The Church of England is facing at least another 30 years of decline according to internal projections revealed for the first time.
Even if it sees an influx of young people to services, the sheer numbers of older worshippers dying in the next few decades mean it is unlikely to see any overall growth in attendances until the middle of this century, officials now believe.
The stark calculations were revealed during discussions at the Church’s decision-making General Synod, which has been meeting in London, about ambitious plans to tackle declining numbers.
It is preparing to pump Â£72 million into a “reform and renewal” drive which includes plans to ordain 6,000 more clergy in the 2020s to build a younger priesthood which is less male dominated and less white.
Mr Spence, chairman of the Church’s finance committee, said that current attendance figures suggest that an 81-year-old is now eight times more likely to attend services than an 18-year-old.
Currently around 18 in every 1,000 people in England regularly attend Church of England services ”“ a figure which includes mid-week and other special services.
But Mr Spence said that in 30 years time that proportion is likely to drop to 10 in every 1,000 ”“ or one per cent.
That rate of decline suggests that attendance at Sunday services across the whole of England would dip to just 425,000.
Recent figures published by the Church showed that Sunday morning congregations stood at 764,700, with total weekly attendances ”“ which include week-day services – just slipping below one million.
Mr Spence said that “on all likely measures of success” the demographic reality meant that the Church is unlikely to see net growth in the next 30 years.