From The Rev'd Andy Davis
The Revd Andy Davis BSc BD
Priest-in-Charge of the Parish of Holy Trinity, Bramley (Diocese of Guildford)
Bramley Vicarage, 1 Birtley Rise, Bramley, GU5 0HZ
Mobile: 07709 919602 Landline: 01483 892109 revd.andydavis@gmail.
Is the Church Dying?
There are often doom and gloom stories in the media about the decline in numbers attending Church of England services, and the decline in numbers attending church generally. One alarming statistic is that if numbers continue to drop in the Church of England at the rate they have in the last 10 years, there will be no-one in church AT ALL by 2040...
Things have been further exacerbated by the current pandemic, which has meant that – like many organisations – the church’s income has plummeted. Cathedrals (which rely heavily on visitor donations) are particularly hard hit. Our church in Bramley is looking at a significant deficit - at least £15,000 this year and at least a similar amount in 2021, at which time we run out of reserves. Although Holy Trinity is lucky enough to have significant amounts of money in various trusts and funds, that money can only be used for very specific purposes. It cannot, for example be used towards the nearly £70,000 per year that the parish has to pay to Guildford Diocese (to pay for clergy, housing, Diocesan central costs, the many support services provided and the national church). We may be – in some ways - ‘asset rich’, but we are also, in important regards, ‘cash poor’…
Worldwide though, the church is growing at a faster rate than it ever has – at any time in human history - particularly in Africa and Asia. I trained to be a priest with a man from Malawi (who came to our college for a year). He was due to be ordained a priest along with 850 others; all of whom were going to newly established churches. Far from decline, they were having trouble coping with the growth!
I have always tried hard not to play ‘the numbers game’, because you can’t measure the worth of a church by the numbers that attend. I have known churches with 200+ regular attenders, which were impersonal and somewhat smug. I once preached at a church in a very deprived area, which had an average attendance of 14, but was full of hope, joy and welcome. On the other hand, you do need enough people to at least ‘break even’ financially (and therefore for your existence to be relatively secure).
I once read a learned article which argued (using a mass of information both statistical and psychological!) that the best congregation size was 68. This would (apparently) mean that people could still know each other reasonably well...and that you would have enough people to fulfil the various roles that allow a church to function, and enough to engage in a significant way with the life of the local community. Alas, at the moment, there are few church buildings that could manage that number of people and also maintain social distancing; 30 to 35 is the maximum that our church can accommodate at present. At least others can now watch our worship on Zoom…but it is yet another challenge that the pandemic has brought.
The church, like so many sectors and groups in our society, faces a fragile and challenging future...