Thinking Anglicans

Weekly attendance at Church of England services in 2023

Press release from the Church of England

Weekly Church attendance up five per cent in third year of consecutive growth
20/05/2024

Average weekly attendance at Church of England services rose by almost five per cent in 2023 – the third year of consecutive growth, preliminary figures show.

Meanwhile weekly attendance by children was up by almost six per cent last year, according to an early snapshot of the annual Statistics for Mission findings.

While total attendance is still below 2019 levels, the last year before the Covid-19 lockdowns, the analysis suggests in-person attendance is drawing closer to the pre-pandemic trend.

In 2021 all-age Sunday attendance was 22.3 per cent below the projected pre-pandemic trend, but the new figures reveal that the gap had narrowed to 6.7 per cent last year.

All-age weekly attendance rose to within 8.3 per cent of the trend last year, compared with 24.1 per cent in 2021.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said “This is very welcome news and I hope it encourages churches across the country. I want to thank our clergy and congregations who have shown such faith, hope and confidence over recent years to share the gospel with their communities.

“I’m especially heartened to hear that more children are coming along to church and I’m grateful to everyone involved in that ministry.

“These are just one set of figures, but they show without doubt that people are coming to faith in Jesus Christ here and now – and realising it’s the best decision they could ever make.

“Renewing and growing the Church is always the work of God, and it’s our role to join in with what God is doing.

“As we gather in churches this weekend to celebrate Pentecost, let’s keep praying and working to invite more people to discover the love of Jesus Christ.”

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said: “This is very good news. For the first time in a long time we have seen noticeable growth.

“Of course we don’t yet know whether this growth is a trend but I take it as a great encouragement that our focus on reaching more people with the good news of Jesus, establishing new Christian communities, wherever they are, revitalising our parishes, and seeking to become a younger and more diverse church, making everyone feel welcome, is beginning to make a difference.

“Most of all it encourages me that our emphasis on being a Christ centred and Jesus Christ shaped church is renewing our confidence in the gospel and our dependence on Christ.

“I hope the whole Church will be encouraged to continue this story of faithfulness, believing it will lead to fruitfulness, not because we want to build the earthly ’empire’ of the church, but because we want people to come to know Jesus and because we know that the love and compassion they find in Jesus is what the world needs.”

Overall, all-age weekly attendance at Church of England churches rose to 685,000 last year, from 654,000 in 2022, an increase of 4.7 per cent. The number of children attending weekly increased from 87,000 in 2022 to 92,000 (up 5.7 per cent).

The full Statistics for Mission report is due to be published in the autumn as usual but these preliminary figures, published for the first time, aim to provide a snapshot of the overall picture.

Notes to Editors

  • The preliminary snapshot of Statistics for Mission is based on returns from over 11,000 churches. The totals could be revised as further figures come in and checks continue.
  • The projected pre-pandemic trend is based on a straight-line fit to published attendance figures from 2014-2019. A straight line is a good fit to that dataset, particularly for adult attendance.
  • This projection offers an indication of the attendance figures that would have been expected if pre-pandemic trends had continued, but trends may have changed even in the absence of the pandemic.
  • Children are defined as anyone under the age of 16 for the purposes of Statistics for Mission.
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Wandering minstrel
Wandering minstrel
23 days ago

Is there any more detail than in the press release?

Ken Eames
Reply to  Wandering minstrel
23 days ago

No, not yet. I produced these figures, and I’ll come up with the full report once the full dataset is in and I’ve done all the necessary work. It’s the same data collection methodology as usual, so please check previous reports for details.

RJC
RJC
23 days ago

Interesting stats – and spin! If I’m reading the data correctly, it’s a real figures fall – from 2019 to 2023 – of 19.8% for all age weekly attendance (854,000 to 685,000).

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
23 days ago

Any news on the 10,000 house groups being established?

Susanna (no ‘h’)
Susanna (no ‘h’)
Reply to  Fr Dean
23 days ago

The Guardian online reported (briefly because of other news)that Covid had accelerated the decline in C of E attendance …..

