The provisional Church of England statistics for mission for 2009, released yesterday in the form of five tables and eight maps, ‘paint a mixed picture’, according to Revd Lynda Barley, the Church’s Head of Research and Statistics, quoted in an accompanying press release.
‘Alongside some encouraging signs, such as the number of under 16s in church holding steady and growth in church attendance in 16 out of 44 dioceses, there are continued challenges, with further small declines in traditional attendance measures.’
‘Excluded from these figures’, Barley adds, ‘are Fresh Expressions, chapel services in hospitals, education and other establishments, some international congregations and the projects funded by the Youth Evangelism Fund.’
However, looking at the statistics in more detail, it will be seen that 36 of the 41 key indicators registered a decrease between 2008 and 2009, albeit the fall was 1% or less in 16 instances, especially for the measures of churchgoing.
The sole double-digit drop was in communicants on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, 11% down on the year, attributed to widespread snow and ice and the consequent cancellation of services.
All-age attendance at Christmas was also 9% lower, for the same reason. Congregations at Christingle and carol services during Advent were not enumerated.
Other significant decreases in 2008-09 were in confirmations (7% fewer) and funerals (6%). The latter figure cannot be entirely explained by lessening mortality, since it was still 2.5% above the fall in the number of UK deaths in 2008-09.
Moreover, the fact that funerals in crematoria dropped by 9% and funerals in church by only 4% is clear evidence of secularizing tendencies and is in line with Co-operative Funeralcare’s recent research, which we have covered at:
The five Anglican increases for 2008-09 were for child baptisms (up by 3%), adult baptisms (6%), child thanksgivings (2%), Easter Eve and Easter Day communicants (0.4%), and electoral roll members (1%).
Too much should probably not be made of short-term changes, year on year, but it is perhaps instructive to look at comparisons between 2002 and 2009.
On this basis, it is hard to escape the conclusion that, overall and even allowing for special circumstances, the Church of England continues to decline, but at an uneven pace.
Over these seven years baptisms and thanksgivings were down by 9%, confirmations by 25%, marriages and blessings by 7%, funerals by 21%, and electoral roll members by 1%.
Average Sunday attendances over a four-week period in October fell by 6% between 2002 and 2009 and usual Sunday attendances by 10%. The latter measure is said to be ‘interpreted differently across the dioceses and is therefore not regarded as statistically accurate as a comparison’.
Yet even the newer all-age average weekly attendance figure, designed to capture churchgoing other than on Sundays, dipped by 3% over the seven years, with the weekly highest attendance also down by 2%.
On the festival attendance front, the decrease between 2002 and 2009 was 4% for both communicants and all-age attendants on Easter Eve and Easter Day, 21% for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day communicants, and 7% for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day all-age attendants.
The only positive figures for 2002-09 were for child baptisms (+10%), adult baptisms (+31%), child thanksgivings (+13%), and weekly highest attendance by children and young people under 16 years (+3%).
Also a source of encouragement is that a further 375,000 children and young people attend church-based activities other than services.
Barley glosses these data thus: ‘It remains important to see these trends in the context of wider changes in a society where fewer people join and take part in membership organizations.’
‘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 a Sunday.’
Interviewed about the statistics for today’s Church of England Newspaper, Ven Bob Jackson, an Anglican church growth expert, said that ‘the Church of England is in a much better place than in the 90s’, with a slackening pace of decline and a renewed commitment to evangelism.
As well as pointing to the need to factor in Fresh Expressions, with Messy Church alone accounting for 100,000, Jackson added: ‘I think that the recent reduction in numbers is the result of people coming less often rather than fewer people.’
The provisional Church of England statistics for mission for 2009, both national and disaggregated to diocesan level, are available at: