The current issue (No. 9, June 2010) of FutureFirst, the bi-monthly magazine from Brierley Research, leads with an article on ‘Welsh Churchgoing’ by John Evans, Director for Strategic Oversight, Gweini (The Council of the Christian Voluntary Sector in Wales).
There has been no full church attendance census in Wales since 1995, with none planned. However, in 2007 Gweini undertook a major quantitative investigation of religion as social capital in Wales, which was published the following year as Faith in Wales. This report, together with a number of supplementary documents and files, is available online at http://www.gweini.org.uk
The 2007 survey was conducted by self-completion questionnaire, which achieved a response rate of 49%. Information was collected on congregational size, to help in the grossing-up of results, and from this it was possible to produce church attendance figures broadly comparable with those for 1995, after some reworking of denominational categories. These comparisons are now published for the first time.
The number of Christian congregations in Wales has declined by an average annual 1.1% between 1995 and 2007, from around 5,000 to 4,400. This is very close to the decrease reported between 1982 (when there had been another church census in Wales) and 1995.
In 2007 there was one congregation for every 670 Welsh inhabitants, compared to one per 1,430 in England. However, Welsh congregations are smaller, with a median attendance of just 25 over a given week in 2007, very little changed since 1995.
The proportion of the Welsh population attending church over a given week dropped from 8.7% in 1995 to 6.7% in 2007. The fall was principally related to the loss of young people from worship. Whereas 6.2% of Welsh under-30s were estimated to have attended in 1995, only 3.5% did so in 2007. In almost all the major denominations in Wales the over-65s represented more than one-half the congregations in 2007.
The group of 18 so-called ‘Newer Denominations’, relatively small and mainly evangelical, Pentecostal or charismatic, alone bucked these trends. Their attendance actually rose by 40% between 1995 and 2007, and their age distribution became more youthful. Indeed, it compared favourably with the Welsh population as a whole, with 42% against 39% being in the under-30 cohort in 2007.