Attendance slides, but several dioceses buck the trend

31 January 2008

by a staff reporter

A PATCHWORK PATTERN of church attendance emerged this week, as newly released figures for 2006 suggested that half the dioceses experienced growth of one type or another.

Overall, attendance in 2006 was one per cent lower than in 2005. The Church of England counts church attendance over four weeks in October each year. During that time, it measures attendance on Sundays (down from 993,000 to 983,000), at some time during a week (1,174,000 to 1,163,000), and monthly (1,706,000 to 1,694,000). The number of children fell by two per cent (on Sundays: 158,000 in 2005 to 155,000 in 2006; weekly: 232,000 to 228,000). The monthly attendance figure for children remained the same.

The pattern was mixed across the country, however. Of the 44 dioceses, 33 saw some growth in one or more measures of attendance: 24 saw increases in total attendance, 22 in some element of adult attendance, and 24 in child attendance.

Thirteen dioceses saw increases in weekly attendance: Bath & Wells, Chester, Gloucester, Guildford, London, Manchester, Portsmouth, St Albans, Sodor & Man, Wakefield, Winchester, Worcester, and York.

If overall weekly churchgoing has continued to slide, the opposite is true of Christmas and Easter. Christmas attendance, up six per cent in 2005, was up a further seven per cent in 2006, and stood at nearly three million (2,994,100). This came after a decline in 2003 and 2004.

Easter attendance, which fell by an alarming six per cent in 2005, recovered most of that number with a five per cent rise in 2006. In 2006, 1,484,700 attended church at Easter, compared with 1,417,600 in 2005.

Other statistics for 2006 showed a decline, however. Baptisms and thanksgivings after birth were down by two per cent; marriages and blessings were down five per cent; and funerals were down four per cent (the last largely accounted for by demographics). Confirmations, however, held steady, after several years of decline.

The Church of England also released the results of a survey conducted by Opinion Research Business (a weighted telephone poll of 1002 adults, conducted in September). Of the sample, 85 per cent said that they had been inside a church building during the year. The occasion for such visits varied widely, and included concerts as well as services.

More than half had been to a funeral; just less than half to a wedding; and more than a quarter had been to a normal Sunday service. One in five said that they had entered a church “seeking a quiet space”. The same number said that they had been walking past and “felt the need to go in”.

In the poll, 69 per cent said they were Christian, 50 per cent said they were Anglican, while six per cent said they belonged to another faith.

See PDF below for full statistics

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