Britain's Anglican, Catholic and Methodist churches face extinction within the next forty years because they're not 'contagious' enough, according to a Christian mathematician.
Dr John Hayward who's a visiting fellow at the University of South Wales used a technique which became familiar during the pandemic - the 'R' rate of reproduction or contagion - and analysed data from 13 church denominations to track the speed at which they are growing or declining.
The data shows that the Church of England and Catholic churches have an R number of 0.9 (anything below 1 indicates that there is no contagion or reproduction, meaning numbers of church-goers will only reduce as no new people are encouraged to become part of the church.) At this rate the Church of England and Catholic churches would see their congregations fall to zero by 2062.
The Methodist Church fares even worse with an R rate of 0.85 meaning it could face extinction by the mid 2040s. The Church in Wales could disappear by 2038 as it has an R rate of 0.7.
Speaking to Premier, Dr Hayward explained why he chose to use the R rate to calculate church growth trends: "It’s a good way because churches often grow through personal contact between somebody who was in the church and people who are outside the church.
"So someone who's in the church might invite somebody to a service, they might even, better, tell somebody about Jesus Christ. Then that person may come to a service, they may hear a sermon and they become a Christian and that faith has been passed on by word of mouth. Word of mouth operates in the same way as a disease, it's a contact between one person and another. The more people are doing that contact and the more effective contacts they have, the more the faith will be spread in the same way that a disease would be spread.
“What the models are showing is that these churches will become extinct. For some of the churches that is embarrassingly close and they may not survive past those dates and that is quite frightening.”
Only three of the 13 denominations analysed are shown to have an R rate of more than 1.
Elim Pentecostal is the fastest growing, followed by New Frontiers and FIEC (Fellowship of Evangelical Churches) – they have a growth rate of between 1 and 1.1.
Sarah Yardley is Mission Lead for Creationfest - one of the largest Christian festivals in the country.
Speaking to Premier in response to the findings, she said: "As someone who loves the Church deeply, it is always a moment of startle when you look at the practical numbers of how many have disengaged from the traditional churches. I think it's really important to comment that within many of these churches, there's still significant spiritual life, there are still dedicated men and woman loving and serving Jesus. Alongside that, I think there's a real hunger for intentional community and vibrancy in our world today and I think some of the traditional churches have some major strides to make to engage in community in that way.
“I’m living in Cornwall and I think for many here the stereotype of church is that it is old, cold, dead and just a bit boring. I find my relationship with Jesus Christ to be anything but that. But many of the traditional churches gather in a way that's incredibly formal in buildings that can feel a bit sterile and in ways that feel completely detached from modern life.
“I think one of the things some of the freer denominations have done really beautifully is to show that interface between daily life and church gathering, where you still feel like you're walking into a place of reverence and holiness. But it also feels like there's a real vibrancy around the engagement. I think that that vibrancy, that warmth, that sense of slightly less formal, while still retaining the holiness of God, is what the people around me seem to be searching and hungry for.
“What has unfortunately happened is that in many ways, the churches have aged with their congregations rather than including younger families. I think some of the more charismatic traditions have done a phenomenal job of including all ages and all generations. My prayer is that every stream of church would find its place of flourishing, because the opportunity ahead of us will require all different styles and ranges in order to engage the world around us.”