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Rising totals for 15 dioceses as overall churchgoing falls

by Pat Ashworth

ATTENDANCE FIGURES for 2005, published by the Church of England on Tuesday, show a fall from 2004 of two per cent for Sunday worship and one per cent or less for weekly and monthly worship.

About 1.7 million people attend C of E services in churches and cathedrals monthly; 1.2 million weekly, on Sunday or a weekday; and just under one million (988,000) on Sundays.

But, although the average number of children and young people attending services weekly also fell by one per cent to 231,000, the number attending monthly continued an upward trend, rising by one per cent to 441,000. The number of children and young people in regular contact with local C of E services of worship has steadily increased each year since 2001, when accurate weekly records began to be systematically collated. Levels in 2005 were six per cent higher than in that year.

The picture is acknowledged to be mixed. Fifteen dioceses — Birmingham, Bristol, Canterbury, Derby, Durham, Leicester, Manchester, Newcastle, Oxford, Ripon & Leeds, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, Truro, Wakefield, Worcester, and York — saw annual increases in their total-attendance figures.

The most dramatic increase has been in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day church attendance: at 2,786,200, it was seven per cent higher than 2001, the highest figure since Millennium celebrations drew in 2.85 million in 2000.

The Christmas rise on 2004, was four per cent for communicants and six per cent for all ages. But Easter Eve or Easter Day communicants were down by seven per cent (1,019,200), and all-age attendance was down six per cent (1,417,800).

Infant baptism figures continue to decline — by four per cent from 2004, to 93,000 — but there was a rise in both child and adult baptism: five per cent in the latter case. Confirmations fell by two per cent to 29,800, but the figure for marriages and marriage blessings remained constant at 62,300 in 2005.

  The total number of funerals, in church and at crematoria, was also down two per cent, at 207,300.

  “Fresh expressions of church” figured for the first time in the information requested from parishes in the annual returns. Thirty-nine per cent of parishes reported starting a “fresh expression of church” since 2000; 33 per cent had started projects aimed at occasional and non-churchgoers; and six per cent had started other fresh expressions. Another 12 per cent were planning a project in the next two years.

  Patterns of churchgoing and church affiliation in England were changing, and churches were responding well to the changing lifestyles of their congregations, suggested the Revd Lynda Barley, head of research and statistics for the Archbishops’ Council.

“For every 50 people attending church on a typical Sunday, another nine attend during the week, and an extra 35 in total over a month,” said Ms Barley.

“There are signs in several parts of the country of more sustained growth beyond special occasions. This is encouraging news for local churches as they seek to meet the increasingly evident spiritual needs of their neighbourhoods.”

 

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