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Congregation Demographics

Well, nothing for a couple of months then two in quick succession. This one even has a diagram – if I can get it to upload.

I was struck a while back by a report claiming that Church of England attendance is now about 1.1 million per week – here’s a summary of the facts. It’s been in decline for a while and the average age is over 60. I started wondering how many of each congregation are attending for pragmatic, not religious, reasons like me? How many are gritting their teeth, sitting through hours of nonsense, in order to get a chance of a good school?

What’s the “real” attendance: attendance by those who are there because they are adherents of the CofE denomination and would attend regardless of whether they have a child needing an admissions letter signed?

This is very difficult to estimate for a number of reasons. The obvious one is that those doing like me are not going to say so out loud. There’s a reason this blog is anonymous. In addition, some people may not fit neatly into the theist/atheist categories; they may be vaguely religious (or “spiritual”) but would not ordinarily attend church without needing a school place.

Let’s try some guess-work here; what follows is nothing like a scientific exercise. Attending church recently I did some mental calculations to categorise and calculate the type and number of attendees. It breaks down like this:

Pie Chart

Congregation Breakdown

Figures all very rough estimates: Elderly – 70; Children Primary Age or less – 35; Teenagers, early 20s – 5; Late 20s, 30s, 40s – 35. Total: 145.

These bear out the reports to some extent but contrast in others. Almost half the attendees at my Church are elderly (as I say, this is all approximate – I have merely categorised those who are elderly based on my subjective assessment of looks). On the other hand a good quarter of them are children (primary age or maybe slightly older) and almost another quarter are in their late-20s, 30s or 40s. The smallest group are late-teens and early 20s.

Let’s assume that the elderly and those in late-teens. early 20s are “genuine” believers: they are unlikely to have a child needing to get into a certain school.

Of the rest, it is fairly obvious, both from the fact that children don’t attend church on their own and that they are sitting amongst the older group, that the groups correspond to “Parents” and “Children”. I looked around to see how many of the older group did not appear to be with children and there were only a handful.

The question remains: how many of the parents and children are there for pragmatic reasons? Of the parents I know, all are there because of school admissions. However, I only know a handful well enough to say this with confidence. On the other hand, there are some parents who seem genuinely religious: including a couple whom we have nick-named Mr & Mrs Faith-Head who wear t-shirts with Christian messages and sing loudly and with great gusto. Most are, thankfully, fairly normal looking.

This is where the real guess-work begins, but even if we reduce the number of parents and children by half (and I suspect that the real percentage of those attending for non-faith reasons is much higher) the whole congregation would be reduced by a quarter.

Again, little can be generalised, but it would be interesting to compare the congregation break-down with other CofE churches: including those with faith Primary Schools nearby and those with no faith schools in the vicinity.

Whatever the actual figures, I strongly believe that if faith schools did not exist, CofE weekly attendance would be below the psychological 1 million. And falling.

No wonder the Churches are keen to hang onto “their” schools.

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  1. Stonyground
    28/05/2010 at 5:01 pm

    This is very interesting, it suggests that the CofE will lose around half of its congregants in the next couple of decades. If the current inane and unjust school admissions system is changed (I know, fat chance) they will lose half of those remaining.

    I attended a song and dance show that was organised by Methodist relatives to celebrate the 200 years since Wilberforce helped to end the slave trade. We got a freeby because Mrs. Stonyground, who is good at photography helped out with some of the visual stuff. I noticed at the time that the audience comprised almost entirely of old people, this was despite the fact that the show was actually pretty good and would have appealed to a younger audience.

    • 07/06/2010 at 12:33 pm

      Yes, it can’t look good for the CofE. But bear in mind this is a Church near a popular faith school: where there is no admissions pressure like this, I expect that the congregation is overwhelmingly elderly. Half the congregants have already been lost!

      If I had the time I would have liked to look into the the CoE’s document on church attendance. Specifically, it identifies some areas wehre the under 16s attendance has actually increased. I wonder if there’s any connection between these areas and areas where the wonderful new faith schools are being opened; or where faith schools are doing well at the expense of the community equivalents?

  1. 21/06/2010 at 12:49 pm

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