Migrants fill empty pews as Britons lose faith
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
The rate of decline in church attendance has been slowed by an unexpected factor the influx of Christians from Africa and Europe.
One of the biggest surveys among Britain's 37,000 churches, published today, finds that the growth of immigrant-led churches has partly offset dwindling congregations elsewhere.
The news will cheer Church leaders. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said the phenomenon was having a healthy impact on mainstream Churches.
But the survey also shows that congregations are getting older as young people continue to abandon the pews, which could have a devastating impact in a decade.
The 2005 English Church Census, carried out by the independent Christian Research organisation, finds that, between 1998 and 2005, half a million people stopped going to a Christian church on Sunday. The figure is lower than expected because a million left in the previous nine years.
The survey finds that black-led Pentecostal churches in immigrant communities gained about 100,000 worshippers since 1998.
Although churches of all denominations and sizes have stemmed their losses, most growth has occurred in the larger charismatic and evangelical churches.
The research shows that black people now make up 10 per cent of all Sunday churchgoers in England, while other non-white ethnic groups add a further seven per cent.
In inner London, fewer than half the worshippers are white, with black Christians accounting for 44 per cent of churchgoers and non-white ethnic groups 14 per cent.
The impact of Roman Catholic Croatians and Poles and Orthodox Russians and Greeks has been significant.
The findings will give the churches hope that they are pulling out of the decline they have been in for decades.
Overall, however, they are losing far more than they are gaining. While 1,000 new people are joining a church each week, 2,500 are leaving.
Just 6.3 per cent of the population goes to church on an average Sunday, compared with 7.5 per cent in 1998, although more people are going midweek.
Dr Williams, who wrote the foreword to the research, said one of its most striking findings was the number of thriving churches started by immigrant communities.
“This is having a big impact on our major cities, where the black majority churches are growing fast,” he said.
“People from ethnic minorities are also bringing new life and energy into churches from established denominations such as the Church of England. This is one of the reasons why the Anglican Diocese of London, for example, is now growing steadily.”
However, the Archbishop acknowledged that the mainstream denominations faced serious problems as the average worshipper was getting older.
The research, based on questionnaires from 19,000 churches, finds that 29 per cent of churchgoers are 65 or over compared with 16 per cent of the population.
It also finds that nine per cent of churches have no one aged under 11 in their congregations.
“The last English Church Census, carried out in 1998, showed an alarming decline in the number of children and young people in church,” said Dr Williams. “These latest results suggest we have yet to reverse this, but at least the rate of change has slowed.”