CHURCHES should consider shifting some of their festivities to the weekend before Christmas, in order to maximise Christmas congregations, a senior church statistician said on Wednesday.
The Revd Lynda Barley, Head of Research and Statistics for the Church of England, has analysed the latest provisional attendance figures, which were released by the C of E this week. She said that when Christmas fell midweek, as it did two years ago, there was a big drop in churchgoers — 11 per cent — at midnight communion and Christmas Day services.
“Workers like to take advantage of any midweek break to get away to see distant relatives or go to sunnier climes,” she said. “But, when the Christmas 24 hours falls at a weekend, the numbers are greater.”
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day communicants were down 12 per cent to 1,110,200 in 2007, and a total of 2,656,800 went to C of E churches (down 11 per cent).
One of the most important changes — the increase in numbers attending carol services and Christingles before Christmas, when churches and cathedrals were “packed wall to wall” — remained unanalysed, Mrs Barley said. “It is very hard work for parishes to collect all the information needed. Perhaps we should start with a pilot project, and then, when people saw how many were coming to church before Christmas, they would agree to collect the figures.”
The Rt Revd Graeme Knowles, Dean of St Paul’s, said: “It seems that, as a general trend, when Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, we see considerable increases.”
The provisional figures also suggest that the average weekly attendance at church on Sundays and throughout the week was 1.16 million in 2007, a statistically insignificant dip of 3000 from the previous year. The figures had dropped each year since 2003, when they had topped 1.187 million, up from 1.17 million in 2002.
Numbers were down in 2004 (1.186 million), in 2005 (1.174 million), and in 2006 (1.163 million).
But 14 dioceses bucked the trend: Southwark’s average weekly attendance was up by 2700, Lincoln’s by 2100, and Chichester’s by 1900. The Bishop of Lincoln, Dr John Saxbee, said: “While we need to value people as people rather than statistics, still we are glad to see growth in so many areas of our church life across Lincolnshire”.
Sunday attendance had continued its downward trend. There were now on average 51,000 fewer people usually in church on Sunday than there were in 2002: 19,000 fewer children, and 32,000 fewer adults. The number of children and young people was down by four per cent on 2006, the best turn-out throughout the week in 2007 being 424,000, compared with 442,000 in 2006.
Infant baptisms also continued to decline, down in 2007 by three per cent from 90,900 to 88,400. In 2002, there were 103,200 infant baptisms. But child baptisms (of those aged one to 12 years) increased by six per cent from 38,200 to 40,300, and adult baptisms were up by nine per cent to 10,200.
All-age attendance at the Easter services dropped by one per cent to 1,469,000, compared with 1,484,700 in 2006, but was up on 2005, when 1,417,600 attended C of E churches. In 2002, 1,473,000 people worshipped at Easter.
The latest statistics are at: www.cofe.anglican.org/info/statistics/