Attendance growing at Anglican Cathedrals

Let's face it, recent news from the Church of England has not all been good. Assertive atheism is urging people to abandon Christianity altogether. Church attendance remains low, as does the number of young clergy. Die-hard traditionalists are being wooed away by Roman Catholicism as the Church of England moves toward allowing women bishops.

But there is some good news: attendance at the 43 Cathedrals, and Westminster Abbey (site of the recent and much-watched royal wedding), has been growing - between 7 and 10% according to a report released by the Church of England earlier this month. That's right, in what is supposed to be an increasingly secular Europe some very traditional Christian communities are actually growing.

It might be worth asking, what they are doing right, to be reaching more people. Certianly, the cathedrals are known for beautiful and lofty liturgy, glorious (often gothic) architecture, and sublime music as well thoughtful teaching & lectures, and varied community ministries.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced this news means much, and I see it mostly touted as 'good news' by Americans than by British. I saw the same effect in my facebook and twitter feed during the royal wedding (i.e., Americans gushed over how wonderful it was that this beautiful church liturgy was being broadcast around the world and British people saying how a great opportunity was lost to do something different rather than impressing the bad stereotypes of boring church worship - I'm not pretending this is scientific). I simply don't know what to make of it, but overwhelmingly, most British people are not looking for this style (or really any style) of worship.

I don't mean to say this isn't positive. There is something to be hopeful about. I just think we have a lot of other areas to be looking to turn the church around here rather than thinking that people really want high church liturgy.

3:04 PM, May 22, 2011  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:47 AM, May 23, 2011  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Hi Will, thanks for posting.

Your comment focuses on worship style, but I'm not too sure that liturgy really is the main point here. I would expect, having read other studies about the increasing isolation from meaningful relationships of the contemporary European, that the community factor is far greater than worship style. In fact, I would also guess that some of these cathedrals are experimenting with some alternative worship experiences.

But, at the same time, I think you shouldn't underestimate the appeal of the liturgy to *some* people (even some under-30s like me). If there is a growing group of individuals that are choosing to attend the local cathedral instead of a local "Hillsong" or charismatic type service, then it is clear that there is in fact a niche of people who are going to be receptive to or inspired by the Anglican liturgy. Otherwise the attendance growth (since people are free to go where they like in England) would not be at the cathedrals but at some more "exciting" church, wouldn't it?

But obviously, as you clearly see, the style of worship of the Anglican church is going to be a turn-off to some people who see it as 'boring.' The question I should have added to the original post is "just who are these individuals who account for this attendance growth" and then we have the implied follow-up question, "who are the people who are not likely to be a part of this trend - and what can we do to reach them?"

9:54 AM, May 23, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, my comment was reflecting on your last paragraph. You don't make a direct connection, but I heard an implication about cathedrals and high church liturgy. Some cathedrals are experimenting with alternative worship (Exeter Cathedral comes to mind), but those are not the services that are being recorded. If I had to guess, and I may be wrong, the higher attendance comes in part from Anglicans dissatisfied with their local parish church and now coming to the cathedral where everything is top-notch. Also, it is easier to be 'one of the crowd there'.

I don't doubt the power of liturgy. I myself would consider myself quite at home in Anglican cathedrals. I do get the feeling this is a stronger movement in the US than in the UK. The group you describe (those under 30 who it appeals to) is not large. But, people are not terribly attracted to anything the church does. As you say, the contemporary churches are not bursting at the seams everywhere they start. I admitted as much when I say most aren't looking for anything. Many here would say that non-church goers simply believe all church is at best irrelevant and at worst harmful. Though churches like Holy Trinity Brompton, home of the Alpha Course, is growing and I would say they more than fit what you call 'exciting'. I would say that on the whole, outside of cathedrals, they're doing better than those who try to have traditional worship.

At the moment, I am struggling to find how the church can reach out to people. There are lots of factors to take into account. But, I cannot help but think that my congregation of 50 with a budget that barely makes it can look to the Anglican cathedrals with its paid choir and organist and music programme can find much help from them.

1:08 PM, May 23, 2011  

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