“Church attendance in Wales ‘plummeting’”
by Sarah Miloudi (“Western Mail”, May 9, 2008)
Cardiff, UK – Churck attendance in Wales could decline to less than a quarter of its current level according to an analysis of the country’s religious trends.
New figures compiled after an analysis of membership of religious bodies have revealed the numbers attending church on a monthly basis could fall from 200,000 to fewer than 40,000 over the next four decades – that is less than the average attendance at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge football ground.
If the predictions are proved true, by 2050 Wales will be home to the smallest church-going population in Britain, as attendance in England was predicted to fall from three million to 700,000, and in Scotland it is expected to decline from 550,000 to 140,000 in the same period.
The figures published yesterday are specific to the numbers attending services based on Christianity, and showed the decline was particularly acute among Methodist and Presbyterian worshipers.
In both cases, worshipers are predominantly aged over 65 and according to the report – entitled Religious trends published by Christian Religion – these are the worshipers who are “dying off”, and their associated churches could have to merge with others in order to survive.
Following publication of the figures, leading religion figures defended the state of church attendance across the country.
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said that although there had been a decline in the numbers attending services, at some churches in Wales, more than 44,000 people attended each week, with the figure rising to more than 72,000 at Christmas.
Dr Morgan said: “All over Wales you can see parishes and churches transforming themselves and the community around them.
“They are fully engaged with their mission to the community in many different ways, with new and exciting initiatives, risks being taken, new avenues explored and new ways reinvigorated.”
He also cited a number of churches which – thanks to new projects to restore their buildings to serve the community – have been kept open, such as St Joseph’s church in Cwmbranin Torfaen.
Dr Morgan also said the role of the church in today’s society had altered, and it could no longer be judged by attendance at services alone.
Lynda Barley, head of research for the Church of England, also said the figures only provided a partial picture of church-going in Britain.
The church felt there was “no reason” to believe attendance would decline to the levels predicted, she said.
However, the Rev James Karran of the Ararat Baptist church in Whitchurch, Cardiff, and the non-denominational pub church, Solace, in Cardiff’s city centre, said he was not surprised by the report’s predictions.
He said: “I have read about some figures of where we will be in terms of church going in the next few years.
“The church is seen as outdated and irrelevant.
“ I do not think this is the case, and I think the Christian message of hope still has a lot to say.
“I think a lot depends on how this message is put across, as people see the old church buildings and 10am starts for services and don’t want that.
“The church is only just starting to realise things need to be done differently.
“It will take a few years before we know if this has worked.”
The research, which analysed membership and attendance of all religious bodies in Britain, including the church census in 2005, also highlighted that in a generation’s time Britain’s Muslim population would be three times greater than the number attending Sunday services at church.
This comes just months after the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested the introduction of some aspects of sharia law into British law was unavoidable.
The Hindu population – which now stands at nearly 400,000 – is also expected to rise.
The researchers predict the number attending Hindu services will have more than doubled to 855,000 within the same period.