Church of England Expects Decline to Continue for Next 30 Years

A Sunday evening service at St John the Baptist church, Hope Bagot, Shropshire. The C of E says it will shift funds away from rural parishes to urban churches. (Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Guardian)
A Sunday evening service at St John the Baptist church, Hope Bagot, Shropshire. The C of E says it will shift funds away from rural parishes to urban churches. (Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Guardian)

C of E general assembly hears ‘much gloomier’ prediction as congregations age and young people spurn organised religion

The scale of the Church of England’s atrophy has been starkly set out by figures presented to its general assembly that show church attendance will continue to fall for the next 30 years.

Previously, the church predicted that its decline in numbers was likely to continue for another five years before recovering.

But John Spence, the C of E’s finance chief, said on Wednesday that the decline was expected to continue for another three decades, with today’s figures of 18 people per 1,000 regularly attending church falling to 10 per 1,000. An 81-year-old was eight times more likely to attend church than a 21-year-old, he said.

“On all likely measures of success, given the demographics of the church, it is unlikely we will see a net growth in church membership within the next 30 years,” said Spence. “I could have given you other facts, but I think you get the point.”

The figures illustrate the challenge facing a church whose congregations are ageing as the millennial generation increasingly spurns organised religion.

A church source acknowledged that the 30-year prediction was “much gloomier” than previous forecasts. But it did not take into account the potential impact of the C of E’s emphasis on evangelism and its £72m programme of “renewal and reform”, the source added.

The programme is aimed at modernising the church and increasing by 50% the number of priests being trained, to 600 recruits a year. It also involves shifting funds away from struggling rural parishes with small and elderly congregations to urban churches which are seen as having potential for growth.

The renewal and reform programme involved risk, said Spence, a former Lloyds Bank executive, acknowledging that “along the way some things will not work”.

A C of E spokesman, Arun Arora, said: “The reference to 30 years is based on projections which assume no change, and underscore the importance of the renewal and reform programme.

“They do not factor in the changes being proposed. Most crucially, as the archbishop of Canterbury said this morning, we trust in the grace and transforming power of the spirit of God, who empowers and equips the church.”

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SOURCE: The Guardian
Harriet Sherwood

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