The average Anglican church held just four funerals and one wedding last year, while baptisms were down to just three.
Figures published by the Church of England in its annual Statistics for Mission report also show that fewer than 700,000 people regularly attended Sunday services, a fall of 14 per cent in the space of a decade. The average congregation size is now 42 people, increasing to just 75 at Christmas.
The figures are based on information supplied by around 16,000 parishes before the pandemic, which means the situation will likely get worse over the course of this year.
Dr Ken Eames from the Church of England’s research and statistics unit, wrote: “As I write this, in early September 2020, it is unclear what further closures – either local or national – there will be, and when, if ever, churches will return to ‘normal’.
“I am certain that the 2020 Statistics for Mission report will take a very different form, as it tries to describe the work that churches have done in 2020.”
There were, however, a significant number of people who tuned into online services during the pandemic. Anglican leaders claim three million people have joined 17,000 virtual services since the start of lockdown.
“At a time when many have felt isolated and fearful, Church of England parishes and clergy have broadcast thousands of online church services and events, seeking to bring comfort and hope to their communities,” Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, said.
“We know that tens of thousands of those tuning in will never have had contact with their local Church of England parish before and may never have heard the Christian message.
Their welcome presence is a sign of the great hunger we all have for spiritual meaning in our lives.”
Catholics may be wondering what this all means for them. There is, first of all, a caveat: there are many more Anglican parishes than there are Catholic ones, and many are in remote rural locations where we should expect tiny congregations. That said, the numbers confirm a trend towards increasing irreligiosity in British society. The Catholic Church is no more immune to this than the Anglican Church.
Catholics constituted 10 per cent of the UK population in the early 1980s, but this has fallen to seven per cent, whereas the Church of England has declined from 40 to 12 per cent in the same period.
The Catholic Church in England has benefited from immigration from the EU, particularly Poland. This may have helped keep numbers high as newly arrived immigrants replace lapsing congregants. But as Britain leaves the EU the Catholic Church may see numbers fall significantly.
The British Social Attitudes survey found that Christian observance is largely generational, with young people far less likely to attend church, or even claim to hold any religious beliefs, than those aged over 75.
As secularisation increases, believers may have to find new ways to raise their children as Christians.