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More children in church, but declining attendance overall

by Ed Beavan

AVERAGE weekly attendance in the Church of England has fallen by one per cent in a year, the latest statistics from the Archbishops’ Council show, despite a rise in attendance by young people.

The figure of 1,145,000 for average weekly attendance in 2008, which includes both Sundays and weekdays, was down from 1,160,000 in 2007.

Average Sunday attendance fell two per cent to 960,000, from 978,000 in 2007. Average monthly attendance fell from 1,690,000 in 2007 to 1,667,000.

The figures for weekly attendance continue a downward trend over the past five years — a fall of one cent per year since 2004, except for almost no change in 2007.

The latest figures also include cathedral attendances and are based on counts by more than nine out of ten Church of England parish churches — the highest-ever parti­cipation rate for the survey — during a four-week period in October. The figures have been verified by the Re­search and Statistics Department of the Archbishops’ Council.

The number of children and young people (below 16 years old) at ser­vices increased, with a weekly average of 225,000, compared with 219,000 in 2007.

Marriages in Church of England churches fell three per cent, from 54,600 to 53,100; but legal changes to marriage, widening the choice of churches where a couple are eligible to hold their wedding, came into effect only in October 2008, and are not reflected fully in these figures.

Baptisms rose slightly: up by 200 to 139,000 in 2008. Thanks­givings for the birth of a child were down by five per cent at 6100, and confirmations fell by 900 to 27,000.

There were three per cent fewer funerals conducted by ministers of the C of E: 188,100; of these, those in crematoria decreased by five per cent to 93,600 from 98,700 in 2007. This coincided with a drop in the UK mor­tality rate of 1.4 per cent between 2007 and 2008.

The Head of Research and Statis-tics for the Archbishops’ Council, the Revd Lynda Barley, said that the figures painted a “mixed picture for 2008.

“Alongside some encouraging signs, such as the number of under-16s in church increasing, and growth in church attendance in 14 out of 44 dioceses, are some disappointments, with further small declines in tradi­tional attendance measures.”

The figures for Fresh Expressions congregations and chapel services in hospitals were not included, and Ms Barley said that the figures needed to be seen in the context of declining numbers joining membership organ­isations in general.

The director of Christian Research, Benita Hewitt, said that the Church of England should not be pessimistic as a result of the figures. “These figures and all the latest research we’ve been doing in recent years show church­going has been relatively stable.” Attendance by young people and children was something that had been quite worrying, but these figures were encouraging, because they were up three per cent on last year.

“All our research shows that, if they don’t attend when they are young, people are not likely to start coming to church when they are older.”

The figures did not take into ac­count such things as fresh expressions of church, which were “difficult to measure as they were by their nature more fluid”.

Ms Hewitt said that the Church of England should seek to replicate successful strategies that had led to growth in other parts of the church, such as holding midweek services to cater for changing working habits that meant that people worked more on Sundays.

www.cofe.anglican.org/info/statistics/2008provisionalattendance.pdf

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