The Official Journal of the Ensign Trust, London





Daily Mail 15.10.15

1 in 4 parishes has fewer than 10 worshippers

DWINDLING congregations mean thousands of historic churches may only open at Christmas and Easter under radical plans proposed by the Church of England.

Centuries old churches across the country may shut their doors for most of the year after attendances in some places fell into single figures.

In a drastic overhaul thousands may become ‘festival churches’ which only open during major religious holidays.

A report on 16,000 Anglican churches found that one in four parishes now has fewer than ten regular worshippers, raising questions as to whether the classic Sunday system is “sustainable”.

In the major report, the Church Buildings review group said: ‘We believe it could help relieve some of the pressures and time constraints on clergy and congregations where buildings are not needed for regular Sunday worship but have a continuing role in the life of the Church.’

The Church of England now has fewer than 800,000 worshippers in the pews on a Sunday, half that of the 1960s.

With an ageing congregation and numbers continuing to fall, the Anglican church is still spending around £160 million a year to maintain thousands of buildings – almost half of which are grade I-listed.

The committee, chaired by the Bishop of Worcester, the Right Reverend Dr John Inge, recommended the move, which is already being tested in a number of dioceses.

The panel of senior clerics and laity also recommended a change in the rules to ease the burden of rural clergy who often are left in charge of numerous churches.

Admitting a serious fall in congregation numbers, the report said: ‘Since the 1980s, the average age of Church of England membership has increased very significantly.

Even with significant recruitment at the younger age levels over the next couple of decades, the overall level of church membership is likely to go on declining, at least for a while, given the current age profile. This raises questions  about sustainability.’

But the report also stated that a change to ‘festival churches’ will not solve the problem of extensive and costly repair works. It said: ‘However, we recognise that this will not of itself address key issues such as ongoing responsibility  for  repair, maintenance   and insurance.

While, for some, relaxing the requirements on holding services will provide the flexibility needed, operating “festival churches” without appropriate, arrangements in place to care for the buildings risks simply storing up problems for the longer term.’

Bishop Inge said: ‘It would, in our view, be a mistake to focus so much attention on buildings that attention was diverted from the underlying issue which is how to reform and renew the Church of England so that it can be more effective in serving the common good and stimulating spiritual and numerical growth.’

‘Moreover, there is – apart from growing the  Church – no single solution to the challenges posed by our extensive responsibility for part of the nations historic heritage.’ Around 78 per cent of the Church of England ‘s 15,700 churches are listed buildings, with many requiring extensive and frequent restoration. It is responsible for almost half of all the grade II listed buildings in England.