ATTENDANCE at C of E churches, including at Sunday services and on major festivals, continues to decline steadily by as much as 1.4 per cent a year, new figures show.
Weekly attendance dropped to about 961,000 last year in line with an average annual decline of 1.1 per cent over the past decade. In 2014, this number was 977,800, suggesting a drop in attendance of around 13,000 adults and 3000 children in one year.
The figures were published in Statistics for Mission 2015, released this week. The annual report, based on a survey carried out over four weeks last October, suggested that usual Sunday attendance also dropped, from 784,600 people two years ago, to 752,460. Since 2010, this figure has decreased by seven per cent.
Forty years ago, approximately 1.25 million attended Sunday services regularly; population increases mean that the percentage of English residents who attend church has more than halved, from three to 1.4 per cent over this period.
Christmas and Easter attendance also continued to decline by an average of 1.4 and 1.3 per cent a year, respectively, over ten years. This is despite a slight increase in attendance at Christmas services last year: more than 2.5 million, up from 2.4 million in 2014. About 1.3 million attended a service at Easter last year – the same number as in 2013.
The Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council, William Nye, said that the figures were a “realistic assessment” and a starting-point from which the Church could steady, and eventually reverse, the decline in attendance through its Renewal and Reform vision. “Statistics for Mission provides an invaluable foundation for this, and demonstrates that the Church — fully aware of where we are, yet confident of the future — still has a strong base to work from,” he said.
Not all dioceses were responsible for the decline. In Chester, Exeter, Hereford, Leeds, and York, the average weekly attendance of all ages between 2014 and 2015 increased by 100 to 200 worshippers, while the dioceses of Chelmsford and Derby had 300 and 400 more worshippers, respectively. The highest increase was reported in the diocese of Lincoln, which welcomed 700 more worshippers a week than it had done the previous year.
The diocese of Salisbury reported the largest drop in attendance last year from 25,700 to 23,400. The diocese of London was close behind, losing 1100 worshippers after rises in previous years.
Statistics in Mission was not all bad news, however. The “worshipping community” in the C of E — any person attending church at least once a month — was around 1.1 million last year, it stated, including 91,000 joining worshippers. This figure was higher than the number of leaving worshippers: 63,000.
Of the adults who joined a church last year, 34 per cent were worshipping for the first time, compared to 16 per cent who had returned to church, and 15 per cent who had moved from another church nearby. Most of the children who joined (59 per cent) were also worshipping for the first time.
The main reason for adults leaving a church was death or illness (44 per cent), or moving away (30 per cent). This was compared to 13 per cent of leavers who had stopped worshipping altogether. However, the majority of children who left their church (35 per cent) did not continue worshipping elsewhere.
Mr Nye was unfazed: “For some of those who support our work, weekly attendance at services is part of their discipleship. There will be many others, as we know from the Census, who identify with us, but who worship on a less regular basis.”