Coffee House

Church attendance drops below a million for the first time – and the real situation could be even worse

12 January 2016

5:25 PM

12 January 2016

5:25 PM

There is no way that Anglican attendance falling below one million for the first time is good news for the Church of England. The figures, released today, put Sunday Anglican congregations in 2014 at 764,000, down 3 per cent on the previous year. When weekday and Saturday services are included, the figure is still only 980,000.

The Church often tries to distract from falling attendances and its apparently diminishing role in English society by pointing out how many people get married and attend carol services in its buildings, but it has to accept that those people don’t see any benefit in coming through church doors when it isn’t a high day or holiday. And that the rural church is in a terrible fix.

It may also have to accept that the bad news today may not show quite how bad things are for English church attendances. Not all Anglican churches are losing members. The ones that tend to grow and provide a good bulk of money for parish share are evangelical ones, and they may not linger for long in the CofE. Over the past year or so, an alternative Church of England has been growing in this country, with all the structures necessary for evangelical churches whose doctrine remains Anglican but who disagree with the Church hierarchy.


That alternative church, which I first wrote about in 2014, is called the Anglican Mission in England, and currently boasts over 30 churches in its list of supporters. Most of them remain Anglican churches, but some, like King’s Church, Guildford, are not part of the Church of England and rely only on the AMIE. A number of them, like St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, have very large congregations.

If, as many of their leaders believe will happen, they eventually decide to leave the official Church of England structures, then other conservative evangelical churches with similar congregations and growth strategies may follow. Given these churches are at the conservative end of evangelical, and have dug their heels in not just on the current issue of sexuality, but also on women bishops, many of their more liberal colleagues in the church may consider their departure good riddance. But they will also need to concede that it may mean that future CofE attendance figures look even worse.

PS As Damian Thompson pointed out recently, if you extent recent trends for British Christianity, the future looks very grim indeed….

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Show comments
  • seanmcmanus6

    Never mind a ” codpiece”( whatever that is), the the blind Irish poet Raftery (1700s) put it this way:
    “Don’t talk of your Protestant Minister
    Or his church without Temple or state,
    For the foundation stone of his religion
    Was the bollocks of Henry VIII”
    Not too ecumenical. However, when there are government attempts to destroy your language and religion, it’s hard to be ecumenical .

  • jmjm208

    The Evangelical churches (both C of E and Independents) are growing – this is because they hold firmly to the Bible and teach the necessity of the New Birth (John chapter 3 v 3).

    The liberal “churches” are more concerned with fitting in with political correctness; they have no message to offer this generation but meaningless platitudes.

  • Hippograd

    It’s fine! So long as Islam continues to gwow at its pwesent heartwarming wates, a very weal sense of engagement with the pwofoundest aspects of life will continue to have its place at the heart of the national conversation.

  • Copyright101

    CoE, teachers, the police, the army. One by one they are fed into the cultural marxist, PC, Common Purpose shredder.

  • Ricayboy

    It’s not surprising given how woolly and spineless the C of E has become. It has very little do with New Testament Christianity or the message of Christ, which although was one of love and good news was also deeply challenging and divisive. If it wasn’t, nobody would have persecuted and executed Christ.

    Few people will be attracted by a mystical/politically correct ‘church’ which doesn’t seen to know what it believes.

    • JabbaPapa

      There’s nothing much of the Mystical in CoE religiosity.

      And, deprived of the Mystical Spirituality, every religion will necessarily tend towards becoming just another political/social/philosophical group (or groups) no different in nature to any similar secular organisations with similar interests.

      • Ricayboy

        I think what I meant was that the C of E has largely turned away from robustly teaching the Bible and dealing with what New Testament (and many subsequent) Christians would consider objective truth. Instead of boldly proclaiming what the Bible presents as a vital and life-changing message that must be believed, it has become little more than a collection of individuals going through a series of limp and lifeless rituals every week with little conviction. Instead of preaching repentance and faith in Christ it seems more intent on preaching social justice and environmentalism and championing ‘pc’ causes. Of course the church should be concerned about social justice but the Christian gospel was always about far more than that.