FrDavid H
FrDavid H
Reply to  Fr Dean
21 days ago

It takes a long time to invite the neighbours round for a cup of tea.

Bernard Silverman
Bernard Silverman
22 days ago

A rare intervention from me. Note that the whole narrative is in terms of the “pre-pandemic trend”, not the pre-pandemic level. The press release is silent about the downward slope of the straight line fit mentioned in the second bullet point. You can work it out using the calculation of RJC combined by a figure in the release—if you take a 19.8% fall as being 8.3% below the trend, then the trend itself is about 2.5% downwards a year. It’s probably reasonable to suppose that any pandemic effect is more or less over by now. So another possible takeaway is… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Bernard Silverman
22 days ago

Thank you. That makes good sense to me. There is a claim of an uptick in attendance, and that’s good of course, but is it actually simply a stabilising of numbers after the understandable fall in the pandemic? A slight recovery from the worst impacts of Covid on attendance, along a downward line of continuing decline in numbers.

Naturally I hope it isn’t, but I suspect it is. The demographics simply lean that way. Fewer young people being recruited than elderly people (like myself!) dying.

Bob
Bob
Reply to  Susannah Clark
22 days ago

“Fewer young people being recruited than elderly people” is not the case in every church. It’s always an encouragement to me (70) to be in the minority worshipping on a Sunday amongst the many 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.

Chris
Chris
Reply to  Susannah Clark
22 days ago

The worst impacts of the order to close churches would be more accurate…
I know several previous congregants for whom Welby in his kitchen was the final straw.

Mark
Reply to  Chris
22 days ago

Welby’s kitchen moment was historic low point for me too. The man has a purpose-built mediaeval chapel *in his house* and yet still prefers to celebrate in his kitchen – it tells you all you need to know about living down, rather than living up to, our Christian heritage.

Chris
Chris
Reply to  Mark
19 days ago

And as one watches Vennells’s “performance” at the PO enquiry remember, this is the person Welby wanted as Bishop of London.

Ken Eames
Reply to  Susannah Clark
22 days ago

Dear Susannah, As Bernard says, time will tell as to regarding the increase from 2022 to 2023. A bit of post-covid “bounce back”? New people coming to faith? A combination of the two? Other? It seems to me that there are at least three useful comparisons (all of which are referenced in the press release): 2023 compared to 2022; 2023 compared to 2019; 2023 compared to “what might have been” if there hadn’t been a pandemic. Other comparisons are available too! The different comparisons all illustrate different bits of the same story. I’ve added the comparison with the pre-pandemic trend… Read more »

Peter Misiaszek
Peter Misiaszek
Reply to  Ken Eames
22 days ago

I’m curious to know how HTB churches and church plants are doing. I continue to hear that much of the growth is emanating from their efforts. Is this the case? If so, it would suggest that growth is largely limited to Greater London. I am skeptical of the talk that implies that only evangelical or conservative churches are growing (as this clearly isn’t the case here in Toronto). Do your statistics break out data this specifically?

Ken Eames
Reply to  Peter Misiaszek
20 days ago

Dear Peter, The figures I have come from individual churches, so it is possible to look at trends church-by-church. There’s much more fluctuation in those detailed figures than there is in the diocesan or national aggregates, as you would expect, so it’s harder to see clear trends. It would also be possible to compare any group of interest against any other group – though differences might well be the result of many different factors, not all of which are measured or measurable. So although the comparison is possible, it’s not necessarily helpful unless done pretty thoroughly. Without giving too much… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Ken Eames
21 days ago

Thank you for all your work, Ken. Out of interest, are the figures that individual churches submit in the public domain each year? I seem to recall seeing stats for individual churches but I can’t remember where! Compiling all the figures must be a very substantial job so, again, thanks.

Ken Eames
Reply to  Susannah Clark
20 days ago

Dear Susannah, Thank you for your question, and your kind words. No, the figures form individual churches are not generally in the public domain. Some dioceses make the summary “dashboards” that I produce on their web pages – the dashboards show the 10-year trend in various attendance/participation measures for each parish – (an easier way of making them available than, say, emailing them out one by one), in which cases the summary statistics are public. I’m not aware of any diocese making the full detailed dataset (including, for instance, the 4 separate Sundays in the October stats) available. There are… Read more »

Rebecca
Rebecca
Reply to  Ken Eames
21 days ago

Thanks Ken – for working to compile all this data, for responding on here so cheerfully, and for being so clear!

