Church Attendance in the CofE: 14% Decline in 10 Years

Over at Catholic Herald, Stephen Bullivant gives his analysis – as usual for him, incisive and witty – on “Statistics for Mission,” the annual report from the Church of England. Here’s a taste of the sobering data:

Between 2006 and 2016 (not in itself a vast span of time): “Usual Sunday Attendance” has fallen by 14 per cent (and 23 per cent, even more worryingly, for children), Easter attendance by 17 per cent, baptisms and “thanksgivings” by 15 per cent, marriages and “services of prayer and dedication” by 21 per cent, and funerals by a striking 28 per cent.

And here’s Bullivant zeroing in on the essentials:

Sadly, this year’s report – in contrast to last year’s – doesn’t tell us the proportion of Anglican parish churches that either have a toilet and/or moonlight as a Post Office.

Bullivant thinks the Catholic Church ought to follow the CofE’s lead and see what our data looks like:

I dunno… call me crazy, but I’ve always thought it’s better to know what precisely it is we’re up against.


  1. It’s October – for the archdiocese of Boston, that means it’s the month of the annual sacramental census for parishes. Five Sundays instead of four is better. Chosen because it’s the first full month without major federal holidays (Columbus Day is the least observed federal holiday) after the beginning of the real new year (the school year), without summer vacation and winter weather events to reduce head-counts, and without the Paschaltide odd schedule bumps….

    It’s rather obvious to me that weddings and funerals have nosedived in the past 15 years. It’s October, the month of choice for weddings in southern and central New England, when one used to regularly see the stuff of weddings at churches on Saturday afternoons and evenings; much less common now than it formerly was.

  2. Bullivant’s “analysis” is silly. A “14% decline in church attendance over the past 10 years” doesn’t tell us much if we don’t actually see some attendance figures.

    Clicking onto the research report itself is recommended. Here we find the following statistics:

    “The Worshipping Community of Church of England churches in 2016 was 1.1 million people, of whom 20% were aged under 18, 49% were aged 18-69, and 31% were aged 70 or over.”

    “On average, 930,000 people (86% adults, 14% children under 16) attended Church of England services and acts of worship each week in October 2016. A further 180,000 people attended services for schools in Church of England churches each week.”

    “Usual Sunday attendance at Church of England churches in 2016 was 740,000 people (86% adults, 14% children under 16).”

    And as to Church of England attendance per capita in 2016: “The Church of England’s Worshipping Community was 2.0% of the population in 2016. The overall attendance in an average week in October 2016 was 1.7% of the population, rising to 4.6% of the population at Christmas.”

    These statistics do not provide a rosy picture for the Church of England, especially as to what is likely to occur over the next generation, if present trends hold. But the frightening decline did not occur in the past decade, even though that figure was 14%. The decline has been going on for more than 125 years. Even in 1968 the usual Sunday attendance at Church of England churches was down to 3.5% of the general population (about double of what it is today).

  3. And of course, CofE ordains women and is more accepting LGBT+ people. I am not making a statement about the desirability of any of CofE policies or doctrines but pointing out they are not doing anything to stop the decline. People are just finding it difficult to believe in a personal God, divine revelation, and any institutional church (whether liberal or conservative).

    Of course, the Catholic Communion is having it’s own difficulties. Take a look at Pittsburgh. Mass attendance has dropped over 40% in 16 years. On the upside, in 2000 there were 730 mass attenders for every active diocesan priest. In 2016, there were 658 per priest in Pittsburgh.

    1. I’m extremely hesitant to make claims about policies and their effect on retention – in any direction and from any direction. The reasons for engagement and disengagement are so complicated, and exceedingly difficult to determine. And in every case, we can’t really measure the good or bad effects of any given conservative or liberal course because we don’t have a control group on how that exact church, in that exact time and place, would have fared under a different policy.

      1. Fr Ruff

        If I may: the usual template of attribution *typically* implies some variation on the residue of the following:

        1. For conservatives, it’s the fall-out from the Council and the church choosing to lower the level of its distinctiveness versus Modernity.

        2. For others, including progressives: it’s the fall-out from Humanae Vitae and the general collapse of authority and purchase of institutions on the popular imagination and conscience in the wake of the 1960s.

        What one much less typically sees is an integration of those as partial causes with other causes. Certainly, one can find people who see a continuum of issues going back many generations before the 1960s, but the skeleton of the polemic set forth above is useful for people remaining tribal in their respective silos.

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