Saturday, 23 January 2010

Continuing decline or hidden growth?

In a recent online article on Christian Today we are told that while some parts of the Church of England are seeing growth in the numbers of people attending, other areas are witnessing disappointing decline, according to figures out yesterday. The number of people attending a church service each week fell by one per cent from 978,000 in 2007 to 960,000 in 2008. Since 2002, the Church of England has seen an overall decline of two per cent in attendance.

While the figures are naturally concerning to the Church of England, statistics don't tell the full story and as usual there is more to what is happening in respect of attendance at services than meet the eye. For example the figures do not include Fresh Expressions of church – new styles of church in cafes, skateparks and other venues - or services in hospitals or educational institutes. These alternative forms of Church meet often in midweek and unlike regular or traditional forms of church do not record attendance or communicant figures.

Also figures are about quantity and not quality and therefore the health of the Church can never be assessed based on figures alone. For example the number of under 16s regularly attending church increased by three per cent last year, returning to two per cent below their 2002 level.

The Church of England’s Head of Research and Statistics, Lynda Barley, said the figures gave an “important but inevitably partial snapshot of today’s Church”.

“They paint a mixed picture for 2008. Alongside some encouraging signs, such as the number of under 16s in church increasing and growth in church attendance in 14 out of 44 dioceses, are some disappointments, with further small declines in traditional attendance measures,” she said.

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