CANTERBURY, England (RNS) The number of people attending Sunday services at Britain’s Anglican churches is continuing to drop, but church officials say there are signs that the decline is starting to stabilize.

church of england

All Saints Church (Church of England), Bakewell, Derbyshire photo courtesy Eamon Curry via Flickr (

A spokesperson for the Church of England said Tuesday (May 7) that average weekly attendance at the nation’s 16,247 Anglican parishes was 1.1 million in 2011, representing a drop of just 0.3 percent from the previous year’s figures.

The annual statistics reveal a substantial increase in attendance at the country’s storied cathedrals: Christmas churchgoing rose by 14 percent, christenings were up 4.3 percent and adult baptisms were up 5 percent. The number of weddings was down 3.6 percent, to 51,880.

The 1.1 million Britons in church pales in comparison to the estimated 22 million — about four in 10 Britons — who are considered official members of the Church of England.

Overall Sunday attendance is down from 1.14 million in 2000, falling about 1 percent a year until 2011.

“The attendance figures are heartening,” said Bishop of Norwich Graham James. “The encouraging news of further growth to come even on these high figures is very welcome and points to a growing trend.”

Justin Welby (center), the 57-year old former oil executive who quit the world of high finance in 1992 to become a priest, was enthroned Thursday (March 21) as the 105th archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans. Photo courtesy Anglican Communion News Service/The Press Association

Justin Welby (center), the 57-year old former oil executive who quit the world of high finance in 1992 to become a priest, was enthroned Thursday (March 21) as the 105th archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans. Photo courtesy Anglican Communion News Service/The Press Association

This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

One worrying statistic: attendance in the Diocese of Canterbury — home to the spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, Archbishop Justin Welby — saw the biggest drop in average weekly figures. The diocese had a 9.5 percent drop in weekly church service attendance between 2010 and 2011.



  1. Makes sense. But the explanation is one many will find uncomfortable. Religion is a special taste. In some times and places religion is pervasive, and religious practice is the norm, so lots of people acquire the taste. In secular societies religion is less popular, but there will still be a core of people who have the taste for religion. And when you get down to that core, decline will stop.

    It’s uncomfortable because the standard view amongst religious people seems to be that religion, or at least “spirituality,” is a universal human impulse or need. Arguably, churches would do better to recognize that it isn’t universal, or even widespread interest: it’s just a minority taste. So instead of trying to reach out to the majority who aren’t religious, churches should work to provide the religious goods and services that the religious minority enjoy. Of course it goes without saying that there’s nothing particularly good about being religious–it’s just a taste.

    Religion for the religious!

    • Gerry Ostroot

      I’ll bet you don’t like spinach either, even though its good for you. Are you speaking from experience or merely fantasizing to prtotect yourself from getting anything that’s good for you? Try it1 You just may like it. Religion comes in many flavors, one of them may appeal to even you.

      • Huh??? I’m speaking as someone who enjoys religion. I’m suggesting that churches stop trying to appeal to the non-religious, in particular, to the cultured despisers and provide what we, the minority who enjoy religion like. I couldn’t care in the least what’s good for me–I’m just interested in what’s yummy and fun. I just happen to think that religiousity is yummy and fun–as long is it’s fancy, fantastical and high church, escapist, mystical, aesthetic and sensual.

        • Dear H.E. Baber, in my humble opinion you need to be set free from religion and have an encounter with Jesus. I am not at all religious but I am a pastor who has led a church for ten years. The most dramatic positive changes take place in the lives of people who come to church, not to be entertained but to meet with Jesus and worship Him in the company of like-minded people.

  2. Dave the raver

    When you are up a against treason, mass fraud,unemployment , evil on a global scale….
    corrupt politicians personal life in shambles where else do you go?

    I speak as a

  3. The Church seems to have a lot in common with estate agents in my opinion. If one views a property that is derelict, one might read the description that it is “an exciting object for renovation” – anything other than the plain truth. Here we read the latest figures described as “heartening” when the truth is that the Church is in still in decline. Can anyone really call this “heartening”, still less those who append “Lord thy word is truth” to what they say before they preach? Given the steep declines the Church has already seen, neither should it surprise us that the decline has begun to flatten out – the same phenomenon is present at every oil well that declines too. It doesn’t mean that there is any more oil to pump out, and simply reflects that one has lost so much already that it isn’t physically possible to continue declining at the same rate. The statistics are sobering news. Perhaps, after thirty or so years of trying to be “cool”, modernising worship supposedly to appeal to the young, someone might cotton on to the fact that it simply hasn’t worked! The increase at the cathedrals could plausibly reflect just that, since they are about the only remaining place where it is possible to experience traditional church worship these days, unadulterated by the banality that passes for so-called contemporary worship.

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