Sheffield Diocese celebrates Joy for the World
4th December 2017
Just 19 days until Christmas! Churches are now turning their full attention to what is likely to be a very busy festive period. A recent report showed that the number of people attending church at Christmas in 2016 in the Diocese of Sheffield increased for the third year in a row.
The recently released Church of England Statistics for Mission 2016 show that during the Advent and Christmas period, approximately 135,600 people attended services in parishes across the diocese (an increase of 7,500). As many as 60 churches had over 1,000 people through the doors. 35,800 people attended services on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone, again an increase on previous years. At Sheffield Cathedral, attendance on just these two special days increased from 836 in 2015 to 1,338 in 2016 — with still more expected this year. (Service times may be found on the Cathedral website: www.sheffieldcathedral.org)
Many individual churches reported impressive attendances at Advent and Christmas services in 2016: for example, Christ Church Fulwood welcomed 6,000 people; and nearby Ranmoor, 4,800. Doncaster and Rotherham Minsters welcomed 3,500 and 2,250; with Hatfield also seeing 2,500 come through the doors. It shows what a key time in the Christian calendar this period is. This is encouraging news as local parishes plan their Advent and Christmas services for this year.
To help reach even more people with the Christmas message, the Church of England has also launched a digital campaign branded #GodWithUs. Led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, this campaign seeks to help people explore what the Christmas story might mean in our lives. A booklet has been produced for churches to give out to those attending Advent and Christmas services.
These seasonal statistics show a really positive and hopeful trend when put into context of the wider picture of the Church of England Statistics for Mission 2016. Recently published, the annual collection of Mission Statistics seeks information from every Church of England parish - almost 16,000 in total. This gives an accurate picture of church attendance throughout the Church of England. During the last 10 years overall attendance has dropped by 10-15%, in line with the trend of the last half century. There is however a much smaller decline in mid-week attendance, reflecting the increased number of services offered during the week.
The figures also reveal the potential for the church to respond more creatively to the opportunity presented by life events. In Sheffield Diocese there were 14,810 births last year but only 1,940 baptisms, representing 13% of the total. Of the 12,040 deaths, only 3,190 funerals were held in churches or crematoria, 27% of the total. This is particularly startling considering that of a population of over 1,300,000 in the Diocese, some 776,000 describe themselves as ‘Christian’.
The new Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Dr Pete Wilcox (whose first Christmas in the Diocese this will be) said: ‘These attendance figures show that the good news announced to the shepherds in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, that a Saviour had been born, still speaks powerfully into our lives today. Right across the Diocese, churches will open their doors gladly to those who do not worship Sunday by Sunday, confident that something of the love of God revealed in the birth of Jesus will touch human hearts afresh’.
Heidi Adcock, Diocesan Secretary for the Diocese of Sheffield finds the results challenging. “I’m delighted that church is continuing to be a place for people to celebrate the joy of Christmas. Our parishes warmly welcome all to Advent, Christingle and Christmas services in coming weeks. You can discover local service times on the new Church of England website: A Church Near You. Clearly there is much more to learn from the data to ensure we better reflect, understand and serve the needs of our worshipping and wider communities. I would like to thank all those who so faithfully return the figures each week so that a true picture develops. We use this information for planning mission and ministry to the people in our diocese.”
2016 Church of England participation summary
- The Worshipping Community of Church of England churches in 2016 was 1.1 million people, of whom 20% were aged under 18, 49% were aged 18-69, and 31% were aged 70 or over.
- On average, 930,000 people (86% adults, 14% children under 16) attended Church of England services and acts of worship each week in October 2016. A further 180,000 people attended services for schools in Church of England churches each week.
- Usual Sunday attendance at Church of England churches in 2016 was 740,000 people (86% adults, 14% children under 16).
- 1.2 million people attended Church of England churches at Easter 2016 (of whom 71% received communion).
- 2.6 million people attended Church of England churches at Christmas 2016 (of whom 34% received communion). During Advent, 2.5 million people attended special services for the congregation and local community, and 2.8 million people attended special services for civic organisations and schools.
- There were 120,000 Church of England baptisms and services of thanksgiving for the gift of a child during 2016.
- There were 45,000 Church of England marriages and services of prayer and dedication after civil marriages during 2016.
- There were 139,000 Church of England-led funerals during 2016, 57% of which took place in churches and 43% at crematoria/cemeteries.
Trends in participation
- Over recent decades, attendance at Church of England church services has gradually fallen. These trends continued in 2016. Most key measures of attendance fell by between 10% and 15% between 2006 and 2016.
- Although the overall pattern is one of gradual decline, this masks the differences in experience in individual parishes over the past 10 years. In 11% of parishes Usual Sunday attendance has increased. In 38% of parishes attendance has decreased. In 52% of parishes there has been no clear trend.
#GodWithUs – the national Christmas campaign
The 2018 Advent and Christmas Campaign, #GodWithUs has launched. New this year is Your Christmas Journey, a series of short reflections throughout December and into early January 2018, introduced by Archbishop Justin Welby. Churches will be uploading their services times to the A Church Near You website which is soon to be relaunched. All are encouraged to take part in this national campaign.