Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Diocese by the Numbers: Prelude

Well, I changed my mind, and I have gone through all the parish charts, so I'm going to take a post or two to run over the diocesan statistics over the past decade (which is to say, from 2005 to 2015).

Before I talk methodology I would like to talk about some of the overall numbers from the diocesan tables. The diocese as a whole has seen losses in numbers characteristic of the church as a whole, with ten years of 3% per annum losses adding up to a loss for the decade of 35%. This includes the loss of fifteen parishes, of which two left and the others closed. One mission started, not counting St. Hilda's, the replacement for St. Timothy Catonsville; it will not post numbers until 2016.

So how do the parish numbers reflect this? Well, ignoring the closures and departures, only eight parishes showed increases in attendance. Parishes tend to run on the small side: there were only eight parishes with attendance over two hundred in 2015. Three parishes showed no change; all of the rest showed declines. Financially, plate and pledge (P&P) shows a consistent trend of a 42% gain per attendee, regardless of parish size; that said, a lot of parishes do not see P&P income sufficient to support a full time priest.

So now, some methodology. I used two main sources: the charts from Research and Statistics, and the diocesan journal, which lists parishes and closure dates, if relevant. I also had at my disposal a listing of current ASA from the diocesan convention. This last was used as a cross check on ASA as calculated from the charts. Now, the charts, as images, present some difficulties leading to some small inaccuracies. I calculated values by (effectively) counting pixels; it was not clear, however, exactly where the zero line was, and the number of people/dollars represented by one pixel varied according to the overall scale. The quality of these numbers was further reduced for ASA because the determining value for overall scale was membership, typically four to six times attendance. Comparison of actual and calculated numbers showed a slight tendency to undercounting, on the order of 1%. There are likewise errors of the same order, aggravated by difficulties in precisely locating the centers of the dots on the chart, for P&P; I had nothing to work with to check parish-by-parish values on this, however.

A more serious problem arises in counting parishes themselves. The numbers I calculated from the convention journal do not precisely correspond to the totals on the Red Book; it appears to be the case that parishes may continue to be counted for several years after their actual closure. The more serious problem is that there are plain errors in the journal, which get worse as one goes backward in time. In looking at parish websites I found one parish which it did not list, for example. It also does not give dates for foundation of parishes; this was less of a problem since very few parishes are newly founded. In the end I found it necessary to cut off counts of parishes at 1960.

The loss of parishes presents another issue: in some respects the numbers for 2005 are distorted because I do not have a source for those parishes which have disappeared from the records. This is ameliorated to some degree for attendance, because the total attendance for the diocese is recorded, and therefore I can work out how much is represented by the missing parishes; for plate and pledge, however, I have nothing. When we look at these numbers, however, it seems to me that this lack is probably not significant.

So let us start with three charts for the diocese in aggregate. The first is that from Research and Statistics:

Here we see the typical decline of a mainstream east coast diocese. And here we have the parishes:

Finally, we have the average attendance per active parish, by year:

This last chart is most significant, because it shows a more serious problem: it's not just closing parishes, but parishes shrinking regardless of closures.

Next we will look at attendance on a parish-by-parish basis.


underground pewster said...

This looks rather typical. The fact that plate and pledge remains steady despite a dramatic drop in average Sunday attendance means the remaining pewsitters are being squeezed, and you can't squeeze blood out of turnips for ever. I would like you to look at the baptisms/funerals stats which are usually revealing as well.

C. Wingate said...

Well, I don't know about "squeezed" but as we will see there is a consistent trend in P&P per attendee, so consistent in fact that one is almost inclined to attribute it to inflation or some other externality.

It has been a very long time since I looked at the baptism/marriage/burial stats but at th time it seemed to me that they roughly balanced out, and that losses of middle-aged people (and their families with them) seemed to be an important element in the decline. I think that has shifted, but I haven't done a new analysis.