Fewer than one million attend weekly Church of England service


The number of people attending weekly Church of England services has fallen below one million for the first time, official figures show.

Some 980,000 people went at least once a week to church in 2014, down from 1,004,300 in 2013, according to statistics released on Tuesday.

The numbers collected from the Church of England's diocese show overall attendance at religious services has fallen 12% in the past decade.

Pews emptied at the rate of more than 1% a year between 2004 and 2014, the church's own analysis has revealed.

Some 764,700 people said they regularly went to a Sunday service, down from 823,000 in 2009.

The Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said the figures were "not in any way a surprise" and "attendance statistics do not tell the whole story".

He said: "We do not expect that trend to change imminently or immediately over the next few years due to demographics. We lose approximately 1% of our churchgoers to death each year.

"Given the age profile of the CofE, the next few years will continue to have downward pressure as people die or become housebound and unable to attend church."

He added that the story was "not one of inevitable decline", saying some diocese were increasing their congregation sizes "and each is a sign of hope".

He said: "Attendance statistics do not tell the whole story. There are many things that churches do that are not included in these data from running homelessness services and hosting foodbanks, to educating a million children a day in our schools to providing welcome and accompaniment to the least, the last and the lost in our society."

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said: "Church of England attendance now appears to have fallen well below 2% of the population, and looks set to fall further given the preponderance of older churchgoers.

"This seriously calls into question its privileged access to political power and right to remain the established church. Indeed, it is inappropriate for there to be any established religion in a modern, pluralistic society, far less one where the majority do not consider themselves to be religious.

"Adults continue to turn away from the church in droves, and even many of those who consider themselves Christian reject the Church's policy on ethical matters such as same-sex marriage. Sunday schools have all-but disappeared, so the Church is determined to force its influence on the population though faith schools - and is only able to do this because the running costs are paid from public funds."