The Archbishop of Canterbury believes "there is every reason to be hopeful about the future of the Church of England" as new research published today highlights churches showing signs of growth across the country in a variety of ways, from church life from newly established congregations and churches to ancient Cathedrals and parishes.
The Faith in Research Conference was held in London to publish and disseminate the executive summary of an 18 month systematic multi-method study into Church Growth in the Church of England.
The research is published against a backdrop of decline of nine per cent in church attendance over the last decade and even more drastic decline since the 1960s.
It identifies factors associated with growth as well as identifying factors in churches which are showing numerical decline.
Fresh expressions of Church (new congregations and new churches) are growing, with around 21,000 people attending in the 10 surveyed areas of the 44 Church of England Dioceses.
There is also significant growth in Cathedrals, especially in weekday attendance. Overall weekly attendance grew by 35 per cent between 2002 and 2012.
Set against this are declining numbers of children and young people under 16 – nearly half of the churches surveyed had fewer than five under 16s.
Amalgamations of churches are more likely to decline, the research indicates. The larger the number of churches in the amalgamation, the more likely they are to decline
Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, commented: "There is every reason to be hopeful about the future of the Church of England, and indeed, all the churches in this country. There are many signs of growth, huge areas of development, and the church is – more than it has been for the last 60 years – demonstrating how essential it is to hold together our society.
"Over time there has been a decline in the percentage of the population that attends church. We need to listen to the message that comes through this research in order to develop our own strategies and stop doing things that help accelerate decline and focus on things that develop growth."
Professor David Voas, quantitative sociologist of religion and Professor of Population Studies at the University of Essex, who carried out some of the research, said: "There is no single recipe for growth; there are no simple solutions to decline. The road to growth depends on the context, and what works in one place may not work in another. What seems crucial is that congregations are constantly engaged in reflection; churches cannot soar on autopilot. Growth is a product of good leadership (lay and ordained) working with a willing set of churchgoers in a favourable environment."
New forms of church include Café Churches, churches in drop in centres, Messy Church and churches which meet in pubs and bars or out in the street. More than half (56 per cent) meet not in churches and over half (52 per cent) are run by non-ordained leaders.
A survey of 1,700 parish churches also helped to identify some of the factors associated with their growth. Researchers have concluded that while there is no single recipe, there are common ingredients strongly associated with growth in churches of any size, place or context:
These include: good leadership, a clear mission and purpose, willingness to self-reflect and learn continually, willingness to change and adapt according to context, lay people as well as clergy involvement and leadership, being intentional about prioritising growth, actively engaging children and teenagers, actively engaging with those who might not usually go to church, good welcoming and follow up for visitors, commitment to nurturing new and existing Christians, and a sense of vision.
The research was commissioned by the Spending Plans Task Group which reports to the Archbishops Council and the Board of the Church Commissioners.
This is the first time that a systematic multi-method study of factors relating to church growth has been undertaken within the context of the Church of England.
Over a period of 18 months, three teams with significant experience carried out detailed quantitative and qualitative research in three strands of work. They sought to investigate the factors influencing growth within the context of the Church of England, focusing on finding areas of ministry which are showing numerical growth and why.
* More data about the research programmes can be found here: www.churchgrowthresearch.org.uk