(Psephizo) Ian Paul and David Keen–What is happening to Church of England attendance?

Here’s the thing. Half of our churches, 8000 of them, have 26 adults or fewer on a Sunday. If you had 26 people to form a Christian presence in a community, you wouldn’t start from here. You wouldn’t have a listed building which costs thousands to heat and insure. You wouldn’t have the protocols for running the church written into law. You wouldn’t have so many aspects to Sunday worship (warden, verger, organist, reader, prayer leader, vicar, sidesperson) that there’s barely anyone there who isn’t there because they’re on a rota. You wouldn’t open an Anglican Extra, you’d have an Anglican Express. In fact, you probably wouldn’t open a building at all.

Covid will make the figures for 2020 such a mess that there probably isn’t any point collecting them, and 2021 may not be much better. As many have observed, it is accelerating changes that were already happening. Businesses on the edge are shutting down. Trends towards online shopping have increased. What does that mean for the church? There is nothing in the stats to suggest that we are about to turn a corner. Or if we are, it’s turning in the opposite direction to the one we want. There are islands – many islands (1600 according to the stats) of growth, many others holding their own, and making a life-changing contribution to local individuals and communities.

But, but…… the parish system hasn’t changed since it was introduced towards the end of the Dark Ages. The overall structure of the CofE hasn’t changed for a century. The buildings we operate on haven’t changed for (insert your own figure here). The structure of deployment, church life, legal framework seems set in concrete. Witness the absurd debate about communion since lockdown. Don’t get me started.

Maybe the Bishops should have shut us down for longer at the start of covid. Because we shape our tools, and then our tools shape us. Any church that doesn’t have a life without it’s building, or its Sunday gathering, has been so shaped by them that it has ceased to be a church.

Read it all.


Posted in Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

One comment on “(Psephizo) Ian Paul and David Keen–What is happening to Church of England attendance?

  1. Terry Tee says:

    I am surprised that these figures are resulting in yet further calls for change. From my perspective as an English Roman Catholic priest, it seems that the Church of England has been endlessly innovative: full female ministry, pioneer ministry, Fresh Expressions, HTB church plants, NSM ministry, etc. Time to discern what works. I suspect it won’t be the innovations. I have over the last few years asked Anglican colleagues if there is statistical evidence to show that Fresh Expressions worked. No one had any answers. I suspect the statistics over the last couple of years have been the answer.

    BTW: Catholic Mass attendance has also shown a decline, although no way as marked. There has also been a marked frop in the number of adults received into the church and adult baptisms. But the real looming Catholic problem of course is the small number of new priests being ordained each year, and the aging of those who remain.