Photo Credit: St Thomas' Church, Norwich promotional video
[ACNS] Some 2.4 million people attended a Church of England service at Christmas in 2014, a slight increase on the previous year; but overall, the latest attendance figures released by the C of E show that the number of people attending church services weekly has dipped below one million people for the first time, continuing a gradual year-on-year decrease of about one per cent.
The figures are based on an annual survey of churches which looks at attendance over four weeks in October. The results show that 980,000 people attended church each week: 830,000 adults and 150,000 children.
In addition to the 2.4 million people who attended a C of E service at Christmas, some 1.3 million people attended a service at Easter. Additionally, 2.2 million people attended special Advent services for the congregation and local community whilst 2.6 million attended special Advent services for civic organisations and schools.
A C of E spokesman said that “the statistics also highlight the other services carried out by the Church of England on a regular basis. In 2014 the Church carried out just under 1,000 weddings, 2,000 baptisms, and almost 3,000 funerals every week of the year.
“Some 12 per cent of births during 2014 [in England] were marked by a C of E infant baptism or thanksgiving service whilst 31 per cent of deaths were marked by a C of E funeral.”
The figures represent “a continuing trend which has shown a 12 per cent decrease in attendance over the past decade with an average decline of just over one per cent a year,” the spokesman said.
“The 2014 figures are not in any way a surprise. Whilst the recent trend of the past decade continues, it has been anticipated and is being acted on radically,” the Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said.
“As part of a prayerful and considered response to these trends the Church is embarking upon the biggest renewal and reform process in over 150 years focusing our resources on prayer, evangelism, discipleship, vocations, leadership & training.
“We do not expect that trend to change imminently or immediately over the next few years due to demographics. We lose approximately one per cent of our churchgoers to death each year. Given the age profile of the C of E, the next few years will continue to have downward pressure as people die or become housebound and unable to attend church.”
He continued: “As a Church we are unashamedly committed to following the teachings of Jesus Christ in our worship of God, discipleship and service to the poor and the marginalised. Our confidence, resilience and service is rooted in Jesus.
“The story is not one of inevitable decline. During 2013-14 some dioceses continued to increase their attendance. In the past 12 months alone there are examples of growth and new churches across the country.”
The bishop said that St Thomas’ Church in Norwich had grown from 50 to 450 people in the past two years; while St Swithin’s Church in Bournemouth, which began in 2014, attracts 500 a congregation of 500 people every week. And another new church, St Luke’s in Birmingham “is already attracting hundreds of young people since its beginning in 2015,” bishop Graham said. “There are many others like these and each is a sign of hope.
“Attendance statistics do not tell the whole story. There are many things that churches do that are not included in these data from running homelessness services and hosting foodbanks, to educating a million children a day in our schools to providing welcome and accompaniment to the least, the last and the lost in our society.”
The C of E publishes its “Statistics for Mission” each January giving figures for the year before last. The full figures for 2014 can be downloaded here (pdf).