        And because of falling attendance caused by people leaving an irrelevant and wishy-washy church, many Anglican churches are resorting to mysticism such as meditation and prayer labyrinths and other monastic practices to try to draw people back in. I would be more interested in a church which knew and could make a robust defence for what it believed than a liberal one which offered esoteric experiences and not much else.

        • JabbaPapa

          The Bible is of course massively important to any true Christianity, but the Mystical Spirituality of the Faith is nevertheless focused on the Transcendental Worship of God in the ever-present desire of the Lord for the Salvation of our Souls and our gathering together into the Kingdom of Heaven.

          Social justice and environmentalism and whatnot can be (and are indeed) important in their own right, but unless they can help us towards the salvation of our Souls, they can only be peripheral concerns of any Christian church.

          Christianity is politically Catholic at its best, Catholic meaning here “Universal”, in the inclusive not exclusive sense of the word, the sense of rendering unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. It is not the purpose of Christianity to be involved in worldly political questions, unless they pertain directly to the Christian Faith in and of itself.

          Theocratic totalitarianism is antithetical to the Christian Religion, except insofar as the Dogma of the Revelation is concerned, where Christianity must be intransigent.

          resorting to mysticism

          The Mystical life per se will clearly not be everyone’s cup of tea, and no sensible Christian could possibly expect it of anyone.

          It is a Vocation — not a worldly practice of the Faith that all should be expected to strive towards. Only such fanatical extremists as Cromwell, Calvin, Zwingli, the ISIS death cult butchers, Luther, or such secularists or atheists as Stalin, Hitler, the North Koreans, Mao, and so many, many other totalitarian dictatorships have ever attempted to impose such normative philosophies upon the minds of everyone. Including the occasional Catholic fanatics like Torquemada.

          a liberal one which offered esoteric experiences and not much else


          The Spiritual Mysticism of the Faith is at the deepest ontological level the diametric opposite of such “esoteric experiences” — even though the practices that you refer to can, for some people, be the gateway to a deeper prayer life. The point here being that the “experiences” themselves can either be a crass worldly purpose towards an emotional or sentimentalist self-gratification for some ; or they can be a genuine gateway towards God for others.

          They are a means either to a Godly end or to a worldly one. The Spiritual Mysticism of the Faith is that Godly end ; but it is arrived at by other means by those to whom such “esoteric experiences” are useless.

          Either opinion about them is a Catholic one — only the schismatics or the heretics declare that either of these opinions about such practices is the true one, and the other false.

  • Andrew Dougal

    Well its hardly a surprise.

    I don’t even see myself as a particularly orthodox Christian but have been startled by the preponderance of atheist vicars and mealy mouthed platitudes in the COE.

    Why become a clergyman if you don’t believe your won theology?

    The evangelical churches are simply preaching baseline Christian belief and are standing room only.Does this not give the COE pause when their own churches are half empty?

  • Joicoh

    As with everything good and traditional about this country, and wider Europe probably, rip out the Left wing/Liberals and it would flourish again. They really are the cancer eating away at our society in so many ways.

    • Mary Ann

      Jesus was a leftie.

      • JabbaPapa

        His command “Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar” isn’t compatible with your claim.

      • Kate S.

        Jesus was a reformer, but not all reformers are “lefties”. The same sentiment applies to environmental activists, people who believe in women’s rights/human rights/animal rights/etc.! I know several card-carrying lefties who are utter misogynists, and several conservatives who campaign for women’s rights, social justice, and protection of the environment.

  • sidor

    Let us separate two distinctly different phenomena, although they occur simultaneously: Church attendance and islamisation. Look at China: they traditionally never had any official church, and no signs of islamisation. A simple conclusion: stop the Arabic immigration in Europe, and the islamisation problem will disappear. One doesn’t need to believe in anything to realise that it is just crap.

  • UnionPacificRX

    I remember when my family decided to not go to Sunday Mass. It was that act of turning to your fellow congregation member and hugging that person. All during the mass there is a wall of calculated indifference between each congregation member. That is the way it has always been. Our focus was on the alter. We prayed together and sang together but we did not deliberately pretend to know each other.
    My father continued to go to church all of his life, but the rest of the family developed a relationship with Christ that was independent of the Church. Confessionals and holy communion became a rare occurrence.
    One of many reasons church attendance maybe down is due to changes in the church itself.