Sunday service attendance has nearly halved in 30 years, the Telegraph can reveal, as clergy warns priests spanning more than one ward have triggered a “loss of confidence” in the Church.
The only region of the country to have seen an increase in the number of faithful was London, where the diocese stuck to the “one priest, one parish” model.
The other 43 dioceses have seen an average drop of 40% in the number of regular Sunday worshipers, according to a new analysis of Church of England data. Between 1987 and 2019, the number increased from around 1.2 million to 679,000. In London, during the same period, the number of worshipers increased from 52,700 to 53,600, an increase of 1.7 %.
Priests in rural areas are increasingly called upon to provide services in several towns and villages in the community, with some using lay people instead of clergy due to shortages.
Responding to the data, Reverend Marcus Walker, who founded the Save the Parish campaign, said: “London several decades ago decided to turn the tide in the rest of the Church of England and its stick to a single priest, a single parish. model. The fruits of this can now be seen.
He added: “There has been a loss of faith in the fundamental claims of Christianity – both in the nation and in the church.
“If we are to bring people back to church, we must first bring people back to the God they would worship in our churches. For this, we need priests trained in theology, anchored in their communities, with the time to know and love the people they serve.
Fears for churches in rural communities
The new data comes at a time when there are warnings the church could “collapse” in rural communities as many struggle to attract congregations and funds.
A Church document leaked last year suggested the Covid pandemic was an opportunity for “radical change” that could result in the loss of the parish church model in an effort to remain “financially viable”. He warned clergy to prepare for changes and cuts as officials prepare to overhaul the system, sparking fears churches in rural towns and parishes will not survive.
There is also an ongoing debate about the future of the Church as she tries to attract more Christians into an increasingly secular society.
The diocese that experienced the largest drop in worshipers between 1987 and 2019 was Durham, with the figure dropping from 26,800 to 10,900, a drop of 59.3%. This was closely followed by the Diocese of Liverpool whose worshipers fell 55.7% from 35,000 to 15,500 during the same period.
Two dioceses saw a slight increase in the number of regular Sunday worshipers between 2018 and 2019.
The Diocese of Coventry saw its number of regular Sunday worshipers increase from 11,100 to 11,200 and the Diocese of Worcester also saw an average increase of 100 Sunday worshipers, bringing its total to 8,900.
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Leeds was established in April 2014, following the amalgamation of the Dioceses of Bradford, Ripon, Leeds and Wakefield. The number of the usual Sunday faithful for this diocese in 1987 – before the merger – was 50,000. However, in 2019 that number fell to only 25,200.
The pandemic highlights the “evolution” of the function of the Church
The Ven Luke Miller, Archdeacon of London, said the reason the capital has seen an increase is because “churches have experienced significant growth as they engage with communities in new and creative ways, often responding to local needs and changing demand “.
He added: “While experiences will differ locally, broader societal changes over time have affected people’s lifestyles, whether in their work, leisure and family time, or in the way that they practice their faith.
“Comparing church attendance with historical data oversimplifies and overlooks other ways our churches have changed and responded. Sunday services continue to be an important part of parish life, but today the Church reaches people in many ways. The pandemic has shed light on this development. “
The Telegraph recently revealed that more than 400 churches have been closed in less than a decade.