Church attendances plunge

Christian statistician Dr Peter Brierley has produced new figures showing that attendance at Catholic mass is likely to fall by 24% in the next ten years, taking it down from the present 1.1 million to less than 830,000 (and a drop of 50% over 30 years).

Outside of London and the south-East the proportion of people attending church on an average Sunday in Britain will drop to below 5 per cent of the population. In 1998, the rate was 6% or more.

The drop is sharpest in Wales where, in just 20 years, numbers going to church have slumped from 300,000 to 176,000. Dr Brierley’s data is compiled from church censuses from across denominations going back to 1979. Similarly, the Bishop of Sodor and Man, Robert Patterson, said the 40% fall in Manx Anglicans since 1991 was faster than anywhere else in the Church of England. He warned paid clergy numbers may be reduced to cut costs.

Also notable is a reported drastic decline in the number of young people in British pews. In 1990, 57 per cent were under 45. In 2010, that had shrunk to 37 per cent and it is predicted to fall another 10 per centage points over the next decade. There are significant numbers of churches where no one between the ages of 15 and 19 is attending.

Dr Brierley’s research shows that the number of active Muslims is predicted to rise sharply over the next 10 years. Currently there are 2.2m Muslims in the UK, with half of them active members (defined loosely as attending a mosque at least once a year) and this is likely to grow by 30 per cent to 2.8m by 2020.

By contrast, in 2010, 37.8m people, 62 per cent of the UK’s 61m population, still regarded themselves as part of the Christian community even though the majority only ventured inside a church at weddings, funerals or at Christmas. By 2020, that 62 per cent is expected to have dropped to 50 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Catholic archdiocese of Lancaster is undecided whether to go ahead with the large-scale closure of churches which was proposed by the previous bishop, Patrick O’Donoghue. A 2008 document predicted that attendances, which stood at more than 17,000 in 1974, would fall to just 4,500 by 2020. Father Robert Billing, secretary to the present bishop, Michael Campbell, says “attendances were quite poor and there has not been any significant improvement except in areas where they have been boosted by Polish or Indian Catholics.”