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Bishop of Dorking encouraged by growth ‘against the odds’ as attendance figures released

Date: 28 October 2016

Holiday services remain popularAttendance figures released by the Church of England today show that just under one million people attend church services each week. The survey, carried out over four weeks in October 2015, found that nationally 960,000 people attend church each week. The total worshipping community of churches across the Church of England continued to grow to 1,142,000, of whom 20% were aged under 18, 50% were aged 18-69 and 30% were aged 70 or over.

In the Diocese of Guildford, 33,000 people attended church in an average week, with 2% more worshippers under 18 attending than the national average. Usual Sunday attendance in the diocese was a higher percentage (2%) of the overall population than the national average (1.5%). Although nationally the average Sunday church attendance has fallen 7.3% over 5 years, the diocese remains below that figure at 6.8%.

"The decline is real, but it is not the whole story. There are many churches which are healthy and flourishing and  church growth is happening in all sorts of ways."

The statistics also show that 2.5 million attended a Church of England church at Christmas in 2015 and 1.3 million people attended a service at Easter. In the Diocese of Guildford, 8% of the local population attended a church at Christmas, the third highest in the country, and 3.3% went at Easter. 2.3 million people attended special Advent services for the congregation and local community, whilst 2.7 million attended special Advent services for civic organisations and schools.

In 2015, every week the Church carried out just under 1,000 weddings, 2,000 baptisms, and almost 3,000 funerals.  Some 11% of births during 2015 were marked by a Church of England infant baptism or thanksgiving service, whilst 30% of deaths were marked by a Church of England funeral.

An additional question for 2015 asked the 16,000 churches of the Church of England about the facilities they provide the community, revealing that they serve in a number of different ways, including full or part-time shops in 212 of them and post offices in 152.

As a whole, the figures represent a continuing trend that has shown an 11% decrease in attendance over the past decade with an average decline of just over 1% a year. The diocese follows the national trend with a parallel decrease in attendance being noted.

Decline not the whole story

The Bishop of Dorking, Jo Wells said, “These figures are a familiar story for many religious, civic and charitable organisations in our society – not just the Church of England. The decline is real,  but it is not the whole story. There are many churches which are healthy and flourishing – against the odds – and church growth is happening in all sorts of ways.

“The rise in the number of local community initiatives supported by churches – food banks, credit unions – is utterly phenomenal. I am not discouraged.

Surprising contexts

“We know in the diocese that a third of our churches are experiencing growth, a third are stable and a third are declining. Our new vision Transforming Church, Transforming Lives, is all about taking what we know works and applying it in new and sometimes surprising contexts. TCTL poster orange2

“More widely, I have never been more sure of the need and the opportunity for God’s transforming power in our lives. Over and over I find when people meet Jesus, they say ‘how amazing. Why did no one tell me before?’ And they don’t look back.  As a church, it is our responsibility to get creative, and to help people overcome their barriers, be they the big questions or simply their busy schedules.”

The full statistics are available here.

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