Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Church of England attendance stats 2011

The C of E attendance stats for 2011 are published today, 3 months later than normal, but looking at the main document that's not surprising - there's quite a lot of detail and extra number crunching involved. A few headlines

 - Average Sunday attendance fell by 1.2%, but average weekly attendance (i.e. including midweek services too) was broadly flat, dropping 0.3%. 18 Dioceses out of 44 registered an increase in the weekly attendance figure, with a further 3 stable year on year. Compared to recent history, that's an improvement.

 - Midweek attendance is therefore actually rising - 13% of regular worshipping adults now attend midweek, rather than on Sunday, among young people and children the figure is 38%. In itself that's an interesting one: what connections are there between the midweek and Sunday congregations? How do we integrate young people and children who've grown up in a separate expression of 'church' to Sunday morning, or do we not, and develop church as a group of networked congregations?

 - Christmas attendance rose strongly - not surprising after the poor weather in 2010, and so did the number of baptisms. Encouragingly, adult baptisms were also up by 5%, though confirmations were down.

Here's some of the press release:

Christmas 2011 drew 14.5% more worshippers to Church of England services than attended in 2010, reaching a total of 2,618,030. Whilst one of the factors for such a high annual increase include the poor weather on Christmas Day in the previous year 2010, initial returns from 2012 suggest a further increase in Christmas attendance on these high 2011 figures revealing a growing trend for church going at Christmas.
The number of christenings increased by 4.3% and was accompanied by a rise of just over 5% in adult baptisms with a combined total of 139,751 baptisms - meaning that the Church of England conducted an average of over 2,600 baptisms each week during 2011. Thanksgivings for the birth of a child also rose; an 11.9% increase taking numbers to 6,582.
Average Weekly Attendance nationally fell by less than half of one per cent (0.3%) to 1,091,484 a stabilising of average weekly attendance figures. Almost half of the Church of England's regional areas saw growth in Church attendance, with 20 out of 44 dioceses showing increases. Nationally there was a 1.2% increase in children and young people attending to 216,928.
Weddings saw a slight decrease of 3.6% in 2011, to 51,880, whilst the number of wedding blessings (Services of Prayer and Thanksgiving following a civil ceremony) was up by 4.5%. The wedding figures confirm the trend of the past decade where the Church of England married an average of 1,000 couples every week.
Church of England Clergy and lay ministers conducted 162,526 funerals in 2011, a fall of 2.8% on the previous year, reflecting figures from the Office for National Statistics which showed a fall of 1.8% in deaths in England and Wales in 2011. On these figures the Church of England conducted an average of over 3,000 funerals every week in 2011 - over 400 every day.
The CofE tends to highlight the positive - don't we all? - but I hope someone is looking at the long term trends. Having one years' statistics - a slight rise here, a slight drop there - doesn't give you the overview of longer trends, though to be fair the main document has a few tables showing the longer term profile of the stats. 
The stats of a single year are manageable, but they can mask other things. For example: you wouldn't guess from the Christmas attendance this year that we're still 15% down on 5 years ago, and with 20% fewer communicants - which suggests a lot of people attending who don't really understand what's going on. (and why would they?). (update: an alternative explanation is that non-communion services are more popular, rather than people attending Midnight Mass but skipping the bread and wine, see the comments)
If time permits in the next couple of days, I'll do some Diocesan tables on attendance, hopefully they'll look better than the last lot, but you never can tell. The figures for my own diocese are, once again, not very encouraging, so if you're the praying sort then please pray for the appointment process of a new bishop who can help us turn this around.


  1. "20% fewer communicants - which suggests a lot of people attending who don't really understand what's going on"

    I would suggest there are other reasons for fewer communicants. E.g.:

    1) At evening communion services (our only Christmas communion service is at 8pm on Christmas Eve)some folk may not want to take communion since they are not able to fast beforehand.
    2) Older people (anyone over about 45) from a non-conformist background may have been told (explicitly by CofE clergy) as children/young adults that they are not welcome to take communion in the CofE since not confirmd by a bishop. They may well attend a CofE church at Christmas - espcially if away from home, but would not want to risk causing offence by taking communion.
    3) Fewer priests means fewer communion services and more non-communion services, so people coming to church at Christmas may be less likely to be offered communion.

    I would also challenge anyone who claimed that they "really understand what's going on" in a communion service! At age 16 I would have been sure that I did - now I am more circumspect about the mysteries fo faith.

  2. Thanks Judy - table 13 of the stats shows the historic Christmas figures, and 10 years ago there was roughly the same attendance, but about 20% more people receiving communion than 2011.

    Thinking about our own services, it's generally the non-communion ones which have been bursting at the seams at Christmas. We do 2 shifts of our nativity service to fit in the 350 people who want to come to it, and a Christingle at a local garden centre has proved very popular. In our case it's not lack of priests, it's simply the fact that non-communion services are more popular.

    And no, I'm not entirely sure what's going on either!