AVERAGE attendance at Church of England Sunday services dropped two per cent in 2009, compared with 2008, provisional figures released by Church House this week suggest. Attendance by children and young people, however, remained steady, with figures indicating that it had risen over the longer term.
Average attendance on a Sunday in 2009 dropped to 944,000 during 2009, having stood at 960,000 in 2008, and 978,000 in 2007. Average attendance each week (taking into account services not on a Sunday) dropped slightly to 1.131 million from 1.145 million in 2008, and 1.16 million in 2007.
Average monthly attendance also dropped slightly in 2009 to 1.651 million, from 1.667 million in 2008, and 1.69 million in 2007.
The research measured average Sunday and weekly attendance by identifying the average number of people attending church services, typically over a four-week period in October. Researchers did not consider the traditional “usual Sunday attendance” (uSa) to be statistically accurate as a comparison because it is interpreted differently across the dioceses.
The figures did not take into account Fresh Expressions or chapel services in hospitals, educational and other institutions, nor international congregations.
A statement from Church House said that while the total number of people attending churches had dropped two per cent overall in the seven years from 2002, the number of children under the age of 16 attending services in 2009 was two per cent higher than in 2002, and was “virtually unchanged” compared with 2008.
In 2009, 223,000 children and young people attended church services each week, down from 225,000 in 2008, but higher than the 219,000 in 2007. Monthly attendance stood at 436,000 in 2009, slightly down from 438,000 in 2008, but higher than the 424,000 in 2007.
The statement said that “other research reveals that a further 375,000 [children and young people] attend other church-based activities”.
The head of research and statistics for the C of E, the Revd Lynda Barley, said the figures “paint a mixed picture for 2009”.
“Alongside some encouraging signs, such as the number of under- 16s in church holding steady and growth in church attendance in 16 out of 44 dioceses, there are continued challenges, with further small declines in traditional attendance measures,” she said.
Mrs Barley said it was “important to see these trends in the context of wider changes in a society where fewer people join and take part in membership organisations.”
Next week, General Synod will debate the report from the House of Bishops and the Archbishops’ Council, Challenges for the Quinquennium. One of the questions it seeks to address is how the Church can “build flexibly and achieve spiritual and numerical growth”.