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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Harriet Sherwood

Church of England figures show attendances hit by Covid

Church service showing worshippers from behind
C of E services were attended by 685,000 people in 2023 – 62,000 less than the projection – or 1.2% of the population of England. Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

The Covid pandemic accelerated a decline in the number of people who regularly attend Church of England services, according to data.

If there had been no pandemic – during which churches were closed for several months – the C of E estimates that about 747,000 people would have attended weekly services in 2023, continuing a declining trend.

Preliminary analysis of data gathered by the C of E shows 685,000 worshippers attended services in 2023 – 62,000 less than the projection – or 1.2% of the population of England.

In the pre-pandemic year of 2019, weekly attendance was 854,000, or 1.5% of the population.

However, some recovery was seen in 2023, with weekly attendance figures rising by almost 5% overall, and nearly 6% for under-16s.

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, welcomed the figures, saying he hoped they would encourage clergy and congregations “who have shown such faith, hope and confidence over recent years to share the gospel with their communities”.

He added: “These are just one set of figures, but they show without doubt that people are coming to faith in Jesus Christ here and now – and realising it’s the best decision they could ever make.”

Stephen Cottrell, the archbishop of York, said: “For the first time in a long time we have seen noticeable growth. Of course we don’t yet know whether this growth is a trend but I take it as a great encouragement that our focus on reaching more people with the good news of Jesus, establishing new Christian communities, wherever they are, revitalising our parishes, and seeking to become a younger and more diverse church, making everyone feel welcome, is beginning to make a difference.”

The C of E will publish full attendance data in the autumn.

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