Church of England churches saw a significant rise in weekly attendance in 2021 but figures remain far lower than before the pandemic, according to new statistics released on Tuesday.
Statistics for Mission 2021 showed that weekly attendance at all-age services – including Sunday and midweek services – rose from 345,000 in 2020 when many churches were closed, to 605,000 in 2021, the year restrictions eased.
Despite the rise, figures remain nearly a third lower than in 2019 when average weekly attendance was 854,000.
In 2021, adult average weekly attendance was 28% lower than in 2019, while child average weekly attendance fell by 38%.
The total ‘Worshipping Community’ – defined in the report as people who attend worship regularly, once a month or more, both in person and at home – fell from 1.113 million in 2019 to 1.031 million in 2020 and 966,000 people in 2021 – standing at around 1.7% of the English population.
Easter and Christmas services were affected, dropping by 56% and 58% respectively since 2019, as was school service attendance, which saw a decline of 51%.
Over a third (36.4%) of people attending CofE services last year were over the age of 70 – well above the 13.6 per cent of the general population in this age group.
“It continues to be the case that people aged 70 and over make up a considerably larger proportion of the Church of England’s Worshipping Community than of the population of England,” the report states.
Commenting on the figures, the Church of England said the data reflected “another anomalous year” and that many churches continued to be affected by Covid measures.
“The pandemic continued to have an impact on the life of the Church of England, with some churches being closed for worship for parts of 2021 and some members of congregations continuing not to attend in-person services,” the summary to the report says.
“It would be very surprising, therefore, if Church of England attendance and participation in 2021 returned to their pre-pandemic levels.
“This report should be treated as a summary of another anomalous year, indicating the extent to which things have ‘bounced back’ but noting that further bouncing back is expected.”
In addition to the figures on worship, the report praises the “impressive” adaptability of clergy during a challenging couple of years.
Dr Ken Eames, of the CofE’s Data Analysis Team and author of the report, said, “2021 was another year of Covid-related disruption for churches, as the figures in this report show.
“The figures from 2020 and 2021 describe the extraordinary times that churches and their communities have been through and need to be understood in that context.
“My expectation is that we will see a further return of worshippers to churches in 2022.”