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27 June 2013

Death of the UK Church 'greatly exaggerated'

The Church in the UK is alive and well, despite new figures revealing the number of church buildings being closed each year.

Figures from a parliamentary question submitted by Rehman Chishti MP reveal that 139 Church of England churches have closed to worship since 2007.

Last year, 20 churches operated by the C of E closed, and more than 260 have shut in the past 10 years.

Commenting on the figures, Mr Chishti – the MP for Gillingham and Rainham – said: "Churches are at the heart of the local community and although some of them will remain open for other uses, I am saddened to find that they are still closing to regular worship, which is what they were built for in the first place."

The figures could be seen as worrying when looked at alongside data from a YouGov poll this week for The Sun newspaper which revealed the extent to which young people are turning away from faith.

Just one in four young people aged between the age of 16 and 24 said they believed in God, while 38 per cent were atheists. Among the believers 13 per cent attended Church of England churches and nine per cent were Roman Catholic.

Figures revealed in May by the Church of England show that despite these closures, attendance figures at Christmas grew last year, the number of baptisms increased and weekly attendance at services remained stable.

Commenting on the church closure figures, Arun Arora, director of communications for the Church of England, told the Alliance: "The C of E lovingly maintains some 16,000 church buildings across the country. While it is true to say we dispose of about 20 church buildings a year, this should be balanced against the growth of new congregations and services each year which far exceeds the numbers of buildings closed.

"Church buildings represent an important part of any community, often physically reflecting the beauty of holiness and standing as a witness to faith.

"The closure of any church buildings is a sign of moving on, not always for negative reasons."

Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Alliance, said: "It is far too early to sign the Church's death warrant; news of its decline have been greatly exaggerated. Because despite a perceived fall in traditional/established religion, the evangelical Church in the UK is growing, with research showing that vibrant forms of Christian expression are on the up in diverse areas across the country.

"Having said that, we really must remember that the Church is far more than about buildings. The Church is good news for society. And it is our hope, our prayer and our mission that the life-transforming voice of God's people will be heard in the corridors of power, where it is most definitely needed."