Attendance figures show patchy growth

10 May 2013

A "quiet confidence" underlies the latest church-attendance figures, which report growth in 20 out of the 44 dioceses, the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, said on Monday.

The figures for 2011, published by the Archbishops' Council, suggest that, nationally, average weekly attendance fell by 0.3 per cent to 1,091,484. This was welcomed by Bishop James as evidence of a "stabilising" trend. Weekly attendance patterns show a slow decline over the decade, from 1.2 million in 2001.

The statistics record a growth in attendance at Christmas services. In 2011, 2,618,030 people attended a service, a increase of 14.5 per cent on 2010. Although this may be partly attributable to the poor weather in 2010, initial returns from 2012 suggest a further increase in Christmas attendance.

The number of infant and child baptisms increased by 4.3 per cent, while the number of adult baptisms grew by more than five per cent. Thanksgivings for the birth of a child rose by almost 12 per cent. The Church of England conducted an average of 2600 baptisms each week during 2011.

The figures show a 3.6-per-cent decrease in the number of weddings conducted in the C of E, but wedding blessings (services of prayer and thanksgiving following a civil ceremony) grew by 4.5 per cent.

Church of England clergy and licensed lay ministers conducted 162,526 funerals in 2011, a fall of 2.8 per cent on the previous year, reflecting figures from the Office for National Statistics which showed a fall of 1.8 per cent in deaths in England and Wales in 2011.

There was a 1.2-per-cent increase in the average weekly attendance in church of children and young people, to 216,928. In 2004, the peak year in the past decade, this figure stood at 235,000. Average weekly attendance is based on returns from PCCs, reporting the average number of people at services throughout the week, typically over a four-week period in October.

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The greatest growth in average weekly attendance was reported by Southwell & Nottingham, where the number increased by 11 per cent, reflecting growth in more than one third of churches. One cleric in the diocese, the Vicar of St Nicholas's, Bawtry, the Revd Jonathan Strickland, said: "We've seen our congregation get younger and more welcoming. We always do Back to Church Sunday; there's laughter in the church; and people take part. Facebook has been important in reminding people about what's going on, and helping people feel part of the church, as they join in conversations online."

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, suggested that the three-per-cent increase in average weekly attendance in his diocese could be linked to greater engagement with the community, through running food banks and school assemblies: "When someone comes to church, they don't find themselves among strangers, but are welcomed by people whom they have already seen helping out in the neighbourhood."

Weekly attendance fell by ten per cent in the diocese of Canterbury. On Tuesday, the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, described the figures as "a challenge", to which the diocese had responded by creating strategies that were already "starting to bear fruit", to "grow the church, re-image our ministry, and build partnerships so we can work more closely with our communities".

The diocese of Portsmouth reported an eight-per-cent decrease in average weekly attendance. A spokesman said that the diocese was "disappointed", but that the figure should be measured against an increase the previous year of six per cent. The diocese had devoted £100,000 of its annual budget in both 2012 and 2013 on "dozens of projects that aim to increase the size of our congregations and deepen their spiritual life".

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