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Signs of Growth

Signs of Growth: Cathedrals, Fresh Expressions and Parishes across the Country provide Grounds for Growth of Church of England

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that "There is every reason to be hopeful about the future of the Church of England" as new research published today has found churches showing signs of growth across the country in a variety of areas of 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 9% in church attendance over the last decade and identifies factors associated with growth as well as identifying factors in churches which are showing numerical decline.

Key findings of the research include:

  • Significant Growth Fresh expressions of Church (new congregations and new churches) with around 21,000 people attending in the 10 surveyed areas of the 44 Church of England Dioceses.
  • Significant growth in Cathedrals, especially in weekday attendance. Overall weekly attendance grew by 35% between 2002 and 2012.
  • Declining numbers of children and young people under 16 - nearly half of the churches surveyed had fewer than 5 under 16s.
  • Amalgamations of churches are more likely to decline - the larger the number of churches in the amalgamation, the more likely they are to decline

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury said:

"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.

"The turnaround of the church is fundamentally in the hands of God. God is faithful. He has shown that in Jesus Christ, and He shows that to us every day in our lives - and in the lives of our churches together. But He calls on us to be his feet, his hands, his mouth, his eyes, his ears, who listen to and serve and love the people around us, who above all witness to the reality of the love of Jesus Christ."

Andreas Whittam Smith, First Church Estates Commissioner and Chair of the advisory panel which commissioned and oversaw the research, also welcomed the findings:

"The findings of this research provide facts figures and stories which are helpful to the Church and vital to our understanding of which factors contribute to growth.

"There is now a substantial body of evidence and the findings have provided a firm foundation for researching further some of the associations found. Understanding how to share the Good News of the Kingdom of God effectively is important. It is particularly encouraging to see evidence in the research that many churches are responding to the need to reach out to those who might not normally go to church, being willing to change and adapt to different trends and contexts."

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."

Certain churches stand out as having experienced significant growth.

Fresh expressions of Church,  new forms of church which meet in a variety of venues and seek to engage especially with non-church goers, have seen significant growth.  The number of new attenders at the 477 fresh expressions of Church within the ten regions surveyed is equivalent to adding the attendees of one new medium sized diocese (around 21,000).

These 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%) meet not in churches and over half (52%) are run by non-ordained leaders.

Cathedrals have shown significant growth in overall numbers over the last decade and especially in weekday attendance. Overall weekly attendance grew by 35% between 2002 and 2012.  Especially significant is weekday attendance, which has more than doubled in ten years from 5,600 in 2002 to 12,400 in 2012. In a survey of cathedral worshippers, peace and contemplation, worship and music and a friendly atmosphere were identified as the top three motivating factors for attending.

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:

  • Leadership
  • A clear mission and purpose
  • Willingness to self-reflect and learn continually
  • Willingness to change and adapt according to context
  • Lay 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
  • Vision


Notes to Editors:

  • Executive Summary can be found here
  • 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, focussing on finding areas of ministry which are showing numerical growth and why.
  • More data about the research programmes can be found here:
  • Infographics of the key findings are available on request.
  • Case Studies of growing churches are available on request. These include:

Liverpool Cathedral (Zone 2) (Cathedral/Fresh Expression of Church)

St Mary, Willand (Rural parish)

Radford Parish - (Urban/Lay leaders/multi (2) church parish)

Christ Church, Norris Green (Church moving out of a church building)

St John, Hackney (Urban parish)

Bitterne Messy Church (Fresh expression of Church)

"St Luke's in the High Street (Fresh expression of Church - Walthamstow)
The Marlpit (Fresh expression of Church - Norwich, serving the Marlpit estate)
Thirst Too (Fresh expression of Church - Cambridge, started in community lounge with parents)

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