Latest Church of England parish attendance figures. Two up, sort of, and all the rest down. ( down becomes very great.)


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Church of England Attendance Change by Diocese, 2011-16

The latest Church of England attendance figures are out, and full marks to the CofE for producing them in Excel format as well as the usual pdfs. So much easier to play about with.

The good news, however, ends there.

You can always tell if it’s been an iffy year, because the press release accompanying the stats is on something other than whats happening in a normal church on a normal Sunday. This year it’s the social media profile.

I’ve been blogging for years on what’s happening in the Dioceses, and whether we are, at last turning the corner. Sad to report that the answer is no: at least, not based on the official stats. If anything, it’s getting worse

In the last 5 years, only two dioceses have seen adult Sunday attendance grow – London continues to be the engine room of the CofE, but many of the Dioceses that were doing well last time round have seen a sharp drop in numbers. For numbers, read people (see Acts in the New Testament, does it all the time). The rate of decline across the CofE has increased, and to have 12 dioceses recording losses in double figures compares with 5 for 2009-14.

Maybe the next generation will save us? Maybe not. Again, London is growing, again, nobody else is, and the figures towards the bottom of the table are catastrophic.

Perhaps the hope lies in non-Sunday worship? After all, millions of people now work on a Sunday, and the competition with leisure activities etc. is intense. Adult attendance Mon-Sat has risen from 112,000 to 122,000, so it is both growing, and a higher proportion of overall CofE attendance. However childrens midweek attendance has dropped like a stone – I’m hoping that’s to do with a different recording system, but fear that it might not be.

There is wider cultural change too, away from Christendom and the culture that supported an established church. Baptisms, weddings and funerals taken by the CofE have dropped by 15, 21 and 28% respectively in the last 10 years. This in turn reduces the pool of community contacts and means local churches have to work harder to engage with the community, and move beyond dependence on the ‘occasional offices’ as a way of connecting with people.

One glimmer of hope in the figures is on p10 of the full report. Churches were asked to report on ‘joiners’ and ‘leavers’ during the year, and 80,000 people were reported as joining CofE churches. 32% of the adults and 58% of the children had never been church members before. That’s encouraging, or does it just mean that we notice more when people join than when they leave?

There is probably a lot more to say in the detail, but I hope these stats are actually used for mission – I blogged on a previous occasion how the only people who paid any attention to membership figures were the finance department. A vicar who’s seen their attendance drop by 15% in a year is more likely to get a call questioning whether they’ve under-reported to save on parish share (contributions to the Diocese) than whether they are ok and if they need any support.

Many Dioceses now have a mission strategy, including even Bath and Wells (I know, it’s hard to believe at times), and it looks like we need it more than ever. But it shouldn’t be a preservation strategy, even though God has probably used the ghastly stats above to kick the recalcitrant CofE out of its sniffiness about evangelism. We now need to get over our complacency about prayer.

Update: final thoughts – the 4,000 smallest churches have an average weekly attendance of 12, i.e. small enough to fit into a decent size front room. On average, CofE churches have a worshipping community of 75, with 54 of those present on any normal Sunday.  This means that on a normal Sunday 1/3 of the congregation is absent. How does a church work and thrive and grow in relationships with this dynamic?

Also, each vicar costs roughly twice the average salary (due to housing, training, pension costs), so 40 people giving the ‘Anglican tithe’ of 5% to their church could support one. Bump that up to 50 for other central costs (our Diocese has over 50 support staff, sorting out things like training, finance, safeguarding, schools). Then you’ve got to find money to run the church – resources, building costs, etc. If some of those church members are fairly new, it’s not long before you get to the point that the average local church only works if it’s overseen by a part-time vicar. Either that or it loses the building (the other major cost centre). We have roughly 7,000 vicars to 16,000 churches, so it has to be that way anyway. Despite no longer being able to sustain the ‘1 parish 1 vicar’ model, CofE structures and expectations are still largely based on it. We’re like a fat man after a successful diet still trying to wear the same clothes. Buildings, parish boundaries, the expectation (indeed the law of the land) of weekly communion, committee structures, recognition of lay ministry (Lay Readers are the main accredited role alongside clergy, following 2 years theological training, Deacons get lip service and little more) etc.remain largely untouched from 20, 50, 100 years ago. And every few years, your parish gets blessed with an enforced vacancy, just to stifle any growth you might have managed to muster.

Either the system will collapse under its own wait (scroll up – maybe we’re witnessing that already), or we need a decisive shift away from ancient buildings, paid clergy, or an over-clericalised theology and practice of church that stifles lay leadership. Or there’ll be a miracle. I’d argue we need both.

update: a few more links at Thinking Anglicans.

PS if you’re sharing this on Facebook, please could you tag me in, would be good to see the debate on FB as well as on the blogs.

update 2: At over 7000 views this is now the third-most read post on this blog (out of nearly 2600 posts). That is already more than the average Adult attendance in 2 Dioceses (Sodor and Man and, ironically, Hereford), and also exceeds the number of men confirmed in the CofE last year (6581). As a sign of the times, Facebook is the source for nearly 2/3 of the visits here, comfortably outstripping Twitter and other blogs.

Update 3 Jeremy Marshall has some very perceptive analysis on his blog, worth a read if you are more interested in how we respond to all this.

About Fr. Orthohippo

The blog of a retired Anglican priest (MSJ), his musings, journey, humor, wonderment, and comments on today's scene.
This entry was posted in Anglican, church, church membership losses, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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