Understanding midweek attendance figures

 

The  Church of England publishes both its Usual Sunday Attendance (USA) across its 15,600 churches and also the Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) which is higher (5 per cent in 2017).  It also publishes the weekday attendance across a church’s various activities, and, since 2013, separately the number who attend weekly school services in church.  All are broken down between adults and children.

In a sentence, these various numbers may be summarised as “Sunday attendance is dropping; weekday attendance is increasing.”  The increase in weekday just about compensates for the decrease in Sunday attendance, though the change in total attendance between 2013 and 2017 is slightly down, having dropped -2 per cent.  It is also true that the total number of adults attending church is declining while the total number of children is increasing!

 

Anglican Average Weekday Attendance, 2013 to 2017

 

 

It may readily be seen that the total adult numbers at school services  increased a little between 2013 and 2015 but has been much the same between 2015 and 2017.  Adults at the weekday services have dropped a little since 2015, down from 121,000 to 115,000.  Children’s school services participation, however, has increased very markedly in this period, weekday total rising from 103,000 in 2013 to 151,000 in 2017 – a 50 per cent increase.

One presumes that some, perhaps most, of these school services will be for Church schools, but that is not a necessary condition.  Other schools, for example, like to hold a Christmas Carol Service in their local church.

There is a problem associated with the published figures (not in the graphs), which could probably be avoided.  Some of those coming during the week probably also come on Sunday.  So there are a number of individuals counted twice in these numbers.  This could be rectified by asking, “How many of these [weekday attenders] also come on Sunday?” but the answer will vary according to the type of activity.

In devotional meetings/services, for example, many will also attend on a Sunday; among young people, far fewer come on a Sunday, and for activities for those outside the church (such as Lunch Clubs, Day Centres, Debt Counselling, etc.), hardly any will.  Nevertheless getting some kind of overview of this is important if double-counting is to be avoided.

In the Scottish Church Census of 2016 the overlap was 42 per cent, in the 2012 London Church Census it was 62 per cent, and in the 2005 English Church Census (ECC) it was 25 per cent, all very different and reflecting the territory over which they were measured.

The figures given for the Church of England relate to England, so it would seem right to use the ECC percentage to get the full midweek picture.

In 2013, average Sunday attendance [ASA] (adults and children) was 844,500; weekday but not on a Sunday 111,800, total 956,300, excluding school services attendance of 125,700, a grand total of 1,082,000, or 2.0 per cent of the population.

In 2017, ASA 756,000; weekday but not on a Sunday 104,500, total 860,500, excluding school services of 196,500, a grand total 1,057,000 or 1.9 per cent of the population.

In other words, 2 per cent of the English population attended a Church of England church in 2013 (1.6 per cent on a Sunday and 0.4 per cent midweek), and 1.9 per cent in 2017, 4 years later (1.4 per cent on a Sunday and 0.5 per cent midweek).  Total Sunday attendance across all denominations in 2013 was 5.6 per cent and in 2017 it was 5.2 per cent, so the Church of England had 29 per cent of Sunday attendance in 2013 and 27 per cent in 2017.

The percentage has dropped between the two years because the Church of England is losing people on a Sunday at a faster rate than the other English denominations taken together.

There are substantial numbers also attending midweek, a proportion not known for the other denominations.  So 0.5 per cent of the population in 2017 is 280,000 people, but given that in 2005 only 42 per cent of churches had a midweek service, only 27 per cent ran a youth activity and only 20 per cent some kind of outreach event (these percentages being across all denominations), and the percentages are likely to be less in 2017, this is still quite a significant number of extra people which the Church of England is reaching in one way or another if their percentages are similar.

All this tends to show that measuring midweek church activity is not straightforward, but such measurements as have been attempted indicate that Sunday numbers in 2017 should perhaps be increased by the order of 25 per cent to get an estimate of total reach of the church in England.

 

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