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In a tough market, the CofE is doing better than we think

In a tough market, the CofE is doing better than we think

Giles Fraser looks at church membership and attendance in the UK and concludes that the Church of England is doing better than most people assume.

Loose Canon on the Guardian’s Comment is Free page:

About a million people go to a Church of England church each week. It’s not the glory days of the church, admittedly. But just compare: the membership of the Conservative party is just 134,000 and has been very nearly halved since David Cameron took over. Membership of the Labour party is higher, at about 190,000. And the Lib Dems have just 44,000. But add them all together, and even throwing in Ukip for good measure, and you still don’t have half the number of people who go to church.

More people go to church on a Sunday than go to Premier League stadiums on a Saturday. And remember: we are just talking about the Church of England here. Since 1979, membership of trade unions has fallen off a cliff. And, if you are reading this column in printed form, you also are a dwindling breed.

My personal reading of the church’s apparent decline is that it is holding up pretty well, despite seriously adverse market conditions – namely, a society that increasingly prefers the personal autonomy of bowling alone, liking its social connectivity online rather than in draughty church halls, and is generally far more suspicious of religious belief per se. Of these two reasons, the first is by far the more significant – which is why the atheists’ organisations can probably hold their AGMs in a phone box.

Yes – to continue the business metaphor – there is a problem with the delivery of universal service provision. And some consolidation is inevitable. But I still believe the fundamentals of the business are sound.


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Marshall Scott

Gary, I do agree with you about comparing with the political parties. That said, the comparison with attendance at sports events is interesting, and perhaps more socially significant, if not statistically so. We could ask about average Sunday attendance here with those attending American football. Then we’d bog down in the fact that most “attend” sporting events from their own couches via television. So, would we consider all those broadcasts of television preachers and televangelists?

Even if the comparisons aren’t perfect, these might give some idea about those who invest time out of their homes in church rather than out of their homes in other events. Interesting; but I will also agree with you that “interesting” is not necessarily the same as “enlightening.”

Gary Gilbert

Almost pure spin! Comparing average Sunday attendance to membership in political parties is meaningless. The fact remains church attendance is low. One million is small when one considers the population of England is 53 million.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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