Beset by the pandemic and declining relevance in society, the Church of England struggles to halt the faithful wandering off.

Perhaps for the first time in a thousand years, the number of people claiming to be Christians in England and Wales is close to falling below 50 percent, according to data from the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Earlier this month, the 2011 census figures were updated, and the image they paint is bleak for the future of Christians in the country.

In 2011 almost 60 percent of people identified as Christians. Now that figure is only 51 percent. Moreover, results from the 2021 census are widely believed to represent a further decline in these numbers, likely turning England and Wales into a majority non-Christian nation.

In an attempt to arrest the decline in worshipers, the Church has spent more than $335 million on a "renewal and reform" program between 2017-2020, seemingly to little avail.

The Church of England, which represents most Christians and churches across the country, has called the challenge "serious and deep-rooted."

Amongst the challenges that the Church faces is an aging congregation (average age of Church attended is 61), a decline in salaried clergy members, a lack of vision amongst some clergy to create a more "hopeful future," a lack of leadership to envision future challenges and institutional inertia.

The Church of England, founded more than 500 years ago, sits atop some of the most prime real estate land in the country.

Some have estimated that the Church of England has more than $29 billion in assets and an endowment of $11.7 billion, which generated approximately $1.3 billion a year as of 2019.

In addition to that, the Church of England benefits from state grants that mean millions of dollars are spent on the upkeep of some of the country's most iconic, culturally significant, and architecturally rich buildings.

Money, therefore, isn't really an issue for the Church of England. So what is driving this seeming inexorable decline for an institution that has been so central to the fabric of the nation?


Go into any English city center, and visitors are met with Cathedral totems that have shaped the spiritual landscape for centuries.

Their grandeur, however, are no longer matched by a congregation.

An average congregation in any given week at an Anglican church was just 27 in 2019, and that was before the Covid-19 pandemic has shut much of daily life in the last two years.

According to the Church's own figures, the Covid-19 pandemic has catalysed the downward trend in attendance.

Earlier this year, the Church of England predicted that the pandemic could see almost 20 percent of worshippers not returning to Church, which would be one of the most dramatic drops in the Church's history.

The pandemic has also resulted in a 20 percent drop in donations which has made many churches financially viable, which in turn will likely result in a decline in the number of paid clergy.

Not all faiths are the same

While the Church of England has experienced a decline in attendance, Evangelical Christian groups have gone in the opposite direction.

Known for the lively and rambunctious gatherings, they have attracted a younger cohort or worshipers. Less stuffy and stripped of ceremonial pomp, they have appealed to a group of people that want to experience faith differently.

And while England may become less Christian, it is not necessarily becoming less religious.

One of the fastest-growing faiths in England is Islam. Between 2001 and 2009, Islam grew ten times faster than most other faith groups. A mixture of conversation, higher birth rates, and migration contributed to that robust increase.

In some cases, abandoned churches have even been repurposed to mosques and, in a sense, remaining faithful to the buildings' original intent.

Can the Church of England catch a break?

One study looking at the churches' impact on British society found that "old churches, with their spiritual atmospheres and social activity, were worth £55bn in economic and social value to the UK every year."

Would English towns and cities be worse off without these grand constructions to the power of faith? An increasing number of activists seem to believe so and, in the process, are looking to nudge an institution that imbues conservatism to adapt and meet the challenges facing it.

Increasingly Church of England parishes are opening up to becoming more wholesome community centres and establishing food pantries for those finding it hard to make ends meet.

In a bid to demystify its image, one Church even became a post office.

But such is the challenge facing the Church that such measures alone may not be enough. Divine intervention might be the Church of England's last and best hope.

Source: TRT World