4 in 10 may attend local church this Christmas
Four people out of every 10 (more than 39%) are likely to attend a local church this Christmas with more than 2.6 million attending Church of England churches and cathedrals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to research released by the Church of England and English Heritage.
A national opinion poll, carried out by Opinion Research Business (ORB) on behalf of the Church of England and English Heritage in October 2003, found that 39% of adults in Britain attended a church or other place of worship over the Christmas period last year. A previous survey, conducted by ORB in 2001, found a level of 33% for Christmas 2000.
Church attendance figures released by the Church of England show that 2.6 million people attended churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2002, the same number as in 2001.
These are among the first figures to emerge from the collection of 2002 data. More detailed statistics will be published in the New Year.
The Rt Revd Richard Chartres, Bishop of London and Chairman of the Church Heritage Forum, commented, "Two messages emerge from this research. A surprising number of people are involved, occasionally if not regularly, in Christian worship especially over Christmas."
"Secondly, church buildings have an important place in local affections, with an impact on cultural and community life which extends far beyond the worshipping congregation."
The ORB poll also discovered that, while more than 8 in 10 adults in Britain (83%) regard their local church as a place of worship, nearly 6 in 10 (59%) think of it as a local landmark and more than 5 in 10 (53%) regard it as an historic place. More than 6 in 10 (63%) said they would be concerned if their local church or chapel were no longer to be there.
Many, the poll revealed, are happy to consider a variety of uses for their local churches and chapels. Three-quarters (75%) agreed churches should also be used for activities other than worship and two-thirds (68%) said they should be social meeting places. When asked how local churches and chapels were funded, 23% thought central taxation and national government was involved. This figure increased to 4 in 10 (42%) when people were asked how they thought local churches and chapels should be funded.
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said, "For many individuals and congregations, the spiritual significance of our churches is beyond measure, but their historical and architectural importance is also immense. In particular, English parish churches make a unique and special contribution to European civilisation.
"Along with ecclesiastical buildings of all denominations, they often stand at the centre of village and inner city life, providing a sort of "social glue" for local communities. This survey shows just how special they are and how much they are loved and valued, even by those who consider themselves non-Christian."
More than 4 out of 5 adults in Britain, 86%, visited a church or place of worship over the last year, according to the ORB poll. These included 89% of Christians responding to the poll, 75% of those of other faiths and 80% of those with no religion.
Almost 1 in 5 (17%) said they had attended a concert or theatrical performance in their place of worship in the last year; 13% said they were "walking past and felt the need to go in", while nearly 1 in 5 (19%) visited to find a quiet space: 12% in 2001. Non-churchgoers value the quiet space with 1 in 10 (9%) giving that as a reason to visit. Among city centre and inner city dwellers, the figure rises to 28% and 24% respectively.
The church continues to have an important place in people's lives. The Church of England's churches and cathedrals provided more than 443,200 rites of passage in 2002 including 158,100 baptisms and thanksgivings, 60,800 marriages and blessings of civil marriages and 224,300 funerals. Attendance levels at marriages and funerals are not recorded.