Well I never.
There has been a bit of a buzz around that church attendance figures in the UK are on the up! This after decades of dropping like a stone. These are the sorts of stats we have become used to (from here)–
Of course, the picture was never simple- some individual churches are growing- the odd American imported super church, Black Pentecostal churches, and Orthodox churches- these have all been on the increase… albeit from a low base.
But statistics- they can be very misleading, so I did a bit of searching to see if I could find specific details of the studies.
The first one concerns a study done by Tearfund- mentioned in the Telegraph here.
A survey of 7,000 people by Tearfund found that 26 per cent say they went to a church service in 2008, up from 21 per cent the year before.
In addition, the proportion who say they attend church every month has risen from 13 per cent to 15 per cent, while one in 10 claim they go at least once a week, up from 9 per cent.
These are the highest figures recorded by the development agency for more than three years, contradicting research that has claimed churchgoing is in steady decline across Britain.
Young adults and pensioners are said to have taken up churchgoing in the greatest numbers, with a 10 per cent rise in attendance reported among the over-75s. Geographically, the biggest increase was seen in Wales (12 per cent).
It would mean that 7.3million adults now go to church – excluding weddings, baptisms and funerals – once a month. Official figures show that only 1.7m people attend Church of England services every month, while a further million attend weekly Mass at a Roman Catholic church.
The full details of the Tearfund study can be found on their website- here.
Another Telegraph articles makes the link with the deepening economic crisis- here.
So what are we to make of this? One swallow does not make a summer, but the numbers quoted in the Tearfund study are significant- as is the year on year 4% Cathedral attendance increase since 2000.
I think we people of faith should pay little heed to these figures. Let us instead remember some lessons learnt when church attendance figures looked like the charts above, which I think should include some of these-
- We can no longer expect ‘attractional’ models of church to fill the pews.
- Church is not about sacred buildings, but about letting loose the people of faith into the towns and cities about us.
- The new context requires new ways of interpreting the gospel, and a re-examination of how the enculturalisation of church has contributed to a lack of relevance.
- But the old mystical/contemplative traditions have much to teach us too.
- Faith is discovered through action and interaction, not through didactic teaching.
- Doctrine is not the most important thing.
- Love is.