Faint signs of hope in church census results

by
02 November 2006

FIRST, the bad news from the 2005 English Church Census, published oMonday. Churchgoing in England continues to decline at a rate of 2.3 per cent year.

But there is good news, too. The rate of decline has slowed from that of th1990s, when numbers fell by 2.7 per cent a year.

The census, conducted by Christian Research, was sent to all 37,500 knowchurches in England in May 2005, and half of them responded. The title of thfindings is Pulling out of the Nosedive, referring to the signs of recoverafter a troubling decade.

The fortunes of the various denominations differed (see table, right)Whereas the average drop across the board was 15 per cent in the seven yearsince the last survey, in 1998, the Church of England declined by only 11 pecent. The fastest rates of decline were among Roman Catholics and Methodistswhereas the Pentecostal Churches showed significant growth over the period.

As a result, Methodism has dropped to fourth place behind Pentecostalism. Ithese rates continue, the C of E will overtake the RC Church within the nexfour years.

Two notable factors stand out from the results. One is the significance oethnicity. The black-led Churches, especially the ones that attract immigrantshave grown during the past seven years. Ten per cent of all churchgoerresponding to the survey were non-white.

All traditions experienced decline, but Evangelicals less so: nine per cenagainst 18 per cent. But this figure rises to 17 per cent if one subtractnon-white Evangelicals.

The second factor is related to this: the growth of the Church in Londonwhere 44 per cent of churchgoers are non-white. London has 11 per cent of alchurches in England, and 20 per cent of all churchgoers. It has 53 per cent oall English Pentecostalists, and 27 per cent of all Charismatic EvangelicalsAlso, it caters for 57 per cent of all worshippers in their 20s. I couldnbelieve that figure myself, and had to check it again, said Peter Brierleythe director of Christian Research.

London was not the only area to experience growth, however. Anglicaattendance grew in Herefordshire by four per cent, and in Kent by one per cent

Another indication of the uneven nature of the decline is the fortunes oindividual churches. In 1998, 21 per cent of churches that answered the survesaid that they were growing; 65 per cent of churches said that they werdeclining. In 2005, the figures were 34 per cent and 50 per cent. Neverthelessthe amount of increase in the growing churches was not enough to counteract thdecline experienced by the shrinking half.

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