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Ignore the cheerful spin – the Church of England is in unrelenting decline

Ignore the cheerful spin – the Church of England is in unrelenting decline


(Photo: Getty/iStock)

The Church of England is presenting its preliminary attendance figures for 2023, introduced on Monday, as a development story however it omits to say the 160,000 worshippers it has misplaced since 2019.


“Weekly Church attendance up 5 per cent in third 12 months of consecutive development,” the official press launch proclaims in its headline.

The assertion says: “Overall, all-age weekly attendance at Church of England church buildings rose to 685,000 final 12 months, from 654,000 in 2022, a rise of 4.7 per cent. The variety of youngsters attending weekly elevated from 87,000 in 2022 to 92,000 (up 5.7 per cent).

“The full Statistics for Mission report is because of be printed within the autumn as traditional however these preliminary figures, printed for the primary time, goal to offer a snapshot of the general image.”

The all-age common weekly attendance determine throughout the C of E’s 11,000 church buildings contains the Sunday attendance and likewise folks turning as much as mid-week church companies similar to Holy Communions and occasions for youngsters similar to Messy Church.

The assertion admits that “complete attendance continues to be beneath 2019 ranges, the final 12 months earlier than the Covid-19 lockdowns”, however claims “the evaluation suggests in-person attendance is drawing nearer to the pre-pandemic development”.

The harsh actuality is that the C of E has misplaced 160,000 attendees throughout a median week together with Sundays since 2019 when 845,000 folks attended its church buildings. Since 2003, the all-age common weekly attendance has declined from 1,126,000. If we return additional in time, the image is even worse – round 40 per cent of the inhabitants had been attending in 1984.

With the inhabitants of England now round 67 million, 685,000 worshippers in 2023 means barely 1 per cent of the folks dwelling within the nation are turning as much as C of E church buildings.

The C of E is an establishment with monumental benefits over different Christian denominations and non secular teams within the UK. It is the Church by regulation established in England with 26 of its bishops entitled to take a seat within the House of Lords. Its Church Commissioners handle an endowment fund value £10.1 billion. It has 16,000 buildings throughout England and 4,630 faculties educating about 1 million youngsters.

Commenting on the annual improve because the pandemic within the preliminary attendance figures for 2023, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, mentioned: “This may be very welcome information and I hope it encourages church buildings throughout the nation.”

“I’m particularly heartened to listen to that extra youngsters are coming alongside to church and I’m grateful to everybody concerned in that ministry,” he added.

But once more the tough actuality is that the variety of younger folks attending C of E church buildings in a median week has plummeted by greater than half since 2003. At that point, 218,000 below 16 12 months olds attended C of E church buildings in a median week, in contrast with 92,000 in 2023. In 2019, there have been 120,000 youngsters attending C of E church buildings in a median week.

Also commenting on the 2023 figures, the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, mentioned: “This is superb information. For the primary time in a very long time now we have seen noticeable development.

“Of course we do not but know whether or not this development is a development however I take it as an ideal encouragement that our deal with reaching extra folks with the excellent news of Jesus, establishing new Christian communities, wherever they’re, revitalising our parishes, and in search of to change into a youthful and extra numerous church, making everybody really feel welcome, is starting to make a distinction.”

Arguably, the try by the C of E’s higher-ups to spin the story of denominational melt-down as a vindication of the Archbishops’ development technique is even sadder than the figures themselves. Did they critically assume that journalists would fail to spot the 160,000 disappearing worshippers since 2019 and the 441,000 since 2003?

The C of E now faces an uphill process in justifying its 26 bishops within the second chamber of the UK legislature. Labour again in 2022 introduced that its election manifesto would come with a dedication to reform the House of Lords.

The bishops within the Lords could properly have proven themselves to be reliably left-wing significantly in opposing the Conservative authorities’s plan to fly unlawful migrants to Rwanda however that doesn’t imply that they’ll escape a cull within the doubtless occasion that Labour wins the 2024 General Election.

If a Labour authorities’s reform of the House of Lords concerned allocating a proportion of locations within the second chamber to representatives of spiritual teams with these seats awarded in keeping with the variety of energetic members, the C of E might properly lose out to the Muslim Council of Great Britain, the Roman Catholic Church within the UK, and the Elim Pentecostal motion.

No quantity of episcopal spinning can disguise the exceptional development of Islam within the UK. A statistical query to the Church House, Westminster, press workplace in 2050, probably yielding a information story, would certainly be: what number of former C of E buildings have been transformed into mosques over the previous 25 years?

Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based mostly in Lancashire.



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