Empty churches. One-person congregations. Ministers “dressed up with no one to listen.” Is this the stark reality facing Church of England parishes?
While to many, the future of the denomination looks bleak, there are major efforts at work aimed at bringing the faithful back to the church.
One is a digital initiative that develops new ideas to enhance outreach and information. Another seeks to showcase the importance of the church community during momentous events in people’s lives, such as weddings and funerals, when they’re seeking answers to critical questions.
In February, The Times presented a striking picture of the challenges facing the Church of England. Some ministers in rural parishes, it reported, muse about facing one-person congregations or even entirely empty churches and having to adapt to new realities behind ever-dwindling church membership.
The Rev. Canon Sandra Millar, head of Life Events at the Church of England, told The Christian Post in a phone interview that she doesn’t know how often one-congregation services actually occur.
“I know that there are situations where we have some very small communities, where it is hard to sustain a regular congregation, but there are also many, many churches that are trying to find new ways of encouraging people to think about church in a new way,” she said.
Millar admitted that “there’s no doubt” there has been a decline in “regular Sunday worship,” however.
“Obviously, when you have a smaller community to start with that can look sharper,” she said.
Indeed, a number of different polls in the last year alone have pointed to a decline in overall religious adherence.
NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey in September 2017 found that for the first time ever, the number of people in Britain who say they have no religion is over half the population, or 53 percent.
The Church of England was found to have been hit particularly hard, with only 15 percent of Britons describing themselves as Anglicans in the poll.
The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt. Rev. Paul Bayes, told CP at the time that despite the findings, the Church and God remain relevant.
“We in the Church, and all who love the Church, need to keep finding ways to show and tell those who say they have ‘no religion’ that faith — faith in the God who loves them still — can make that life-transforming difference for them and for the world,” Bayes said back then.
What is more, a ComRes survey commissioned by the Church of England and released that same month found that only 6 percent of British adults are practicing Christians, as defined by those who read the Bible, pray, and attend church on a regular basis.
Still, another ComRes survey commissioned by Christian youth organization Hope Revolution Partnership released in June 2017 found that more young Britons are Christian than previously thought, with over 20 percent of the 11–18 age group declaring that they are active followers of Christ.
The faith landscape in the U.K. also received a new layer in January, when a ComRes poll on behalf of the Christian aid agency Tearfund discovered that as many as 55 percent of nonreligious people say that they pray in times of personal crisis or tragedy.
Millar offered that there are different reasons for why church attendance is declining but pointed out that the problem is not unique to the religious sphere.
“We’re talking about big, general themes here, that are related to a changing culture; the fact that people are less interested in organizations generally,” she positioned, noting that many other organizations are also seeing declines, such as in trade union membership.
With busy lives, and with “so much else going on,” people are becoming more inclined to go to church “once a month, or several times a year, rather than every week,” she stressed.
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Source: Christian Post