May 12, 2008

Church disputes falling attendance figures

by David Masters

Statistics released by Christian Research have been subject to fierce criticism from the Church of England.

The statistics, published by Christian Research in the Religious Trends magazine, predict that by 2050 weekly church attendance could drop from current figures of just under one million, to around 899,000.

If current trends of decline continue, 4,000 churches will be forced to close by 2020. Meanwhile, the number of active Muslims will have increased to 2,960,000.

The Church of England has criticised the research as ‘simplistic’, ‘flawed’, and ‘dangerously misleading.’

Lynda Barley, the head of the Church of England’s statistics research, claims that church attendence has ‘remained stable since 2000’ with around 1.7 million people worshipping every month.

She added that the research does not compare like with like – the predicted number of active Muslims was made using the 2001 census figures, with everyone who marked their religion as ‘Muslim’ counting in the figures.

If the same methodology was used to measure the number of active Christians, the figure would not be under one million, but over 20 million.

Religious Trends magazine responded to the criticisms by pointing out that the Church of England is not attacking their statistics, but the sensationalist headlines that followed the release of the report.

Simon Barrow, from the Christian thinktank Ekklesia, said that arguing about statistics ‘misses the point,’ and that the decline in attendance is an opportunity for the church, rather than a set back.

Barrow said: “For the churches, the opportunity is to focus on demonstrating a Gospel of reconciliation, justice and peace in practice – rather than becoming defensive, hiding behind privilege and trying to lecture people from a false position of lofty superiority.”

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