Saturday 1 October 2011

When Will The Church of England Shut Up Shop For The Last Time?

It’s that fun time again when the Office of National Statistics release a whole bunch of completely unsurprising figures that the newspapers can spin to reflect whatever point of view they suspect will sell the most papers. I might as well add my own biased spin to counter the Daily Mail's arse dribble.

In 2011, 68.5% of the UK population apparently identified themselves as Christian, compared to 71.3 % the previous year, with the overwhelming majority of the slack being taken up by us godless heathens.

These percentages of course refer to “Cultural Christians” rather than “Practicing Christians”, indeed the wording of the question includes the caveat “even if not currently practicing”. However, what I think is a far more pertinent statistic, is the actual Church attendance numbers.

The above graph shows the average weekly attendance of Church of England services over the last 10 years. Indeed, if you look at the source you can see this same declining trend in Sunday Worship going all the way back to the late 1960’s. There is of course no surprise in seeing this steady slump in church attendance. Each year an average of 14,300 fewer people attend Anglican services.

That means that on average, each week, 275 regular church attendees have either died or have woken up and decided that it's all a bit silly really and they’d rather have a nice lie in of a Sunday morning.

Of course extrapolating figures generally leads to some very dodgy conclusions, but what the hell, let’s extrapolate anyway.

Assuming the same steady decline continues year on year at the same rate, then on Sunday 16th January 2089 the last 75 stragglers will wander through the hallowed doors for one final sing-song and a couple of nice platitudes before being sent on their merry way for the last time. The following week, Sunday 23rd January 2089, every church, chapel and cathedral across England will be empty, vacant, void. Completely deserted.

I wonder if on Monday 24th January 2089 when the Daily Mail reports with horror that no bugger turned up for Church yesterday, that the government will still feel justified in their support of an education policy that actively discriminates based on the alleged religious beliefs of parents and a theocratic admissions policy for the House of Lords.

After all, if I were to believe this dodgy extrapolation, it could be in the lifetime of my children.


JuJu said...

There is a real risk to atheists from declining church attendance, the group psychology effect of evaporative cooling: as going to church is no longer seen as a necessary part of membership of polite society, the moderate believers depart, leaving the crazies behind with no voice of reason to slow them down. This is generally when movements get really dangerous!

Anonymous said...

@JuJu I think that fundamentalists are leaving the church more than moderates, because they think that it is fundamentalism or atheism and as soon as leaving fundamentalism will go directly into atheism.
@Actual Post I recently read a nice book that states that in the 2080s (which he believes will economically be prosperous for good reason) traditional religions will collapse almost entirely simply because of economic prosperity but I find it interesting that it parallels the extrapolation. The book is called "The Next 100 Years", the author is George Friedman. Personally I think that 80 years from now, the church will be a group of moderates meeting once a week at Westminster Abbey, perhaps 1000 people might remain, perhaps 5000 will still allow the church a part in there lives, and about 50000 will say they are part of the Anglican church but not do anything based on that vague relation.

Anonymous said...


Could you draw the graph again, but showing the y-axis from zero?

I think it gives a more accurate representation of the decline, which is not as dramatic as perhaps suggested.


Society for Fair Representation of Visual Graphs

Deux Anges said...

That may be so, but have you taken into account if other religions are making up the numbers? I would like to see similar graphs of mosque and synagogue attendence.

Anonymous said...

One reason for the decline that doesn't get mentioned enough is that church services are so staggeringly boring.

They drone out dreary nineteenth century hymns accompanied by a wheezy old organ, usually played by a wheezy old organist. They recite the prescribed, formulaic prayers. They listen to the ordained readings. Even the ceremonies are a bit silly these days.

A typical CofE service is like sitting through your local amateur dramatic society performance of a preachy Victorian play because you have a friend in the chorus. Even if Christianity weren't declining in Britain, it takes a stiff resolve to keep going to CofE services.

Neuroskeptic said...

I think JuJu is right to be worried. There's also the fact that the CoE is probably one of the most liberal major churches in the UK. It has some far-out people in it, but in general as an institution, it's pretty laid back. Compare it to the Catholics, or just about any American church.

So I'd be sad to see the CoE go, if it meant the field was left to the real crazies.

Anonymous said...

@ Society for Fair Representation of Visual Graphs - I'm more concerned that the numbers representing people are given to two decimal places...


Spiritualess said...

The thing I like about this is the fact that Churches close at all.. Not just the fact that some become great cinema's but the obvious business nature of the enterprise.

If a church was truly there to serve the spiritual needs of the congregation then the church would remain open until the last member had left. Instead there's some clerk in an office looking at dwindling attendance and returns and deciding when it's best to pack it up. Which makes perfect sense if it's a Woolworths or BurgerKing but not if it's the "spiritual lifeblood of the community" or something..

And on the stats, this is only a small part of the Anglican church, most of it is in Africa.