More alarmingly a study by Tearfund in 2007 found that the dechurched - those who will not go to church because of past hurts and experiences but profess to be Christians - outnumbered regular church goers by 2:1.
The Tearfund study from 2007 makes predictions about church attendance and average age from its study. In 2010 6% of the population will attend church and will have an average age of 51, by 2015 that is 5.2% and 54, and by 2020 4.4% and 56.
The study concludes that there are 4 groups which the church in Britain struggles to reach: Christians, men, young people, and the poor.
They are alarming enough but when you know people in different parts of the country you see that national these figures mask some alarming trends. Take Yorkshire for instance where church attendance on any given Sunday is between 3-4%, whereas in the South East of England it tends to be a bit higher than the average of 6.8%. A similar pattern is established in terms of size of churches, vacant pastorates and I would guess age of population.
The North of England is becoming a mission field in our generation, and yet this seems to be going unrealised and uncommented upon. There are a number of reasons why I think that the North is facing the struggles it does:
- Training is based in the South - good theological training is based in the South of England. This means placements are in the South and a relatively small proportion of graduates come up North after graduation.
- Big churches are in the South - Many Christians want the encouragement and resources that come from going to a big church. And it is tremendously encouraging to go to a church with a few hundred as opposed to a few members, but is it missional in thinking to do so. In fact there are studies that show the optimum church size for evangelistic effectiveness is about 80 adults, and that big churches for all their resources are no more effective at reaching the lost.
- Training roles - big churches also have bigger staff teams which means more training opportunities, assistant pastorates and the like which all equips people for ministry. Smaller churches in other parts of the country can't afford an assistant as well as a minister so there are fewer young pastors looking for churches in the North.
- Apprenticeship/ministry trainees - Again because of size of churches and resources there are more of these in the South, and more attractive ones in the South. This means young men and women keen to serve go down South and many stay there.
- Consumer society - we live in a world that encourages us to consume, consume, consume. That gets us reviewing and evaluating and picking what suits us best, or what we like best. We carry that over into church - we choose churches on the basis of our consumer habits not gospel thinking.
- Perception - There is the perception that it is grim up north, at times it is. But the people are generous and friendly, their is an openness and warmth and above all distinctive gospel living is spotted and commented upon. It is a mission field awaiting missionaries who will live committed gospel lives.
Those are just 6 quick reasons off the top of my head, for some I have no evidence whatsoever bar conversations with church leaders across Yorkshire, Lancashire, the Midlands, London and the South. But they are alarming trends ones which should make us pray.