Positive Church

One of my ‘extra-curricular’ activities (i.e. non MA work) is being a part of the Transformational Index team. I’ve had a loose association with the TI for a couple of years, as it’s a project that’s emerged from the incubator of Matryoshka Haus (the missional community in which I have many adventures), but it’s only been since last summer that I’ve officially been on the team.

The TI “is a tool that helps organizations to quickly identify their intended social impact and to measure progress in a way which balances a commitment to values with a focus on results.” Coming from a research background, I’ve been interested in it for a while – helping people measure things using methods other than straight stats is a bonus for someone who worked as a qualitative researcher for three years!

TI in action

Last week, we had a team gathering at which each member gave a TED style talk on a subject designated them according to their interests and specialities. I was allocated ‘measuring positive change in UK churches’, which sounds daunting, but actually enabled me to get on one of my high horses…

Using traditional forms of measurement, the church in the UK exists within a negative narrative. The numbers often seem damning:

  • The 2011 census showed a drop from 72% Christian affiliation in 2001, to 59%.
  • Since 1960, Church of England Sunday attendance has dropped from 1.6 million in 1968 to 800,000 in 2013. [Source: 2013 Statistics for Mission, p.6]
  • In 1980, Methodist membership stood at 600,000. In 2013 it was 209,000. [Source: 2014 Statistics for Mission, Methodism in Numbers.]

Within these reports (if reading statistical reports is your thing) are some positives. The Church of England has seen a big increase in worshippers at cathedrals. Mid-week attendance in both denominations has also been on the up. In recent years, the stats process has started including initiatives that fall under the banner of ‘fresh expressions’ (an ecumenical effort to find ‘new’ ways of being church) – many of which have connected with people who wouldn’t otherwise have connected with church.

The problem is that if we ONLY use stats to measure change in the church, the negative narrative is easy to fall into. Simply counting numbers in the pews on Sundays or midweek isn’t going to demonstrate the positive impact that a church might be having upon its local community. Knowing how many have signed up to an Electoral Roll doesn’t give any insight into the spiritual journey individual worshippers may have been on.

If we only use stats showing church attendance or membership, we’re also making an assumption of what ‘success’ looks like. It’s not so very long since the Archbishop of Canterbury got into hot water for stating:
“The reality is that where you have a good vicar, you will find growing churches,”

What does ‘growth’ look like? Is it bums on seats? Hearts changed? Number of interactions with local residents? And what about ‘good’?? When we make measurement simplistic, we’re not really measuring what matters.

Whitby Abbey

If you’re a church-y type, and you care about such questions, I’d like to propose two things:

1. Think about what ‘good’ looks like in your context. What is important? How could you measure that effectively, beyond just the statistical obligations.

2. Step beyond the negative narrative simple statistics (and the world!) might say about the church. Find the qualitative data that speaks against it – the individual stories of change; what your context looks like; and where the positives are.

Those positives aren’t very difficult to find. Another piece of recent extra-curricular work has been some research into fresh expressions of Church in London Diocese. This isn’t the time or place to go into that research (my bit was just the preamble to a much bigger project), but suffice to say that simply gathering a list of such initiatives provided numerous examples of positive change – of churches re-opened after years closed; of innovative ways of connecting with young families; and a high level of creativity and hope.

This might seem like a slightly random blogpost (especially after several weeks absence), but having shared my thoughts on this topic with the TI team, I felt they needed a wider audience. Don’t let negative statistics determine who or what the church is. Get positive!

Friday Fun on January’s Final Friday

Right, let’s get this Friday morning off to an excellent start with a plethora of TfL geekery. I assume you’ll all have seen last week’s Buzzfeed genius ranking of Tube lines by now, but do check it out if you haven’t. Its brilliance can be summed up in its final sentence about the DLR:


You may well have also already seen the video proving that the Jubilee Line’s ticket gates fit musically into Blur’s Song 2, but I’m going to share it here regardless, for the following reasons:
1. I have a very soft spot for Blur.
2. I have a slightly less soft spot for the Jubilee Line, but it was my line of commute for five years.

Following the Sherlock-disused stations drama, a map of disused tube stations was shared widely, but it turns out that someone else was hard at work putting together a version that’s even more useful – sharing details such as what is visible above ground. Perfect for anyone who wants to go abandoned station hunting! [As an aside, I was at a meeting earlier this week where I found myself sitting next to someone who also had a passion for such stations – it made small talk so much easier!]


Next, a little tube and statistic fun. (Everybody finds statistics fun, right?) Firstly, a neat site that illustrates the the differences in annual entrance/exits of tube stations between certain years.

