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Church decline has halted, say Anglican statisticians

28 March 2014


First meeting: the Archbishops' Evangelism Task Force met at Lambeth on Monday. The group, chaired by Archbishop Welby, was established after the Synod's debate on inten­tional evangelism last November 

First meeting: the Archbishops' Evangelism Task Force met at Lambeth on Monday. The group, chaired by Archbishop Welby, was established after the Sy...

OFFICIAL statistics issued last week suggest that attendance at C of E churches may have levelled out after decades of decline.

A report by the Archbishops' Council, Statistics for Mission 2012, released on Friday last week, suggests that, on an average Sunday in 2012 (the latest year with available data) about 859,000 people attended a C of E church. This compares with 901,000 in 2003.

The average weekly attendance for the Church was higher, at 1.05 million people. About one in five of those who attend a C of E service weekly are reckoned not to attend on a Sunday.

Three months ago, a C of E report on church growth, From Anecdote to Evidence (News, 31 January), suggested that there had been nine per cent decline in average weekly attendance over the decade to 2010.

But Dr Bev Botting, Head of Research and Statistics for the Archbishops' Council, said that decline had mostly stopped over the past decade.

The earlier figures have now been revised. "These statistics for 2012 show that weekly attendance over the past decade has not changed significantly," Dr Botting said. "The introduction of cleaner data and more rigorous methodological approaches and analysis means these figures provide a clearer picture of Anglican churchgoing in the decade to 2012."

There is a health warning with many of the Church's figures, since one quarter of churches (27 per cent) returned no or only partial data, forcing the researchers to introduce estimates into their working. A C of E spokesman said: "We are confident that the estimates made are the best possible, but they will, of course, always be estimates."

The C of E statistics do not take account of population grown. Since the population of England grew by 7.8 per cent between 2003 and 2012, the stable figure for average weekly attendance represents a percentage decline.

The 2012 average Sunday attendance of 859,000 represents 1.6 per cent of the population of England. In 2003, approximately 1.8 per cent of the population attended church on an average Sunday.

None the less, the new estimates suggest that more churches are growing than was thought earlier: 20 per cent of churches are growing (the earlier figure was 18 per cent), and 57 per cent are stable; just 23 per cent are thought to be declining.

Again, Dr Botting said that the difference could be explained by the use of more up to date data and different methods for estimating what was happening at churches that did not return any figures.

The C of E spokesman also said: "The church-growth programme used the most up-to-date data available when they were doing their analysis, and considered data from the decade to 2010. The more recent analysis just published uses the recent data now available and considers the time period 2007 to 2012. The two sets of figures are actually very close."

Statistics for Mission 2012 suggests that almost one in five of those who attended church at least monthly was under 18 years old, just over half were between 18 and 69, and 28 per cent were aged 70 or above.

Christmas services in 2012 attracted 2.52 million people, slightly down from 2011 (2.64 million). The broader picture of the past five years, however, is of fairly stable Christmas attendance, slightly fluctuating depending on the weather and on which day Christmas falls each year.

Almost 1.4 million people attended an Easter service in 2012. This figure remains stable year to year.

A rare increase came in the field of adult baptisms - which were up to 11,160 in 2012, from 9600 in 2008.

The Church baptised more than 137,000 people in 2012, a rate of around 3000 per week. It also married almost 56,000 couples, an increase of eight per cent from 2011.

There has been a steady drop in those being confirmed, however, with a fall of 29 per cent between 2003 and 2012. Just 22,540 people were confirmed in 2012.


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