Sunday church attendance in the Church of England has not recovered since the Covid pandemic. For the first time in its history, more than a quarter of Anglican churches no longer hold a service every week.
That’s according to figures analysed by statisticians in the Diocese of Oxford, who gathered evidence from a sample of over 1000 churches in five dioceses.
Their report found that tiredness and financial struggles forced Anglican churches to cut Sunday services, compared with 2019, when about 19 per cent did not offer a service every Sunday. By October last year, the report found that had risen to 26 per cent.
“There's exhaustion and stretched church leaders and church volunteers”, commented Graham Nicholls from Affinity, which is a partnership of gospel churches.
Speaking to Premier Christian News, he said the issue post-Covid was also common across evangelical churches of all denominations.
“It hasn't quite been recovered from, or thought about enough. We all kind of got back onto doing what we were doing before”, he continued. He also said that the report underlined the importance of taking good care of leaders and volunteers.
“Churches are full of volunteers. They're massively engaged with volunteers”, he added. “And they need to make sure we don't take those for granted. The report is a great reminder to really value those who are volunteering their time in our church communities”.
A fall by a fifth in the number of church services offered wasn’t down to a lack of demand, the report also found, but because of a “limited supply of church services”.
Graham Nicholls also leads a church in Haywards Heath. He said there remain plenty of opportunities in Anglican churches for getting people back to church:
“The Anglican church is in a bit of a nosedive trying to rationalise and make the best of resources, rather than sort of positively thinking: how can we make use of these wonderful buildings that places us in towns and villages right across the country, with opportunities for gospel work and gospel proclamation and being more positive about that?”
Describing a controversial “dialogue going on about rationalising the buildings and congregations”, Mr Nicholls urged greater creativity and a rallying together:
“I think the gospel needs to go into villages as much as it does into the big urban centres. And those churches are in just such amazing locations. Maybe Anglicans need to offer it to us Free Church guys to say ‘do you want this building in the centre of this picturesque village’? And maybe we take them.”