IN ITS general forecast for the year ahead, The World in
2014, the editor of The Economist makes the sensible
observation that "forecasts are as important as the decisions they
Assessing what is currently happening, and what might happen as
a consequence, is fraught with difficulty. But this was
courageously tackled by the actuaries asked by the Church of
England about future attendance. The First Church Estates
Commissioner, Andreas Whittam Smith, in the July 2012 General Synod
meeting in York, said that forecasts indicated that numbers would
decrease to half a million by 2030, and by 90 per cent of the 2007
weekly attendance by 2057.
Both those figures represent a severe decline
(see figure 1, opposite) for the years to 2030, broken
down by age. It is clear that reaching those aged under 30 needs
urgent attention. It is against that background that we evaluate
the stories of encouragement where quality evangelism and church
growth are taking place.
Two elements are 90 per cent likely: first, the overall numbers
will continue to decline; second, the percentage of those who are
65 and over will increase. While some denominations are growing,
even collectively they are not as big as the Church of England,
which represented a quarter - 26 per cent - of the total attendance
The only denomination of comparable size - and, in fact,
slightly larger - is the Roman Catholic Church, but it, too, is
declining, not growing (except slightly in London). It is also
equally clear that, while most older people continue to attend
church while they can,the numbers of young people joining the
Church are simply too few to replace those who die.
One conversion to four deaths is the broad, overall equation
from the past decade. Within that broad context, therefore, it has
to be asked: where, and for whom, is the Church growing?
THE Pentecostals are growing, largely because
of the enthusiasm of black churches in urban areas. The Redeemed
Christian Church of God, for example, started its first church in
1993. It is now the third largest Pentecostal denomination in the
UK; it had 100,000 members in 2012, across 500 churches.
The Pentecostals accounted for 12 per cent of total church
attendance in England in 2012 - double their percentage in 1990.
They are especially growing among black church families, so among
adults and children up to, perhaps, 50 years of age.
Immigrant churches are also growing, especially
in London, where there are more than 200 of them. This phenomenon
has not (yet) spread widely to other cities. The Roman Catholics
have been especially strong in starting churches for the many
language groups coming from Roman Catholic countries (which is why
they are growing in London). These attract mostly adult immigrants,
60 per cent of whom are 20 to 44.3 years of age).
Some of the larger churches are growing,
particularly in London, where young people in their twenties are
fairly numerous, and twice as likely to attend church as in other
parts of England. Why are these churches, many of which are
Anglican, popular? Part of the answer may lie in their application
of biblical content, contemporary and flexible models of worship,
and a lively, outgoing congregation.
Fresh Expressions, under various names, are
growing. The expected growth of Messy
Church (see figure 2) is remarkable. Half of
those who attend them are probably already included in figures
elsewhere, but the other half are new, non-church, or
Half of the forecast figure for 2020 would account for five per
cent of church attendance then. Sixty per cent of their attendance
is adult; 40 per cent is children.
BETH KEITH, a Church Army researcher, alongside George Lings,
has been looking at places that appeal especially to those under
the age of 30. Most of these are partly, or wholly, outside
established denominations. She describes them as follows.
There are "informal" churches, meeting "more
often around the dining table than in the church building". These
are small communities, reaching young adults who often have no
prior faith or church experience.
"Church-planting hubs" are "contemporary
services for young adults, organised alongside community based
activities, with an emphasis on personal missional activities.
These reach educated, middle-class young adults with a Christian
upbringing, often located in student areas."
"Youth church grown up" are organisations
"which began life as youth ministries. Ten years on, their members
are growing up, but not connecting to other forms of church. They
are considering how their church could become a place for young
"Deconstructed churches" meet regularly, but
not necessarily, on Sunday, and probably not in a church building.
"They place a high value on community, with church practices based
around meals. Prayer, thanksgiving, communion, and discipleship
happen during the meal."
"Churches on the margins" reach "young adults
marginalised by wider society, from non-church backgrounds. Many in
these churches struggle with illness, mental health, addictions,
suicide, homelessness, violence, and criminal activity. These
churches focus on transforming lives, meeting together over food,
and providing practical support."
"Context-shaped churches" have regular
gatherings, not necessarily weekly or on a Sunday. While
traditional elements of church, such as communion, teaching,
worship, prayer, discipleship, and fellowship are evident, there is
often no clear service, preaching, or singing. By using a range of
spaces, these churches cross the sacred/secular divide."
THERE is also growth in other denominations, among the
independent and new church sectors; but, because there are also
closures, they balance out. The Orthodox churches are
growing steadily, but represent a small proportion of
total church attendance (one per cent in 2012). The Orthodox are
especially strong with those aged 30 to 44.
And there is a further facet of interest in urban
areas, where, while we cannot exactly observe growth,
there is a much slower rate of decline than elsewhere. Taking towns
at random, Luton had a church attendance of eight per cent in 2012,
against six per cent in the rest of Bedfordshire; in Cambridge, the
rate is seven per cent to five per cent in Cambridgeshire; in
Macclesfield, nine per cent to six per cent in Cheshire; Carlisle,
eight per cent against six per cent, and so on.
Such urban growth is not uniform or universal,
but there is enough of a pattern to suggest that some churches
outside London can have a significant impact, attracting more of
those under the age of 45.
Weighing up these movements statistically is not easy. Figure 3
puts the percentage of churchgoers under the age of 30 at 20 per
cent by 2025, and those who are 65 or over at 43 per cent. These
percentages compare with 15 per cent respectively for 2025 in
figure 1, showing that, when other denominations are taken into
consideration, the future may not be as bleak for the Church of
England as the actuaries forecast.
Peter Brierley is the founder of the Brierley