Churches told to learn why worshippers stop attending

Church leaders are today given an urgent wake-up call on the eve of their busiest week of the year with a plea to reach out to their congregations to stem a spiralling decline in members

Church leaders are today given an urgent wake-up call on the eve of their busiest week of the year with a plea to reach out to their congregations to stem a spiralling decline in members

With only one in seven people going to church in the UK every month and only 10pc going every week, a major national study by researchers Leslie Francis and Philip Richter claim people would attend more frequently if they felt churches were responsive to their needs.

Thousands more people are expected to pack churches around East Anglia over Christmas and the report, called Gone for Good?, challenges leaders of churches of all denominations to put in place measures to retain congregations throughout the year.

Mr Francis, professor of religions and education at the University of Warwick, and Mr Richter, director of education at the Southern Theological Education and Training Scheme, insist there should be no "one size fits all" remedy for church leaving, but a flexible model that sees churches catering for different niches.


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"Our findings are especially relevant as churches prepare for the surge in attendance associated with Christ-mas," said Mr Richter. "We want to help churches realise that the people who come through the door at this time of year would attend more frequently if they felt churches were responsive to their reasons for leaving in the first place."

He added: "Individual churches need to play to people's strengths. If someone leaves your church, you may be able to point them to another church where they can feel more at home. There is no 'one size fits all' remedy for church leaving."

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Church leaders in Norfolk admitted that more should be done to encourage people back to the fold throughout the year and not just at the festive season.

The Rev Jan McFarlane, speaking for the Norwich Diocese, said the church was committed to growth in discipleship, numbers and service through a series of projects designed to reach out actively rather than expect members to return to churches.

She said the church was actively involved in promoting "cell groups," which meet weekly in homes and come together with other cells as a local body at celebration services.

"The cell meets to experience God in corporate worship and to receive teaching from His Word. Both are necessary for God's people to be empowered and encouraged into a sense of destiny and purpose in what they do on a Monday-to-Friday basis."

She also conceded that atheist influences exerted on public perceptions through films such as The Golden Compass or books encourage a large section of the society to leave the Christian faith.

However, she insisted that church leaders can regain the loyalty of lapsed churchgoers through flexibility in their approach

"We have been around for the last 2,000 years and we are not going to go that easily. However, churches have to be more articulate in describing their faith, while accepting that if members become dissatisfied with one church, they can be encouraged to attend another, rather than leave altogether. We live in a society where choice is the key word."

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