Church of England Attendance Up: What It Means for American Churches

May 16, 2011

Is God still dead in Europe? In the past few decades, report have shown that church attendance and membership are in steep decline in Europe.  However, last year a report confirmed stable church attendance among United Kingdom churches.    Now, the Church of England reports that attendance in cathedrals is up by 7% this year.

Is this just a Royal Wedding bump?

Not likely.  (The Royal Wedding was only a few weeks ago and Westminster Abbey is not a cathedral.) Certainly, excitement around the royal wedding and the televised wedding service could spark some people to get to church Sunday morning. However, it is unlikely the Royal Wedding will encourage a large increase in church attendance.

The Religion News Service reports that Rev. Lynda Barley, head of research and statistics of the Archbishops’ Council, said that non-Sunday church attendance was up 10% in 2010, and “steady growth” in the past decade.

Are traditional churches heading back from the bottom of decline? Here in the United States, we are seeing the ebbing of the post World War boom in the 20th century where the institutional mainline church was king. Since the late 60’s the mainline church membership has been falling.  Some churches leaders believe we have seen the bottom. Others believe this is just the beginning.

We are seeing a “reset” of organized church. What worked 50 years ago is not working now. Mainline churches need to stop putting money into churches that are dying and start putting money into new church plants. Yes, some churches can be brought back to life, but we are a faith that believes in resurrection!  Something dies and is reborn in newness… why do we not accept this theological concept for churches?

We will continue to have pockets of decline and growth. New churches will start. Old churches will die and some will come back to life.  The Great Awakenings showed us that there are periods of growth and increased interest in religion.  Will we see another Great Awakening soon?

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  • Rick Emerson May 16, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Alan, thanks for writing this blog. I really enjoy reading it. As a pastor of a church that is 125 years old and currently seeing growth and renewal, or “resurrection” as you put it, I like this article. I really think that resurrecting a dying church hinges on the current members ability to embrace change and the leadership’s ability to help people tolerate change and manage change at a rate that keeps things moving yet doesn’t take them past tolerable limits. It is hard to revive a dying church. It is much easier to just start a church plant and do things the way the Pastor thinks they should be done and build that into the culture from the beginning. However, that leaves older churches and senior members out to be stagnant, regress, and eventually die. That’s not modeling the redemption, rebirth, ongoing sanctification, and community that Christ requires of his disciples in the Church. Resurrecting dying churches is hard but so is denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus. That’s what discipleship is and Jesus never said it was going to be easy. As a leader I want to make disciples and then grow them to maturity in all the stages of their life from birth until death. I don’t want to leave any generation behind.

  • Alan Rudnick May 18, 2011 at 11:26 am

    Rick, the popular moment of church planting is growing. You rightly identify that most people think church “restarts” aren’t very sexy.

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