Bishop of Hereford's Article - Hereford Times 11/10/18

    Talking Points
    11 Oct. 2018

    “Does it concern you,” someone asked me the other day, “that fewer and fewer people go to church?”

    It’s not an easy question to answer. If I’m too defensive I will sound like a football manager who says that really his team would have won if only the other team hadn’t somehow scored some goals; or politicians claiming that they effectively won the election and would have done so if it hadn’t been for those who had thoughtlessly voted against them.

    The fact is, a recent survey from the National Centre for Social Research suggested that in 15 years the number of 45-54 year olds who describe themselves as Church of England fell from 35 to 11 per cent.

    I won’t give too many statistics, but almost three out of four 18 to 24 year olds said they have no religion, a rise of nine percentage points in just three years. Although numbers in some of the newer churches are increasing quite rapidly, overall there is significant decline.

    So, my answer is, yes, I am concerned, especially where it indicates a dismissal of the Christian faith. But it’s not a black and white picture.

    • There are many who are spiritual without being religious. In other words, their aliveness to spiritual issues is not expressed in regular church attendance. Yes, I want to help them make the connection.
    • There’s much less meaningless classification than there used to be. Everybody admitted to hospital, for instance, used to be labelled C of E unless they specifically said otherwise. Churches have a lot more about them than gathered members. As important as coming together is going out to serve others. Many churches punch way above their weight.
    • Sundays have changed out of all recognition in recent years, leading to all sorts of other things which encourage people away from church. But that has meant that churches are doing much more on other days. There is all sorts of “church” in schools, community centres and elsewhere, not always on Sundays.
    • For all these statistics, there are many churches of all denominations which are growing, both numerically and spiritually. With faithfulness, imagination and perseverance they continue to serve their communities and gather for worship. So, yes, I’m concerned, but there’s also much that heartens me, and I unashamedly want to encourage, not churchgoing for the sake of it, but engagement with what faith is about.

    +Richard Frith – Bishop of Hereford.