The 2005 English Church Census

A census of churches was carried out by Christian Research, with significant funding from the ESRC, on 8 May 2005. A questionnaire was sent to all 37,501 churches in England, with 18,720 (50.02%) completing the form.

This covered all Christian churches in the Trinitarian tradition (Anglican, Protestant, Free Churches, Catholic and Orthodox churches, but not Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, Unitarians or Mormons).

A detailed analysis of the data is given in Peter Brierley’s Pulling Out of the Nosedive (Christian Research, 2006). An extensive set of tables, maps and charts provide breakdowns by denomination, by socio-demographic variables and by county, in the accompanying volumne, P. Brierley (ed.), UK Christian Handbook Religious Trends 6 (2006/2007).The original dataset and questionnaire is available at the UK Data Archive.Below we provide a table drawn from the Church Census, of churches and attendance by denomination and by local authority (district or unitary authority).

 English-Church-Census-2005-District-Attendance-Data
The data were calculated by David Voas from county-level data on attendances and churches for the local authority (district/unitary authority) level, using the iterative proportional fitting method.
We also provide a set of maps of church attendance for broad denominational groups per population.The data contained in the maps are available in Table 14. The percentage ranges were selected by using the Jenks ‘natural break’ method to allocate areas to each of five categories, minimising the variance within each category, and maximising it between each category. The breaks were rounded to the nearest 0.5% where this did not unduly distort the categorisation, leaving the minimum and maximum figures unrounded for information.

AngLApctotal2005 Roman Catholic Attendances FreeLApctotal2005
NewChLApctotal2005 PentLApctotal2005 OtherLApctotal2005

The overall finding was that 6.3% of the population attended church on Census Sunday, or 3,166,200 people, adults and children, subject to a variation of ±0.3%.

The overall results for the main denominations were compared with data published by the denominations themselves, and considered to be very close.

The response rate was relatively high:

Baptist congregations 67%
Smaller denominations 57%
Anglican churches 55%
Roman Catholic churches 54%
Independent churches 50%
New Churches 49%
United Reformed Church congregations 44%
Methodist churches 37%
Pentecostal churches 30%
Orthodox churches 7%

8 May 2005 was ‘low’ Sunday for Orthodox church members, the Sunday after Orthodox Easter, when many churches were closed. Most Pentecostal church leaders work full time and have heavy community responsibilities which may additionally explain their slightly lower response rate.

The Church Census date was also the 60th anniversary of VE Day, when some churches held special commemoration services. Some churches included the extra attenders, others omitted them, and others held the Census on another day to return a more ‘normal’ result. Other than that, it was outside the major Christian festivals and school holiday periods, and the weather was mild – so there was no reason to think it was not a typical Sunday.

More discussion of methodology can be found in Religious Trends 6 and within the user guide hosted at the UK Data Archive.

The population data in Table 14 are Crown copyright and reproduced under the terms of the Open Government Licence. The maps are issued under Creative Commons (attribution, non-commercial, share alike licence).