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The Decline of the Church of England 2001-2011

Decline of the Church of England Update to 2012

Model Results

Principles of Long Term Decline

Church of England 2001-2012

Anglican Decline in the West

Southern Baptist 1980-2012

UK Methodist & Catholic churches in Hayward (2005), and Effective Evangelism

USA Methodist & Episcopal in Hayward (2005), and Revival or Extinction

Aging and Church Decline

Model Construction

Demographics Model

This model of long-term growth, is an extension of the Limited Enthusiasm model which includes births, deaths, reversion and recycling.

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Limited Enthusiasm with Demographics

Church of England 1979-1998

UK New Churches 1990-2000

Related Results

Long Term Growth

Church of England 2001-2011/12

Application of the Limited Enthusiasm Model with Demographics

Attendance data for the Church of England from 2001 to 2011 was fitted to the Limited Enthusiasm Model of Church Growth. It was found that although the church is slowly declining, the most likely scenario is that it will avoid extinction and start growing again around 2035. The enthusiasts in the church, those responsible for the growth should start increasing around 2020. Although church attendance will stabilise, it will be well below current levels. The church has some work to do in conversion and retention if it is to see the revival-type growth needed to regain its impact on society

Attendance 2001-2011

In May 2013 the Church of England published its attendance figures from 2001 up to 2011, Statistics for Mission 2011. The figures have shown a steady decline but without the decline accelerating. In some years the decline has got smaller. There are figures for Sunday attendance only and for Sunday and weekday attendance combined. The latter is used in the data fitting below as weekday meetings have become better attended with the spread of Sunday trading and the church's age profile.

The church quotes highest, average and lowest figures. The average has been used. Because the Limited Enthusiasm model is interpreting changes over time, it is not critical which of the three data sets are used, providing they have been consistently measured each year.


The data was compared with the Limited Enthusiasm with Demographics model, which assumes growth is driven by a subclass of church members called enthusiasts who eventually lose their potential to reproduce themselves through the conversion of unbelievers.

A best fit between model and data gave a value for the reproduction potential and the two thresholds of extinction and revival growth. Many such "best fits" were obtained for a variety of initial values of enthusiasts and hardened unbelievers, as their values cannot be measured. From that range of "best fits" the number that show extinction was compared with the number that indicate survival.

Other parameters are determined as follows:

  • Birth and death rates were taken from figures published by the Office for National Statistics. Migration was added to the birth rate. Average figures are taken.
  • The reversion rate was estimated at 5% per year, typical of figures that were obtained by data fits to a variety of churches (see A General Model of Church Growth and Decline). It should be noted that small variations in this figure have little effect on the likelihood of extinction or survival.
  • Retention of children born to church members was taken as 30%. This figure is based on religious transmission rates for Christianity given as a comparison with Islam in "Intergenerational Transmission of Islam in England and Wales: Evidence from the Citizenship Survey", Scourfield J., Taylor C., Moore G., and Gilliat-Ray S., Sociology, 46(1): 91-108.
  • The average time taken for a leaver to be open to returning to church again was taken as 20 years. This figure is based on a past survey where only 20% of those who leave church return and that after an average of 10 years. See Brierley, The Tide is Running Out.


The majority of best fits, 66%, indicate that the church will avoid extinction, however there is no convincing sign that there is any underlying revival growth. The most likely scenario is that the Church of England will survive, but at a significantly reduced level.

A pessimistic data fit, where the Church of England eventually becomes extinct, can be compared with an optimistic fit, where the church survives. Figure 1 compares two such fits with the data. There is little to choose between them on the basis of the data from 2001 to 2011. However extrapolating from 2012 onwards the optimistic scenario shows increasing signs of a slow down in decline. The predicted difference by 2020 is significant.

Figure 1: Best Fit to Church of England Attendance 2001-2011

On the basis of attendance figures alone it is not possible to distinguish between the pessimistic and optimistic fits. To draw a clearer conclusion additional information is required, such as the number of enthusiasts, which would be very difficult to measure. However evidence for the effect of enthusiasts, such as increasing use of the Alpha course, community engagement, prayer meetings, church planting etc. might be easier to obtain, and would help in given more confidence in one scenario over the other.

The two scenarios can be extrapolated further into the future, assuming enthusiasts remain at the same effectiveness. The top graph of figure 2 gives church attendance. The pessimistic fit shows decline at the same rate to almost 2040, however the optimistic fit suggest the church starts growing again after 2035. This is due to a recovery in enthusiasts, as seen in the bottom graph of figure 2. In the optimistic scenario the enthusiasts start increasing again, nationally, after 2020. This is enough for the church to avoid extinction and dropping below an attendance of 800,000, but not enough for it to return to the 2001 figure.

Figure 2: Church of England Attendance & Enthusiasts Extrapolated to 2040

As optimistic scenarios were the more common of the data fits then there is some confidence that the Church of England may not be declining so much as to become extinct and will see a small recovery in the next 20 years.


There are a number of conditions that must be applied to this result.

  1. The church has an increasingly older age profile than society, thus the death rate of its attenders will increase over time. Thus recovery would take longer.
  2. The model aggregates together congregations that are dying through aging, perhaps the majority, with a smaller number of growing and healthy congregations where most of the enthusiasts are based. In that case the underlying growth in enthusiasts would be underestimated and the reproduction potential of the enthusiasts should be higher. Thus the church would be more likely to see a future recovery. Such a recovery would involve churches with enthusiasts re-starting congregations in redundant parishes so that new pools of unbelievers can be tapped.
  3. The birth rate has been assumed to remain constant. It has increased recently in the UK, and this may make future growth in the church a little easier.
  4. Migration has been assumed constant. Migration has had a large impact on Pentecostal and independent churches in London, but it is doubtful if it has had much impact on the Church of England nationally. Migration may fall in the future; there again it may increase.

An update for 2012 data shows no change in the above analysis. A downward revision of the number leaving, has forced a downward revision of the number of conversions, thus making extinction more likely, though slower. Discussed in the Blog.

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Church Growth Modelling