A NEW report is predicting that Britain’s churches may well face extinction with only two per cent of the population attending Sunday services by the year 2040. The new study by Christian Research, one of the bleakest reports ever produced into church attendance, concluded that with congregations plummeting by two-thirds over the next three decades, the impact for churchgoing was clear: “rapidly moving towards virtual wipe-out.”
The report, The Future of the Church’, found that if the current trends continue, the number of Muslims attending prayers at British mosques on Friday will be double the number of Christians at church on Sunday by 2040. Struggling against the rising tide of secularisation, the current 9.4 per cent of the population in regular attendance of Sunday service is expected to be under five per cent by 2040, and of those worshippers 65 per cent will be over the age of 65. The study predicts that some 18,000 churches will be forced to close.
Such projections foresee a bleak scenario of a disestablished and beleaguered Church of England, isolated within a secularised society. Dr Brierley has conjured up a nation in 2040 in which Songs of Praise is a quaint memory, Alpha courses have been forgotten and Christmas has been rebranded as “Winterval”. Faith schools will be have become marginalised and largely replaced by multi-faith schools. Dr Brierley, the editor of the report, said that it was paramount that the alarming figures act as a “wake-up call” to Church leaders. Although he highlighted positive current initiatives in the Church, he stressed that much more was needed. According to church statistics, which Brierley has been collecting for 40 years, the four main UK denominations, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic, the Methodist, and United Reformed Churches, are all suffering from a long-term decline in attendance figures. Non-white ethnic churches have been the only groups to buck the trend. If the trends cannot be reversed, in the period 2000 to 2020 Methodists will decline by 37 per cent, Anglicans 31 per cent, Catholics 28 per cent and Baptists 17 per cent. Church closures and ministerial loses are predicted to decline at a slower rate than membership. However, church attendance may drop even faster than membership, moving from eight per cent in 2000 to an expected two per cent in 2040.
He predicts that by 2020 evangelicals are poised to dominate the Anglican Church. However, by 2040, there will apparently be so few members that churchmanship will become “irrelevant”, as too will denominations. Population trends and other demographic information also spell bad news for the Christian way of life. Infant baptisms are likely to become antiquated ceremonies in which few partake. Marriages in the church are likely to drop drastically, from 36 per cent of the total in 2000 to 15 per cent in 2020. This week the Church of England responded to the report. “There are positives in the Church of England: we have seen a slight increase in attendance in 2003, we have Fresh Expressions on line and Mission-shaped Church projects under way.” These and other initiatives were highlighted as new ways of taking mission out to the people.
–The Church of England Newspaper