Bernard Silverman
Bernard Silverman
Reply to  Ken Eames
21 days ago

Just to say thank you for your considered and detailed response. Online worship is an interesting topic all of its own, and will not be easy to monitor or quantify. Is it just a successor or addition to broadcast worship such as Choral Evensong on Radio 3 or the short “Five to Ten” morning prayer which used to be on the Home Service (!), and if not, why not. No simple answer. Certainly it’s something which will be a long-term consequence of the pandemic (ditto the change of attitude about working from home and the big shift away from cash… Read more »

Ken Eames
Reply to  Bernard Silverman
20 days ago

Dear Bernard, Thank you for your comments. As it happens, I have been thinking a bit more about online worship recently. As you say, it’s extremely hard to quantify in a consistent way. This is partly thanks to the wide range of platforms that are being used – Facebook, YouTube, Zoom, Twitter, Spotify, etc etc – and partly because each platform offers different metrics, not all of which are useful. However, I am now reasonably confident that it is possible to use Facebook and YouTube metrics to come up with numbers that are akin to “number of times that a… Read more »

Last edited 20 days ago by Ken Eames
God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
Reply to  Bernard Silverman
22 days ago

It occurs to me (a relative and actual ‘amateur’) that analysis of declining or rising attendance numbers ‘begs questions’ related to potential and multiple causations and thus cause for celebration, or not. Comparison year is but one complication. Covid ‘brought forward’ deaths of folk with ‘pre-existing conditions’; older folk are, and were, a large proportion of regular attenders, whether out of habit or obligation. There is research somewhere regarding time to gain (or lose?) habits. The Office for National Statistics has greater resources than Ken to analyse data. Figures for deaths in 2022 are the latest available: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsregistrationsummarytables/2022 I would… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
22 days ago

Leaving aside the question of church attendance, this recent panel discussion hosted by UnHerd was fascinating, I thought. Something maybe going on, completely outside the doors of the institutional church.

https://www.youtube.com/live/V8PeSvLSF-Y?si=k4FjTMkDC3Dohl6I

Aljbri
Aljbri
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
21 days ago

Tim, thank you for this. For me it sits interestingly alongside Thomas Halik’s book, ‘The Afternoon of Christianity’, well worth a read and a think. He identifies ‘Nones’, people of no religion, as a group looking for what we (not ‘the church’ which comes in for some sharp comment) may be able to offer. In which context the CofE endless agonising about SSM and manifest failure to deliver justice to the abused looks like self regard and self preservation. Not an attractive offer to those on a spiritual quest.

Adrian Clarke
Adrian Clarke
Reply to  Tim Chesterton
21 days ago

Yes! Holy Spirit disruption. No process, no agenda, no reports, no debate, no votes. A breath of fresh air, well no – a wind that shakes. Our church experienced it on Sunday. Buckle up!

Perry Butler
Perry Butler
21 days ago

Froghole on here ( where has he gone?) has often commented on lack of provision as a factor in declining attendances : multi church benefices with one or at most two services, clergy who feel doing one service a Sunday sufficient etc. There seems to be insufficient interest in letting the laity lead Services of the Word and Extended Communion esp in rural areas.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Perry Butler
21 days ago

When I worked as a licensed lay minister it was clear that people expected the eucharist, and that non-eucharistic Sunday morning services would get about 50-70 per cent attendance compared to Sundays when a eucharist was programmed. I have no experience of extended communion for a Sunday service, but I am aware that it has long been perfectly possible for a bishop to ordain a suitable congregational member recommended to him by the PCC under the ordained local minister scheme, and for that person to preside at eucharists, in that church only, to fill a shortage. This would seem to… Read more »

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Simon Dawson
21 days ago

In some areas OLM schemes have rather ground to a halt as the supply of those willing to put themselves forward for such a thing has dried up.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
20 days ago