London Tube Map Stats

Secondly, a mapping tool I discovered during Monday’s lecture on gerantology and theology (that’s the technical term for the study of the elderly), that maps life expectancy and child deprivation data onto the tube map. I liked this firstly because the lecturer shared it with us with the opening line: “I know some of you like the tube – and I’m sure Liz will be especially keen on this”; and secondly, because it combines ONS data with the tube map, which quite frankly is a work of statistical genius. [I should also mention this is the first lecture we’ve had from this member of staff – such is the joy of lecturers following you on Twitter…]

Lives on the line mapThe same team has also mapped London’s surnames, which is similarly fascinating.

Thirdly, a map that’s less statistical and more theological. The genius that is Theologygrams (previously featured for some of their wit on major theologians) has produced a tube-style map of Paul’s missionary journeys. It’s fabulous, on many levels (I particularly liked the proposed extension to Spain). Unsurprisingly, several people saw this and immediately thought to themselves “Theology and the underground?? I must tell Liz about this!”  – the lovely Rhona got in first, literally by only 2 minutes! My friends clearly know me well…


Oh, and finally, I can’t wrap up a London Transport geek-fest without sharing the gems I bought at the London Transport Museum shop last weekend. (On two separate visits, because that’s how much I love that shop and its sales…)

TfL shoppingSaturday’s purchases: a moquette Christmas tree decoration & River Thames tiles (to be used as coasters).

Tube status magnets Sunday’s purchases: Tube line status magnets – as used on actual status boards, back in the days before they were all electronic screens. Now, if only I had my own list of lines for the fridge…

Friday Fun of a statistical & architectural nature

Good morning, let’s get this week’s fun off to a suitably theatrical start – an opening that would be appropriate for, say, the awards ceremony for the best shows on Broadway? In case you haven’t seen it already, here’s Neil Patrick Harris demonstrating why he’s hosted the Tony’s more times than anyone else except Angela Lansbury. (Fact. She did it 5 times, 2013 was his fourth.)

How better to follow that American extravaganza than with an extravaganza of American data? This might not sound fun, but trust me, it’s fascinating (and not just to a research geek). The data in question relates to dialect used across the US – so ticks several of my boxes: stats, pronunciation and pretty maps – and comes to us thanks to the University of North Carolina (and The Hairpin).

Researchers asked 122 questions, from how to pronounce “aunt” to “do you say ‘expecially’ or ‘especially’?”. To British readers, this will uncover a whole host of fascinating “but why would you say THAT??” moments. Regardless of your country of origin, you ought to find the maps fun to play with – scroll down the list of questions and see how the pronunciation/dialect is spread across the USA (you can also see map breakdowns for each option). I may have discovered this while in a lecture on Saturday and my deskmate and I may have spent some time playing with it gleefully. Here’s a brilliant example:

USA Dialect Survey

Why would you refer to a beverage as a ‘coke’ if it had nothing to do with coke??

Next, it’s Friday, so surely there must be some transport fun somewhere? Fear not, my TfL geek friends have kept me amused over the last couple of days. First up, here’s a great slideshow that not only includes disused stations then and now, but also other unseen parts of the underground world of London, such as the Mail Train and my nearest disused bit of London Transport – the Kingsway Tram Tunnel.

Kingsway Tram Tunnel

Also, if you’re a Londoner, there’s some TfL fun you can join in with. In honour of the tube’s 150th birthday [how I’m longing for this year to last forever!] five Lego tube maps have been created and are on display at different stations across the network. The genius is not just that they’re made out of Lego, but that they’re different versions of the map!!

legotube 2020A glimpse of the map unveiled at King’s Cross yesterday. (Credit.)

The five versions & their locations are:

  • 1927 Stingemore map – South Kensington
  • 1933 Beck original – Piccadilly Circus
  • 1968 map – Green Park
  • Current map – Stratford
  • Futuristic map (what the network will look like in 2020) – King’s Cross St Pancras

Yes, my mind is now working out how I can hit up all five in the next week! Fear not if you can’t hope to spot them all – they’ll eventually end up at the LT museum.

There you go. Not just something fun to read while stuck in the office on a dull Friday afternoon – something fun to do over the weekend! Enjoy!

