The number of people attending Church of England services each week has dropped below one million for the first time, with Sunday attendance plunging to a record low of just 760,000.
The figures from the church’s annual attendance survey show that only 1.4 per cent of the population now attend services at England’s state church every Sunday. Even including people who attend church on weekdays and Saturdays, the figure is still below one million.
The Telegraph says the proportion of the population attending Anglican services on Sunday is also now only a third of that in the early 1960s.
The fall in attendance comes despite various ‘modernising’ measures introduced by the church in recent decades, including ordaining women as priests and allowing dissent from traditional Christian teaching on issues such as divorce and homosexuality.
Some had hoped making the church more in tune with modern, secular values would bring people back, but these latest figures suggest that to be largely unfounded.
Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, argued that the decline is due mainly to older worshippers dying and was not surprised by the figures:
“While the recent trend of the past decade continues, it has been anticipated and is being acted on radically,” he said.
“We do not expect that trend to change imminently or immediately over the next few years due to demographics. We lose approximately one per cent of our churchgoers to death each year.
“Given the age profile of the C of E, the next few years will continue to have downward pressure as people die or become housebound and unable to attend church.”
Church authorities expect the decline to continue for the next five years, but after that there will be an eventual upturn.
Some Anglican churches, mainly evangelical in nature, have reported rising congregations, although as many of these tend to be more theologically conservative there are fears they may eventually break away from the Church of England.
The figures come as leaders of Anglican churches around the world gather Canterbury to discuss the future of the worldwide Anglican Communion amid deep divisions on the issue of homosexuality.
There are increasing fears of schism with conservative churches, especially those in Africa, threatening to walk out.
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wants to refashion the global Anglican Communion as a loose confederation of churches, maintaining only formal links with the Church of England.
He warned in his opening speech that society was becoming increasingly anti-Christian: “In some parts of the Communion decline in numbers has been a pattern for many years. In England our numbers have been falling at about 1% every year since world war two…
“The culture [is] becoming anti-Christian, whether it is on matters of sexual morality, or the care for people at the beginning or the end of life. It is easy to paint a very gloomy picture.”