That’s a valid point, Fr Dexter, but that leads to the obvious question of why people are unwilling to put themselves forward. Is it simply a lack of people with the time and commitment, or is it a cultural thing? In the Anglican church the apparent gap between lay and ordained may be so great that many suitable candidates cannot make the imaginative jump to see themselves at the altar. In the URC or Methodist churches this sort of thing is routine, and there is no shortage of people offering themselves, because they have seen other similar people in that… Read more »

Tom Kitten
Tom Kitten
Reply to  Simon Dawson
20 days ago

I think we need to be careful not to see the grass as being greener elsewhere. The Welsh chapels have had from the beginning a culture of local lay leadership, but it appears to me that one of the factors that is now hastening chapel closure at an alarming rate is that the remaining chapel members are not prepared to accept the burden of office. This is also happening at a slightly slower rate in the churches. The people who keep chapels and churches going in rural Wales are so often the people who keep other community activities going, but… Read more »

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Simon Dawson
20 days ago

Not so sure about that. I can’t comment on the situation where you are, but where I am the free churches are struggling to find lay people to take up office. There is a wider cultural shift at work, whereby people are generally less willing to volunteer for things. In the C of E there is a growing issue with finding people to serve as wardens or PCC members, let alone to serve as OLMs. And it isn’t just churches that are finding lack of volunteers a problem – sports clubs, art clubs, social clubs of one sort or another… Read more »

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
19 days ago

You are exactly right, as is Tom Kitten above, about many churches struggling to find sufficient volunteers to take on the various roles, and that this is a universal problem which affects all of voluntary society, and not just religion. But my comment was about why we can’t be more creative in making best use of what we have where volunteers are actually available I was responding to Perry Butler suggesting that we use lay-people to lead services of the word in churches where a priest is not available on Sundays. So in those cases where such a person does… Read more »

Susannah Clark
Reply to  Simon Dawson
19 days ago

That would make a lot of sense. After all, priests are not endowed with any kind of magic. I’ve been in house groups where we (as lay people) have celebrated eucharist (and worshipped) and honestly, I don’t believe that God would feel too worked up about that. On the contrary, God might even feel it is sweet, and bless the practice.

Perry Butler
Perry Butler
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
18 days ago

And the actual experience of OLM has been mixed which has made some bishops wary. How many dioceses continue to ordain OLM’s?

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Perry Butler
18 days ago

In all honesty I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve heard mentioned for some time, though 20 years ago such schemes were thought to be the way to go.

Perry Butler
Perry Butler
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
18 days ago

In Canterbury the scheme was wound up and In London we never had it. Has anyone with experience of it like to comment esp from dioceses that tried it and decided to give it up.

Bob
Bob
21 days ago

Despite the spin put on the figures by the arch bishops the decline in attendance nationally continues, and, given the age profile of many congregations, will continue to do so. Yet not all churches are declining. Not all churches are entirely composed of the over 70’s. Perhaps time could be spent examining the growing churches in the UK to discover how God has blessed their ministry.

Rod (Rory) Gillis
Rod (Rory) Gillis
19 days ago

Regarding attendance stats, I would interested to know if members of the C of E see any similarity between the UK situation and that described in the linked article, Gen Z and the Future of Faith in America? Beyond that, one wonders if decline in this or that denomination is not really a bellwether for the future of institutional Christianity as we have known it in western democracies? The implications for the then future from theologians like Rudolf Bultmann (1940, 50s) seem to have come home to roost. Shall we be left with only doctrinaire rumps? This article is dry… Read more »

Aljbri
Aljbri
Reply to  Rod (Rory) Gillis
17 days ago

Rod, thank you. That is a fascinating read. Can I flag Thomas Halik (again) in this context. The Afternoon of Christianity is a worthwhile read as we ponder where we go given the great number those who are not engaged or even aware, and lack any common language for spirituality or faith, but may well be seeking. Standing smiling hopefully by the open door of a church is unlikely to work. I’ve flagged it in responding to Nicky Henshall on another thread and have already cited it responding to Tim C above, or is it below? I do enjoy the… Read more »

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