THE average C of E church has just three children attending, and the smallest 25 per cent have, on average, none at all, according to the latest Statistics for Mission.
The data, collected by parishes a year ago, shows the overall decline in attendance to be almost twice as pronounced among children. The average attendance by children, defined as being under 16, fell by 22 per cent between 2006 and 2016, compared with a 13-per-cent fall among adults.
In the smallest 25 per cent of churches, the average weekly attendance by children — at church services or Fresh Expressions on Sundays or weekdays — was zero. In the largest 25 per cent it rose to 11; and in the largest five per cent it was 35. The median is just three.
Most measures of attendance fell by between ten and 15 per cent between 2006 and 2016. On average, 927,300 people (86 per cent of them adults, 14 per cent of them children under 16) attended C of E services and acts of worship in October 2016, which was down from 961,100 the previous year.
The usual Sunday attendances were 738,700, which was down from 755,000. A further 179,000 people attended services for schools in C of E churches. This is an increase on 2013, but the release warns that this may be due to better reporting of attendance figures, and because many school Harvest Festivals take place in October.
The “worshipping community” of the Church — defined as “those people who attend church regularly”, which includes all those who go on a Sunday or during the week, whether they attend every day or just once a month — is estimated to stand at 1.1 million people, of whom 20 per cent are aged under 18, 49 per cent are aged between 18 and 69, and 31 per cent are 70 or over. This equates to two per cent of the population. The median church had a worshipping community of 44 people.
In 2016, there were 1,048,000 members on Church of England electoral rolls. An estimated 1.2 million people attended at Easter and 2.6 million at Christmas.
There were 120,000 Church of England baptisms and services of thanksgiving for the gift of a child, at which 59 per cent of the children were aged less than one. This equates to an infant baptism for ten per cent of live births. In 2014 (the last year for which national statistics are available), 20 per cent of marriages in England and Wales took place in, or were followed by, a service in a C of E church; last year C of E parishes conducted funerals for 28 per cent of deaths.
The figures can mask variations. In 11 per cent of parishes, usual Sunday attendance has increased. In 38 per cent, it has decreased, and in 52 per cent there has been “no clear trend”. There were infant baptisms for more than 25 per cent of live births in Hereford and Carlisle; but for less than five per cent in London and Southwark. The proportion of children in worshipping communities varies from 27 per cent in Manchester and Southwark to 11 per cent in Truro.
Churches were asked a “one-off” question about visitors. More than half reported being open to visitors five or more days each week. Of the 4341 churches that estimated the number of their visitors, half had six or fewer visitors each week; but nine per cent reported that they had 100 or more.
William Nye, secretary general of the Archbishops’ Council, said that the figures provided “a sobering reminder of the long-term challenge we face. This challenge is likely to persist for some years ahead. That is why we have established a programme of Renewal and Reform to transform the Church of England to become a growing Church in every region, and for every generation.”
Professor David Voas, one of the authors of From Anecdote to Evidence, which found that nearly half of churches had fewer than five under-16s — has warned that the Church must stop losing teenagers and those in their early 20s, if it is to reverse the decline that threatens its existence (News, 17 January, 2014).