The latest Church of England attendance stats were released last Friday - good round up of the coverage at Thinking Anglicans, and comments at Church Mouse. Inspired by Bob Jacksons book 'Hope for the Church', which set out the change in adult and childrens attendance during the 1990's, here are the tables for the first 8 years of the noughties.
Adults: the measure used here is average weekly attendance. There's been a slight shift away from Sunday attendance towards midweek attendance, which reflects the change in working patterns, and possibly that, since nearly 1/2 of Anglicans are retired (more on that story later...), they're a bit freer to come to services midweek than they were when working.
Ripon & Leeds -2.2%
St Albans -3.2%
Total C of E -5.8%
Bath & Wells -5.8%
St Edmundsbury & Ipswich -10.0%
Sodor & Man -12.5%
1. This is worse than last year - fewer diocese are showing overall growth - there were 9 in the 2001-7 period. London has fallen back a bit. A further 15 Dioceses showed only small decline (between 0 and 5%) in the 2001-7 period last year, that number has shrunk to 8.
2. Some of this will reflect the move away from weekly churchgoing towards 'regular' churchgoing. More churches are trying to offer a variety of services, rather than a 1 size fits all, and that results in people picking and choosing more, according to whether they like the choir, 1662 prayer book, or all-age celebration.
3. Fresh Expressions and cell groups aren't included in these figures. I have my doubts over how many 'Fresh Expressions' are actually FX of church, and how many are just a bit more diversity in the menu of worship. But that means there are other people who are members of Anglican churches but are not counted here.
4. This is still slightly better than the 1990's, but there comes a point at which you have to stop finding the comparison which makes everything look ok, and ask some hard questions.
5. How long does this go on before some Dioceses cease to be viable, and we merge some of them?
Here's the data for childrens attendance through the week. Looks both better and worse:
St Albans 11.0%
Bath & Wells 6.3%
Ripon & Leeds 2.8%
Total C of E -1.8%
St Edmundsbury & Ipswich -5.9%
Sodor & Man -16.7%
1. The picture here is more extreme at both ends. Some Dioceses are seeing their childrens numbers collapsing, others are seeing strong rises.
2. At the same time, I'm pretty wary of these figures. For one, they're off a relatively low base - a few thousand in most cases. Also, counting can make a big difference. One local school has its Friday assembly in the local Anglican church. If all 400 children are counted as worshipping at the church midweek, that one stat would add several percent to the Bath and Wells diocesan growth rate. It may be that Southwell and Southwark have done something remarkable (most of it in the last year), or we may be looking at blips.
Final thought: I'd like to see if there's any impact of mission strategies like Mission Action Planning, or encouragement of Back to Church Sunday. It's noticeable that the places where these two originated - London and Manchester Dioceses respectively, are both among the (few) growing Dioceses. But I'm not enough of a statistician, neither do I know enough of how thorough Diocesan backing for these strategies is, to have a crack at that one....