Evangelicalism is not representative, despite what the national average says

Following my comments on Tim Farron’s withdrawal from the Northern Men’s Convention, there was a lot of discussion in different quarters. As discussion unfolded on a Facebook post by John Stevens’, in which he shared my article, he proffered the following stats:

The latest FIEC data survey indicated that 16% of regular attenders at the 600 churches are “non-white”. This compares with a national average of 14%. The most recent stats I have found for CofE indicate that 7% of worshippers are “non-white”. There is a huge way to go to be truly multi-cultural and welcoming, but I was encouraged by these figures as a starting point. The gospel must overcome our cultural prejudice & pride. This was perhaps the biggest challenge in the NT church as an exclusively Jewish group had to embrace gentile believers and the radical cultural and social change to their community, attitudes and social practices this inevitably involved. The NT letters suggest this was a more difficulty challenge even than Roman persecution.

Obviously, there was a context to John’s comment but, for our purposes here, it is not especially relevant.

Stats are funny things. Read in a certain light, they can be extremely encouraging. Read in another, they are no great cause for celebration. Thankfully, John recognises this as he states (my emphasis added), ‘There is a huge way to go to be truly multi-cultural and welcoming, but I was encouraged by these figures as a starting point‘.

What these stats tell us is that the FIEC, going by trends at a national level, is reaching the statistically appropriate amount of BME people. Sticking the boot in further to the CofE, the FIEC are doing twice as well as the Anglicans on this front. What these stats don’t take into account are the fact that ethnic minorities tend to be concentrated in certain areas. For example, the City of Manchester is closer to 33% BME, but few churches are genuinely 1/3 ethnic minority. My borough of Oldham is c. 23% non-white British and yet our church is closer to 50% BME. Few churches in the borough have congregations that are at least 1/4 black and minority ethnic. If we look at places like Leicester, we should be seeing 50% BME churches as the representative norm.

Things get worse still if we drill into specific areas of each town. For example, churches in our area of Glodwick should have a larger proportion of BME people than other predominantly white areas of the borough. Similarly, the overwhelming number of Bangladeshis live in Coldhurst, one of the most deprived wards in the country, whilst there are areas of the town where there are no Bangladeshi people. Likewise, if we look at Pakistanis (the largest BME group in Oldham), they are still concentrated heavily in the Werneth and St Mary’s wards. Again, there appear to be almost no Pakistanis in the Saddleworth & Lees, Failsworth nor Royton North wards.

St Mary’s Ward, where our church is sited, is 66% BME made up overwhelmingly of  Pakistanis. That means even our church’s 50% BME makeup suddenly looks under-representative by about 16%. That is a failure in line with the national average. What is more, when we compare our BME makeup – primarily Carribeans, Iranians and Afghans – we are not even representing the demographics of our area, which is overwhelmingly South Asian.

This begs the question, how representative are we really? We can claim to be smashing the national average. We can claim to be beating the figures for our borough. But we are actually failing on the figures for our particular ward and this become even more stark when we stop using the catchall BME – that is, anybody who isn’t white British – and instead consider the actual local demography which is predominantly Pakistani and a large minority Bangladeshi. What makes this worse still is that we are doing better than most churches in Oldham on this front and, dare I say, lots of churches nationally.

Leaving aside the hard numbers, let’s then have a look at how well we are doing on BME leadership. How many FIEC pastors are drawn from BME backgrounds? How many FIEC elders are drawn from BME backgrounds? Even in our thoroughgoing multicultural church, only 1 out of 7 church officers is BME. We have no elders from a BME background. I can give you reasons for that situation if you like, but for the purposes of this particular post, it just bears recognising that we are not representative. Dare I say, I suspect we are typical of what you are likely to see nationally regarding leadership.

Then, of course, as we look beyond BME people and consider the issue of class, even the guys sat in monochrome areas of the country – who could thus far read this and congratulate themselves on their wholly white churches representing the demographics of their wholly white areas – things look decidedly worse. Nationally, the figures suggest 81% of Evangelicals have been to university whilst c. 70% of the country have never set foot in an institution of Higher Education. Student churches thrive whilst we struggle to reach those on estates and in deprived communities. Evangelicalism as a whole remains a largely middle class, white affair and, as far as representation goes, we are simply not doing very well (unless, of course, we’re happy to rest on the national average for every church for whom it is typically a poor measure).

Those are the brutal figures. Tomorrow I will have a bash at why this is the case.