you would have liked to have included within the parish profile datasheet?  (Topics included were Education, Ethnicity, Identity, Language, Religion, Health, Housing, Labour Market, Population and Transport)’

 

Although 157 individuals answered this question, it was most often an answer in the negative (70.1%).  Those who did forward suggestions most often called to have information relating to transport (15.3%) either related directly to that used by workers or more generally as means to investigate the local transport infrastructure.  The only other significant response was a call for greater detail within the information for the areas already presented in the profiles (9.6%). 

 

Question 7: ‘Is there any other statistical information from non-census sources which would be helpfully included within a parish profile datasheet? (e.g. Health measures, deprivation indicators, annual population estimates)’

 

As noted elsewhere in this work there are a variety of other statistical sources of information beyond the census which may be useful for congregational work and planning but which may not easily or quickly relate to parish areas. 

 

The answers from a total of 184 respondents (including 76 ministers) are given in the table below.

 

Category

% all

% ministers

Deprivation indicators

49.5

55.3

No/none

28.8

26.3

Health measures

18.8

25.0

Population estimates (in period between census)

25.0

29.0

Local economy information

11.4

10.5

Comparison or trend information

4.4

4.0

Transport

2.2

1.3

Table 17: Non Census information requested

 

The expressed desire for social deprivation, health and updated population information is significant and would point strongly towards the need for the Church of Scotland to find ways of making this data easily accessible, perhaps by integrating and displaying it within the systems currently used, e.g. the online Parish Statistical Profiles or to develop a related mapping application (The Church of Scotland, 2017c).

 

Questions 8: ‘Do you have any additional comments or reflections on the use of statistical information for ministry and/or mission purposes?’

This final question which was answered by 149 individuals was used by 41.6% of respondents to express their gratitude for the work done in creating and presenting the parish statistical profiles.  A smaller group (15.4%) expressed a measure of dissatisfaction with one or more aspects of the profile presentation or content. One area of dispute related to the parish boundaries information or of the age ranges used in the population category. Only 2% expressed the view that the exercise was unhelpful.

 

Discussion

A number of elements arise from these surveys.  At the point of the first survey conducted in 2013, ministers who used quantitative data, did so, largely having sought it out.  The survey taken at this baseline highlighted quite divergent attitudes and practices amongst ministers towards gathering and using statistical information for the purposes of ministry.   Those who viewed statistics positively attempted to put the information to use for the benefit of the mission of the congregation to their parish.  However, there is clearly a concern felt by others, that numbers may, in some sense, dehumanise the task before them, reducing people to mere numbers, or simply fail to adequately represent people and their circumstances.  This latter group were ambivalent at best and some were openly hostile to statistics from almost any source.

 

Only two years later, with ministers and other church leaders now having had exposure to data which was relevant to their locality and presented using simple graphs and explanations, views seem to be changing.  Data was now largely being viewed as a useful tool for ministry and, according to the responses given, attempts were being made to make strategic plans and decisions guided, at least in part, by the numbers.

 

However, there are repeated calls for such local data to be kept updated and where errors or issues were present, as was the reported cases with parish boundaries, then these needed to be addressed.  Of course, Parish Statistics gave only some basic information about those who resided in the local area, but for mission planning to be truly effective, then additional pools of information would also be required.  Such information requires to be both quantitative and qualitative in nature, concerning the church and its activities as well as further, more detailed information, concerning the community.

 

In the next chapter, I consider the Scottish Church Census, another crucial information source which more directly speaks to the nature and strength of congregations.  As above, those in church leadership were invited to reflect on the value of that data source and to respond to its perceived usefulness.


Chapter 6 



[1] Results provide a 95% confidence level with a 4.37 confidence interval

[2] Information on ministerial numbers and gender balance received by Rev. Angus R. Mathieson on behalf of the Ministries Council of the Church of Scotland 1st March 2013

[3] Email from Ministries Council (Angie Traynor) March 2013

[4] The process which was used by Peter Brierley is outlined in the 4th Edition of the UK Christian Handbook. (P. Brierley, 2003, p. 12.12) The combinations of boxes ticked were used to derive six groups: Board, Catholic, Evangelical, Liberal, Low Church and Reformed.  The Evangelical category is further broken down into Reformed, Mainstream and Charismatic Evangelicals

[5] Appendix 3 provides further details of the data source options presented in the survey.

[6] Correlation coefficient 0.934

[7] The Annual Statistics gathered by the Church of Scotland includes, number of members (with details indicating the mode by which people joined the church or left it), adherents, elders, mangers, board members of deacons, Guild members, children associated with the church, children who are eligible to take communion, Sunday school and bible class.  The pro forma supplied also asks for information on the number of baptisms administered subdivided into adults and children, infant dedications, weddings and funerals.

[8] Some responses contained answers which contained elements within multiple categories and therefore it should be noted that the table provided below will not sum to 100%

[9] 32.6% of the total number surveyed did not answer or answered negatively

[10] Previous Parish Statistics were based on postcode to determine parish which was an imprecise process.

[11] The rise of Social Media use by ministers allowed immediate, direct contact with groups of ministers, a mechanism previously of limited use.

[12] It should be noted that of the 8 ministers indicating that the ‘data presented to be unhelpful’ 6 also indicated that they ‘found the data to be helpful’.  An analysis of later sections of the survey pointed towards a belief that there was part of the profile was incorrect e.g. the local parish boundaries. Only 2 individuals (1.4%) therefore found the data presented to be unhelpful without reservation.

[13] Percentage totals exceed 100 since respondents would typically include multiple themes within their response.