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Covid 19 and its impact on attendance at the Church of England’s London community

Updated: Oct 26, 2022

Bishop Welby

Photo credit: Church of England

Though covid 19 had its origins in late 2019, 2020 will go down in history as the ‘covid year.’

Indeed, it was a year like no other as mankind was assailed with a new strain of the coronavirus christened, Covid 19, which left in its wake, fear, apprehension, and uncertainty in apocalyptic proportions as it ravaged the entire globe, grinding all human and economic activity to a halt and culminating in illness and the death of millions as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and governments raced against time to curb its spread.

Consequently, lockdowns, social distancing, mask mandates, and cancelation of all face-to-face meetings including the imposition of strict guidelines to regulate the number of people permitted to attend church activities like baptisms, weddings, or funerals were imposed.

And one institution which was significantly impacted by these regulatory guidelines was the Church as parishes were closed for public worship for months in 2020 thus impacting church attendance/activities negatively.

Data from the church’s website christened: The Statistics for Mission 2020 Report at which x-rays trends in church activities between 2019 and 2020 indicates that all indices for measurement for church attendance and participation dropped significantly in 2020 and this is largely attributable to the covid 19 pandemic.

Activities reviewed include electoral roll, worshipping communities, weekly and Sunday activities, Christmas attendance, Advent, Baptism, Thanksgiving, Marriages, and Funeral services.

While a few activities recorded single-digit drops in attendance, most had over 50 percent decreases.

Though London has the smallest area in terms of population density, it also has the highest number of members accounting for about 8% of the church’s population with approximately 4.5 million worshippers.


Photo credit: Pharmaceutical Technology

The trend for weekly and Sunday activities during the period under review reveals that fewer people went to church in 2020 compared to 2019, both for adults and children.

A further probe reveals that adult average weekly attendance and adult average Sunday attendance saw a decrease of approximately 55, 000 attendants.

Similarly, children's average weekly attendance and children's average Sunday attendance decreased by almost 15, 000 attendants respectively according to the data.

Congregation and community attendance also dropped by almost 140, 000 attendants representing approximately, a drop of 25% between 2019 and 2020. Another area that witnessed a significant decline was Christmas attendance which dropped by approximately 80, 000 attendants during the period under review. There were also significant reductions in baptisms and thanksgivings which dropped by approximately 75% in 2020. Again, there were significantly more funerals in 2020 compared to 2019 and this could be attributed to the Covid 19 pandemic.

Though the pandemic had a significant impact on the worshipping activities at the Church of England in 2020 due to restrictions, most churches were still able to offer services online or by telephone, post, or email as well as in-person services when permitted.

The bar chart above further illustrates the decline in all listed activities from 2019 to 2020. The blue bar represents 2019 figures while the orange bar represents 2020 figures.

Commenting on whether church attendance numbers would resurge and return to normal now that restrictions have been lifted, Nick Edmonds, a Public Relations Officer for the Church of England, admitted that the covid 19 pandemic did significantly impact attendance at church.

He said: “The Covid-19 pandemic was a big challenge not only to the church but all facets of our lives and this cannot be over-emphasized. It significantly impacted attendance at the church of England and this was not unique; it affected all Christian denominations bringing religious activities to a halt due to lockdown restrictions, mask mandates, cancelation of all face-to-face interactions, and social distancing.

"However, ever since restrictions were lifted, there has been a surge in church attendance as life returns to normal. However, it will be premature to give you a figure at this time. We must wait for the next review cycle which comes up later this autumn.”

One criticism facing the church is its failure to attract younger people, especially millennials to its fold and this has been identified as one of the reasons for its significant decline in attendance.

What is the church doing to attract this demographic? “We are taking the church to schools and homes. Currently, we have programs designed to attract millennials and we are working with 4,700 schools so we have structures in place to encourage the participation of millennials.”

Commenting on why the church has not been able to attract millennials to its fold, Pastor Naomi Tolulope-Daniels, Co-Pastor at Day Spring Hub Church, located in London which also has a strong online outreach says

“The church is not following the trend of this day. There is nothing millennials can relate to regarding the way they perceive God hence they don’t have a sense of belonging. It is the age of social media, and they want to connect on Instagram and Tik Tok and the church is not there.”

However, going by what Nick Edmonds, a spokesperson for the Church of England earlier stated, there is hope as measures have been put in place to boost membership post-pandemic. The question now is, with the Covid 19 restrictions finally lifted and with the church’s new interventions targeting millennials kicking off, will church attendance rebound to pre-pandemic levels? Only time will tell.

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