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Church of England congregations fall again, and half are pensioners

The Church of England has been hit by a new slump in its congregations, with the latest figures showing its fifth year-on-year decline.

Also, the Church’s first analysis of its worshippers showed that nearly half are pensioners.

The established Church has lost more than 40,000 worshippers since 2003, shortly after Dr Rowan Williams became Archbishop of Canterbury in December 2002. Average weekly attendance fell from 1.187 million in 2003 to 1.145 million in 2008. In spite of a rise in the number of children and young people at services, the average age of a member of a Church of England congregation is 61, according to statistics published yesterday.

The figures also show a slight acceleration in the rate of decline in the past 12 months, indicating that there may be even worse news in years to come.

The most severe of the recent drops came between 2000 and 2001, with a fall from nearly 1.3 million to just over 1.2 million. A slight rise between 2002 and 2003, possibly in response to the appointment of Dr Williams, was more than offset by subsequent falls.

The figures are a particularly severe blow given the high hopes that had been placed on campaigns such as Back to Church Sunday, online prayers to match all crises and occasions and Lent, Easter and Christmas church marketing initiatives.

One reason for the decline, along with the rising age profile, could be the Church’s public quarrelling over homosexuality and women bishops.

Another reason could be that atheist bus posters and other atheist campaigns led by high-profile scientists such as Dr Richard Dawkins could be working. The decline will add fuel to secularist campaigns for disestablishment.
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