Last week I read some statistics that made my jaw drop and my heart ache. 39% of English churches have no children under 11 49% of English churches have no tweens aged 11-14 59% of English churches have no teens aged 15-19
These figures come from the latest census of English churches. It should be noted that this relates to Sunday attendance. Clearly many churches attract children and young people to a wide range of programmes mid week, which are not covered included by these statistics. Nevertheless the continued decline in attendance of both adults and children on Sundays is bad news.
The English church census is not all gloom and doom however, the rate of decline is slowing down compared to the 80s and 90s when attendance dropped dramatically – hence the positive title given to the books containing the full results; ‘Pulling Out of the Nosedive’. Other positive signs are:Charismatic Black Majority Churches have significantly grown in the past few years. They are one of the main reasons why the decline has not continued at a steep rate. Sunday attendance in churches in Greater London has grown in the past seven years bucking the trend in almost everywhere else in England. Pentecostal churches have grown as have some New Church streams – most notably New Frontiers – have experienced growth through their aggressive church planting schemes, though overall attendance at New Churches have plateaued. Alpha and other inquirers courses continue to bring in new converts. Most towns have at least one largish church, typically Anglican or Baptist, which is growing numerically and with a thriving children’s and youth ministry. Most cities have several (see the news story on page xx??xx for further details).
The American statistician William E Deming once said; "The only useful function of a statistician is to make predictions, and thus to provide a basis for action."
Dr Peter Brierley of Christian Research, who organised the English Churches survey considers the single most important ‘action’ to come from these statistics relates to youth and children’s ministry. Brierley says, “In the future, the churches that survive will be the ones that invest in children and youth ministry now. Run these trends forward 20 years and you’ll find fewer churches. But the ones that are left will be larger, and they’ll be involved in youth and children’s work. The evidence would suggest that you need a youth or children’s worker in order to survive. The question then is no longer, ‘do we want a youth or children’s worker?’ Now it’s ‘do we want to survive?’”
Many English churches have been putting increasing priority on youth and children’s ministry. The churches now employ more youth workers than the state – and this explosion of youth pastor-type posts continues – you only need to look at our Jobsearch pages each month to see that.
But as well as salaried staff the church calls on a small army of volunteers to provide a range of youth and children’s work that blesses Christian kids and reaches out into the wider community. I’m proud that our sister title Youthwork provides a monthly magazine full of ideas, resources and guidance to help build and sustain quality youth ministry. The magazine is also part of a partnership of organisations which organise Youthwork the Conference – which this month will attract upwards of 2,000 for a weekend of training, encouragement and resources – see the advert on page 50.
The English census has implications for churches throughout the UK. These numbers matter. Unless your church invests in 5-18s, how do you expect it to survive? There are many creative options that are available but as Brierley suggests passivity is not an option.
John Buckeridge is the Senior Editor of Christianity magazine.