Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time." Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
Lately I've become obsessed with stats, especially those related to the rise and fall of movements. Now attendance and numbers of churches are not the only figures we should be tracking. But they are important. They do have a story to tell if you're a mega church, house church, emerging church, or normal church.
Here's an exampleâ€”the Assemblies of God in Australia 1937-2004 (now the Australian Christian Churches).
Have a look at the growth in the number of people and churches and see what you can learn.
- What happened in the late 70s? Notice the steady growth in number of churches and people from the 30s and then the beginning of a steep increase after 1977. What happened?
- What's the relationship between church planting and growth? Could the Assemblies of God sustained such and increase after 1977 if they had just sought to grow their existing churches larger?
- Why did it take 40 years before the movement began to grow exponentially?
- Was the growth spread more evenly over the nation or did some regions do better than others?
- During the same time period what was happening in other similar movements? Do they show similar patterns of growth? What about the growth/decline in non-Pentecostal churches?
- The rate of growth in church planting declined dramatically after 1997. The rate of growth in constituency stayed strong until 2001 and then went into decline. Why?
- What are the national figures for 2008? Will they show a continued decline in the rate of growth? Why?
Before you answer these questions here's one more quote from Sherlock Holmes.
I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.
Thanks to Shane Clifton for gathering the data for his Phd thesis: An Analysis of the Developing Ecclesiology of the Assemblies of God in Australia.