Is the Church in Decline?

Is the Church in Decline?

I understand the neccesity not to give way to cynicism or despair – and to see the postive even or especially in difficult times but it is difficult to read these statistics in any other way than that of decline. How the Church responds and especially its Bishops will be fascinating.

From the Church of Engand web page:

Regular attendance

The total number of adults, children and young people regularly attending local churches has dropped two per cent overall in the six years since 2002, with the 2008 figures showing a drop of one per cent against the number attending on an average week in 2007. The number of under 16s increased by three per cent over the year, returning to two per cent below their 2002 level. 

People continue to attend church on other days than Sunday.  For every 50 people attending church or cathedrals on a typical Sunday, another 10 attend during the week and an extra 37 in total over a month.

The Revd Lynda Barley, the Church of England’s Head of Research and Statistics, comments: “The figures released today, covering regular local church attendees, give an important but inevitably partial snapshot of today’s Church. They paint a mixed picture for 2008. Alongside some encouraging signs, such as the number of under 16s in church increasing and growth in church attendance in 14 out of 44 dioceses, are some disappointments, with further small declines in traditional attendance measures. Excluded from these figures are Fresh Expressions, chapel services in hospitals, education and other establishments, some international congregations and the projects funded by the Youth Evangelism Fund.

“It is important to see these trends in the context of wider changes in a society where fewer people are willing to join and take part in membership organizations. Political parties have seen their memberships fall by around 40 per cent in recent years. Even in a General Election year, almost double the number of members of the three main political parties taken together will attend a Church of England parish church on Sunday.”

  • In summary: Average weekly attendance was down slightly at 1,145,000 (2007: 1,160,000; 2006: 1,163,000), as was average Sunday attendance at 960,000 (2007: 978,000; 2006: 983,000) and average monthly attendance at 1,667,000 (2007: 1,690,000; 2006: 1,694,000). The average number of children and young people at services each week rose by three per cent to 225,000 (2207: 219,000; 2006: 228,000). The number of children and young people attending on a monthly basis also grew three per cent to 438,000 (2007: 424,000; 2006: 442,000).


Marking life events

The total number of baptisms remained stable, with increases in the number of ‘child’ and ‘adult’ baptisms (those aged one year and older). The number of ‘infant’ baptisms (under one year old) fell by two per cent. The number of Thanksgivings for the birth of a child fell by five per cent.

The number of marriages taking place in parish churches fell by three per cent to 53,100 (significant changes to marriage law which widened the number of churches where couples are eligible to be married did not take effect until October 2008 and their effect is not, therefore, fully reflected in these figures). Blessings of marriages following a civil ceremony fell (by three per cent, to 4,400). The total number of weddings in the UK in 2008 has not yet been published, although numbers have been falling by around three per cent each year in recent years.

The total number of funerals conducted by the Church of England also dropped (by three per cent, to 188,100), particularly those taking place in crematoria (by five per cent, to 93,600); this is against a backdrop of a falling UK mortality rate (the number of deaths fell by 1.4 per cent between 2007 and 2008).

More than nine in ten Church of England parish churches completed attendance counts, representing the highest participation rate ever.  These have been verified across all 16,000 Church of England churches by the Research and Statistics Department of the Archbishops’ Council. The provisional figures can be seen on the web at:

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