Christian Research reverses predictions of numerical decline for UK churches

New data released by Christian Research today suggests that the decline in churchgoing has stabilised and that attendance figures have actually been more or less static for the last five years. This reverses a series of predictions made during the 1990s and into the early 2000s by the former Director of Christian Research, Dr. Peter Brierley. The current Director, Benita Hewitt, points to data from the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Baptist Union of Great Britain which shows a broad stabilisation of church attendance. A simple PowerPoint slide can be downloaded by clicking here and which illustrates these statistics.

The charts show that monthly attendance within the Anglican church has remained steady at around 1.7 million since 2001, whilst weekly attendance has declined in the same period from 1.2 million to a little over 1.16 million, a loss of 40,000 although since 2002 the figure has dipped and peaked around the 1.17 million mark.

The Roman Catholic community in England and Wales measures weekly mass attendance and official figures show that since 2004, the average weekly mass attendance has hovered around 920,000.

Hewitt confidently predicts the end of the decline and hopes that it ‘may even motivate Christians and churches to think that there is a chance of growth, if only they believed in it.’ Figures for the Baptist Union indicate a significant dip in 2004 but otherwise show an increase in membership from 149,000 in 2003 to 154,000 in 2009. Hewitt insists that this is far from evidence of decline and in response to a question posed, she insisted that ‘it’s a trend we’re seeing generally from a number of different sources.’

Writing as Christian Research’s Director, Hewitt states definitively that despite what earlier editions of Religious Trends had predicted, ‘Christian Research’s current view is that it does NOT forecast decline for the future.’

Explore posts in the same categories: Church attendance, europe, research, United Kingdom

4 Comments on “Christian Research reverses predictions of numerical decline for UK churches”

  1. Rita Rimkiene Says:

    ‘may even motivate Christians and churches to think that there is a chance of growth, if only they believed in it.’ I love the second part of the sentence, ‘if only they believed in it’. There is lots to do until churches will understand the concept ‘mission at the door step’.

  2. steve hollinghurst Says:

    to be sure this prediction is correct we need to know more than the hedaline figure. the big predictor of future decline in attendance is age related statistics on the whole whilst obviously some people go to church when older who didn’t when younger the opposite is tru for far more. this combined with the fact that far fewr younger people attend church than older people and in the long term decline still looks likely even if for the last few years atatendance has not been declining. unless we saw a trend of more yougn people remaining in church or come to church who had not been as children we cannpt be confident there will nto be future decline. there is also a simple statisctial fact that becuase decline is a always a percentage of attendance actual numbers leaving become fewer as atatendance declines this means that there is over time a natural shallowing of the curve of decline. lastly these figures could in part be explained by older people living longer. of course there may also be alsorts of good tings happening that are also reversing decline for some churches and some segments of the population – indeed there almost certinaly are. so yes good to see better than expected figures but a trend over a few years means little as of yet!

  3. Graham Sharp Says:


    The charts appear to be based on absolute numbers not percentages, thus the ‘shallowing of the curve’ is absolute and not based on a statistical process.

    Whilst longevity will certainly be having a positive effect on attendance, I have also seen data from the Baptist Union showing a greater number of young people with church affiliation than in the recent past. It’s also true that many Evangelical and black churches are very attractive to young people and attendance in those sectors is growing strongly (and, as far as I can see, not yet included in this analysis).

    I think the most pleasing aspect of this release is that journalists and commentators can no longer use, unchallenged, the c.2000 Peter Brierley Doomsday Scenario ‘forecast’ to predict that hardly anyone will be going to church before very long. The actuality, now known, clearly does not reflect the Brierly vision.

    • steve hollinghurst Says:

      thanks for the comment Graham. it is the age profile that matetrs most so stats suggesting more youhnger people attending would indeed be very good news. normally the churches do, often after some time lag, release more detailed stats so we can then go deeper. the problem of course with any prediction, and that applies to the Brierly projection, is that trends rarely just keep on an old course.

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