Statistics for Mission (deadline 31 January) are all about membership and attendance at church. The information collected provides the latest figures on attendance at Church of England services, and the numbers of baptisms, marriages and funerals that have taken place over the last year. In October, the Church of England publishes the statistics from the previous year.

The statistics help paint a picture of participation in the Church of England across the country. The figures help to identify trends and spot mission opportunities. They make it possible to plan on terms of clergy deployment.

Return of Parish Finance (deadline 31 May) is about your church finances. The financial figures help paint a picture of the Church’s finances at the grassroots. This is useful for a number of reasons. For example, if the Church nationally is to argue the case for Government help – such as the matter of VAT relief on repairs – it bolsters our case if we have an accurate picture of the pressures at the local level.

Annual Reports & Accounts with Budget submission is in addition to the online returns. The Annual Report & Accounts with Budget gives the Diocesan Office the detail of what is going on in the Parish. This should be relatively easy for Parishes to submit as they should have already been presented at the APCM, which must be held by 31st May as stated in the Church Representation Rules as revised in 2020. The submission of the Annual Report, Accounts & Budget is also a legal requirement under the Church Representations rules (contained in Schedule 3 to the Synodical Government Measure 1969 as amended).

Peter Warry

Diocesan Secretary: September 2019

Why bother?

When we ask you to complete the returns, people sometimes think that it’s all about ‘the diocese’ or the national Church. We know churchwardens or treasurers sometimes say “We send all this information, but what’s in it for us?” But completing the Statistics for Mission and Return of Parish Finance has benefits at every level of the life of the church – local, deanery, diocesan and national.

The Diocesan and National perspective

The returns from the parishes are vital for planning our shared mission and ministry. Robust data is essential if Archbishop’s Council and Dioceses are to make good decisions about how the Church uses its resources.

And at the local perspective – what’s in it for Parishes?

As each local church discerns its own plans for mission and growth, understanding the local context is essential. The national research unit has worked hard over the past few years to turn the data it receives into accessible information which local churches can use, e.g. Parish Dashboards which are available from the online returns system via the ‘View Data’ menu option. Otherwise, there is a danger that you make incorrect assumptions about your parishes. There are many examples where people have looked at the Parish Dashboards and made unexpected discoveries about people living around them or the true state of their financial trend. Such insights offer vital mission and outreach opportunities – which help grow the Church.

So the questions on the Statistics for Mission Returns are designed to help you answer important questions about your parish or benefice. In the light of these questions, you can then look at attendance patterns over the past few years.

Our challenge

The problem is that where the information is missing, the national Church and those working in the Diocese have to use ‘guesstimates’ to fill the gaps. If your parish’s information isn’t there, assumptions have to be made and they can’t be accurate or represent reality. This can have far-reaching consequences; for example, if it looks as if your congregation is shrinking when in fact it is growing – or your parish’s financial situation isn’t what it is assumed to be – that might lead to unhelpful decisions about future provision of ministry or appropriate offers of support.

In other words, we know the information is wrong, but we can’t put it right without your input!

We appreciate this can be yet another task on top of the many others taking up more of your time but good quality data is essential to good quality decision-making.

Thank you for faithfully providing this information, year after year.To those who struggle to complete the returns please speak with the Diocesan Office and we will do all that we can to help you complete them.

Thank you very much in anticipation of your contribution to this very important task.