C of E report reveals low child attendance

A report commissioned by the Church of England has shown positive signs of growth in some areas, including Messy Church, but low levels of attendance among children and young people

The Going for Growth report revealed that almost half of the churches surveyed had fewer than five people under 16 years of age. The report said: ‘The large decline in church attendance has not happened because many adults have stopped going to church. It is because more and more adults never start attending in the first place. Evidence shows that those who belong in their 20s will probably stay for the rest of their lives, but if they don’t, it will be hard to bring them in.’

However, the research did affirm the importance of youth and children’s work, as churches with a high ratio of children to adults are statistically twice as likely to be growing. The report concluded: ‘There is an urgent need to focus on children, young people and their
parents and a challenge to identify how the church can best invest in people, programmes and strategies which will encourage young people actively to continue exploring faith. Research shows that the best youth programmes are likely to involve new ways of building community and these require a considerable amount of time and effort.’

Gavin Calver, national director of Youth for Christ, told our sister title Youthwork: ‘We may in some cases be starting from a position of weakness, but all this report does is affirm the fundamental need for excellent youth ministry in our churches.’

Despite a nine per cent drop in weekly attendance over the last decade, the report showed the growth of fresh expressions of church, as well as cathedral attendance. In ten dioceses where fresh expressions were examined, those 477 expressions of church added another 21,000 attendees. Over half of new forms of church, such as café churches, Messy Church and drop-in centres, meet outside of churches (56 per cent) and a similar number (52 per cent) are led by non-ordained leaders. Two-thirds of these fresh expressions have continued to grow throughout their entire existence.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said: ‘There is every reason to be hopeful about the future of the Church of England, and indeed, all the churches in this country. There are many signs of growth, huge areas of development, and the Church is – more than it has been for the last 60 years – demonstrating how essential it is to hold together our society.’

Sam Donoghue, co-editor of Childrenswork and children’s ministry advisor for the Diocese of London said: ‘Those of us involved in children’s
ministry won’t find much to surprise us in these stats as they confirm what we already know: if you intentionally invest in your ministry to children, your church has a good chance of growing. Obviously there are some scary stats that show that a large number of our churches
have almost no children in them but I hope we can take the encouragement and the challenge of this and get on with reaching children and their families and building churches as a result.’

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