What is happening to Church of England attendance?

Oct 25, 2020 by

by Ian Paul, Psephizo:

At around this time each year, the Church of England statistics team release the data on what has been happening with attendance and services in the Church of England, based on the returns from churches from the previous year. This information is very useful, though also needs to be handled with care. On the one hand, not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts. And yet actual figures confront us with the reality that we are otherwise very happy to ignore; for the last two years, we have at Archbishops’ Council spent some time reflecting on these, but only because I asked for it to happen. And numbers matter, because numbers are people, and people matter.

So I have commented on the statistics here for the last couple of years. In 2018, when reviewing the 2017 figures, I noted a number interesting things. There was good evidence that the figures added up; there appeared to have been a marked change in 2012, though no-one has been able to explain that; proportionate to the wider population, we actually had the right number of children (though that assumes that children in church grow into adults of faith); looking at worshipping communities seemed to tell us something important; but the state of the C of E varied enormously from one place to another.

When I looked again last year, examining the figures from 2018, there was rather less to be encouraged about—though digital engagement was one bright spot. Children were still there—though it turns out that they are mostly concentrated in a small number of large churches. There are some signs of growth in some places—but the C of E is now a much smaller player, even amongst the Christian churches of the UK, despite its significant assets. And I ended with some challenges: will we remain committed to evangelism and church planting, will we be willing to learn from our mistakes, and can we learn from others who are being effective?

When I looked at this year’s statistics (from 2019), I did not immediately see anything new to comment on. But David Keen, who is vicar of St James’ and St Peter’s in Yeovil, has regularly done an analysis of the figures, and I reproduce his article from his blog with permission here. You will see that David is not very upbeat, and he reflects the feeling amongst many that we are very quickly reaching a point of no return in some important regards. He ends his piece with some serious challenges.

Read here

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