There have been articles this month that church attendance is in decline (again). More specifically CofE Sunday attendance has dropped below 1 million for the first time. But before we gnash our teeth its worth spending a minute to get the bigger picture here — because there certainly is one.
Mainstream church attendance HAS declined over the past 100 years or so, but consider these 3 points:
- Much of the decline in attendance is due to nominal attendees realising you don’t have to go to church any more to look respectable. In the past church attendance has often been more down to social norms than a living faith. In a secularised society that’s not the case. The church is shedding nominal attenders.
- Many churches, especially new church traditions, are alive and well and growing. Generally these are “off the radar” when people do counts of Sunday church attendance.
- Midweek congregations are growing as we face busier lifestyles.
- Cathedral congregations are growing for the reason above added to which people seem to enjoy the relative anonymity of a large building you can slip into.
- Black and minority ethnic churches are growing.
- Fresh expressions of church are growing such as messy church Not all share the commonly accepted marks of church (worship, prayer etc) but many can legitimately claim to be church.
- Mainstream churches in London are growing. The CofE are anticipating 100 new worshipping communities in the diocese of London by 2020.
As we can see, the nature of what we commonly call church is changing in many cases to better suit a society unused to the 90 minute stint on Sunday morning.
- And just as we need to take care with statistics on “decline” we need to not become complacent with what we call “growth”. Often we are satisfied with “transfer growth” where Christians shop around from church to church. This may help boost numbers locally but it is not kingdom building. Genuine growth comes through conversion by the Holy Spirit – and we need much more of that.
This short blog was sparked by Ian Paul’s excellent article: What should we do about the decline in church attendance?
This blog was also published by The Baptist Times