The joy of stats

Occasionally, I get abuse from friends because of my passion for social media. More fool them – this passion’s currently making a group presentation for Vicar School an awful lot less painful than it might have been. In fact, Monday morning saw me finally succumb to Google+. Yes, I realise that it is one of the more pointless of the social networks, but I am very firmly entrenched in the Google world and it was going to be key to an experiment we’re planning as part of the aforementioned presentation. [In a nutshell: next Monday morning will see a 4 person Google+ liturgical hangout for morning prayer…]

In addition to occasional abuse, I also get the odd gem of a link that makes my nerdy heart very, very happy. On Sunday, one such beauty turned up via Twitter – initially I was sceptical, thinking it to be a dig at my geekiness (the tweeter concerned has quite a reputation for such behaviour) – but on further inspection it was revealed to be really quite genius.

It seems that one can use the mathematical search engine Wolfram Alpha to generate a statistical report on your Facebook usage. Social media combined with stats?? Be still my beating heart…

All I had to do was sign-up to Wolfram Alpha, input my Facebook details and within minutes I had a stack of pretty graphs and fascinating facts about my Facebook history. [Oh, and for doubters out there, fear not – this is completely kosher.]

So what have I learned?

For starters, some basic facts about myself – that on Sunday I was 31.09 years old and 10 months, 28 days away from my next birthday.

The programme said it had reviewed 433 posts and I know for a fact that my (nearly) 6 year sojourn in Facebook world has generated many more posts than that. For starters, for a good long while I was a minimum of a status-a-day kind of person, so that’s 365 to begin with. Anyway, it’s still interesting to deduce information from that evaluation, including:

  • My most-used words in statii are: time (26), last 21) and good (20). Interestingly, ‘birthday’ comes in at #8.
  • An average of 3.67 people like my posts and an average of 2.54 comments are received per post.
  • The average length of my posts is 19.09 words and 118 characters. [I’m guessing that stat was significantly higher pre-Twitter.] 
  • 69.2% of my Facebook friends are female. (I knew they’d be in the majority, but I am surprised at how high it is.)
  • 58.1% of them are married. (Interestingly the stat is almost identical when split between genders.)
  • My oldest friend is 48 [actually, that’s the oldest friend who lists their date of birth] and the youngest is 18. 
  • 13 of my friends are called Rachel, 8 have the surname Jones. (8 of the friends, not 8 of the Rachels. Don’t think I know any Rachel Joneses…) 

The report told me a few things I knew already, like the fact that I post way more statuses than I do photos or links and I hardly post any videos. But it did reveal my posting habits in terms of the time of day and the week when I tend to post:

And what was my most liked post? Oh, how I was longing for something witty and erudite that summed up just what kind of a person I am – but no, my most liked status was this one:

You Facebook Timeline haters are fools – do you know how easy Timeline made it for me to find this? Simples. [Oh, and there’s a long back story to the heckling thing…]

My most commented upon post did make me chuckle though and fortunately there’s a previous blogpost that provides the context for it:

Many of the stats only related to the last year or so, but I did discover which my most commented on photo is – disappointingly, it’s a photo of socked feet from 2007 where we had to guess whose foot was whose, but happily a photo of French advent calendar for cats was joint first. Oh, and this was my most liked photo:

Turns out nothing amuses Facebook more than childhood nostalgia and bad poetry…

Ten Thousand

Two years ago this month, after many months of teasing Abidemi for her obsessive stats watching, I installed analytics on my blog. Ever since, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with knowing who’s been reading, where they’re from and how they got here.

It leads to some interesting discoveries and results in many un-answered questions. Who are some of my regular visitors in the USA? Why do so many people find me by googling custard creams?
Anyway, this month doesn’t just mark my analytics’ second anniversary, it also saw me reach a landmark of 10,000 visitors. Yesterday morning I realised I was just three visitors away from the magic number, and by lunchtime I’d hit it.
I’d love to be able to tell you that #10,000 was a regular, even exactly who they are, but no. It was just another person who got to me by googling a certain reality TV star.
I daren’t mention his name. In February 2008 I wrote about the TV series ‘The Choir’. Simply by mentioning its frontman, I unleashed the power of google – I got hits from all over the place in the days that followed. As a result, I wrote another post about his stalkers, it amused me greatly but made the problem worse.
In the last 18 months, people have googled this person (I simply can’t speak his name again!) and reached me. As the TV show has travelled the world, so did my visitors – Korea, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel – you name it, it’s been shown there. I still find it hilarious that they have all googled him wanting to know whether he’s gay, single or married – no idea what the answer is to that question!
Last night series number three began and the trickle of visitors that had begun again last week cascaded into 500+ hits in 12 hours. Just goes to show, it’s never the logical things that get you noticed in the random world of the internet…