Tim Ross, Telegraph (London), July 8, 2011
In the last 40 years the number of adult churchgoers has fallen by half while the number of children regularly worshipping in public declined by 80 per cent, the study says.
The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Rt Rev Paul Butler, will present findings to the Church’s national assembly, the General Synod, in York on Saturday.
Synod members will be urged to vote for a new national drive to recruit more members.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has acknowledged that the Church must devote more energy to increasing the number of regular worshippers over the next five years.
The report, Mission Action Planning in the Church of England, states that the “sharp” fall in churchgoing since 1970 poses a significant threat.
“This decline in membership, and the accompanying rise in average age, means that fewer people are becoming disciples of Jesus Christ, and that the Church is able to have less impact and influence in the public realm, both nationally and in the transformation of local communities,” it says.
“We are faced with a stark and urgent choice: do we spend the next few years managing decline, or do we go for growth?
“In other words, do we accept the continual numerical decline of the Church of England as inevitable, or do we dare to believe a different future, that God might want his Church to grow, in holiness and in numbers?”
According to official figures, the number of worshippers attending church each week fell by 30,000 between 2007 and 2009, to 1.13 million.
Church of England officials argue that the decline partly reflects the nature of modern society, in which many kinds of membership organisation–including political parties–have lost supporters.
The House of Bishops is expected to oppose Bishop Butler’s motion calling for a “national mission action plan” to help parishes grow. His critics argue that recruitment is most effective at a local level.
The General Synod will also hear a call for an emergency debate on homosexuality. Church officials will be accused of “woeful” failure to protect the institution of marriage from erosion by the rise of civil partnerships and Coalition plans to allow same-sex couples to register their partnerships in religious settings.
A lay member of Synod, Andrea Minichiello Williams, will urge the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to calls an “emergency” debate to discuss Church’s stance on marriage reforms.