THE north-east of England is often regarded as a barren part of the mission field in the UK, but new research from Durham University has found that at least 125 churches have been started in the region in the past 35 years.
A report from the Centre for Church Growth, based at the university’s Cranmer Hall, suggests that the new churches typically attract 12,000 people to services on an average Sunday. But the majority of the new congregations (107 in total) have been started by non-mainstream denominations, or are independent.
The report New Churches in the North East, also found that the new churches have baptised about 1000 people in the past 12 months. The figures were acquired by archival and internet research, and from questionnaires sent to the churches.
The research revealed that 47 of the new churches were mostly attended by ethnic minorities; and, in a further 37, at least 20 per cent of the congregation was drawn from ethnic minority groups. This reflects the influx of migrants into the north-east in recent years.
“Demography is, to a degree, religious destiny,” the report states. In 1951, there were, approximately 1500 black or minority-ethnic people in the region; by the time of the 2011 census, that figure had grown to 160,000.
The number of black Africans in the north-east more than trebled between 2001 and 2009. This spike is reflected in a steep rise in the number of new churches during that decade — 40 — compared with 15 in the ’80s, and 19 in the ’90s.
The report notes that the diocese of Newcastle has approximately 200 churches, and about 150 churches closed down during the same period (1980-2015).
The bulk of the new congregations could be labelled as “Evangelical-Charismatic”, the report’s authors suggest, but there are also significant minorities from other traditions.
New Churches in the North East, however, cautions against “ecclesial triumphalism”. More churches have shut down than there are new ones, and, although the north-east is, to a degree, “re-sacralising”, it is simultaneously “secularising”.