EMPTY CHURCHES, and the tradition that services are held on Sunday morningsare contributing to the problem of falling numbers in the Church of Englandsays its Head of Research and Statistics, the Revd Lynda Barley.
"Are we prepared to be flexible and responsive in our approach to churcbuildings and church services as we seek ways to respond to the widening gabetween the inherited faith of the nation and its current practiceunderstanding, and nurture of that faith?" Mrs Barley writes in a new bookletChurchgoing Today.
"Churches do not always appreciate that the schedule offered oftediscourages regular weekly attendance. Families with children can find Sundachurch attendance a particular problem if there is nothing suitable in theilocal church, or if it clashes with popular local sports or other events."
Midweek services, she suggests, can meet the needs of a variety of peoplwith Sunday commitments. She urges hard-pressed clergy to consider usinmembers of their congregations more for Sunday worship so that the clergy "cadirect some attention to developing the potential of midweek services".
Churches are urged to "listen to the local" and "think outside the box"Empty churches "demoralise the congregation and make it more difficult fomarginal churchgoers to attend without feeling too conspicuous", but thprospect of closure can accelerate decline. In one example, only half thworshippers transferred elsewhere, and they became "significantly less regularin their attendance.
She suggests that churches map the population trends in their area, to sewhere the different age groups are located, and she cites a range of exampleof churches either with a "menu" of Sunday services, or where people have beeattracted to worship by midweek innovations, such as an after-school servicfor children or a Thursday eucharist for which transport by minibus waprovided, with coffee afterwards.
She recommends, where appropriate, reaching out "beyond the church wallsand holding services somewhere other than the parish church in a pub or on light boat permanently moored in Cardiff Bay, for example.
Churches are advised to "listen to the messages your Sunday-servicattendance levels are conveying". These can be highly erratic, and Sundaattendance figures do not give the full picture. "In reality, around one in siof Britains adults attend a church service at least once a month."
Churchgoing Today (Church House Publishing, 6.99; 0-7151-4103-1).
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