The Church of England announced on 3 January that the Archbishops’ Council is committed to ‘listen to England’ by launching twin projects to examine and enhance the Church’s ministry at the moments of birth and death (i.e. christenings and funerals).
The initiatives, which will be underpinned by new and independent research, will run concurrently until 2016. They will be overseen by Gillian Oliver, who has been appointed to the new post of Head of Projects and Development in the Archbishops’ Council.
The context for the research is naturally one of continuing decline in popular demand for Anglican rites of passage, as reflected in the annual publication Church Statistics, the latest edition covering parochial data for 2009.
Infant baptisms in the Church of England numbered only 83,820 or 12% of live births in 2009. In 1910 the proportion had been 69% and first dipped below 20% in 2000. There were 176,660 Anglican funerals in 2009 or 38% of all deaths, down from 46% in 2000.
The two studies will be partly modelled on the Church’s completed five-year weddings project, also led by Oliver, and which is credited with increasing wedding bookings in participating churches by between 10% and 50%.
The weddings project commenced with three pieces of nation-wide empirical research in 2006 to explore public attitudes to marriage, weddings and church weddings. They involved:
- online interviews with 1,010 adult Britons aged 16-64, conducted by the British Market Research Bureau
- face-to-face interviews with 1,742 attendees at the National Weddings Shows at Earl’s Court and the National Exhibition Centre, undertaken by Farrugia Leo
- eight single-sex focus groups and eight couple in-depth interviews, by the Henley Centre Headlight Vision
An overview of the weddings project research is contained in Lynda Barley, ‘Marriage: Research and Reality’, in Stephen Lake, Welcoming Marriage: a Practical and Pastoral Guide to the New Legislation, London: Church House Publishing, 2009, pp. 26-36.