Church of England reports 'growing stability' in attendance
New figures from the Church of England released today reveal the increasing popularity of Christmas services and a "growing stability" in weekly service attendance.
The annual statistics for 2011 also show an increase in child and adult baptisms.
The number of worshippers attending Christmas services in 2011 was 14.5% higher than the previous year, reaching a total of 2,618,030.
While poor weather on Christmas Day 2010 may have been a factor in the leap, the Church of England said initial returns from 2012 also suggest attendance over the festive season increased on the previous year's high.
The Church said there had been a "stabilising" of average weekly attendance figures, with a drop across England of 0.3% to 1,091,484.
Twenty out of the Church of England's 44 regional areas saw growth in church attendance, and nationally the number of children and young people attending rose by 1.2% to 216,928.
The Bishop of Norwich, the Right Reverend Graham James, said: "The attendance figures are heartening, especially the very strong growth in Christmas day attendance.
"The encouraging news of further growth to come even on these high figures is very welcome and points to a growing trends.
"Also welcome is the stabilising of the numbers of those who attend church services on a weekly basis. With almost half of our dioceses showing growth, there is a quiet confidence underlying these figures."
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The number of christenings also increased by 4.3% and was accompanied by a rise of just over 5% in adult baptisms with a combined total of 139,751 baptisms, equivalent to an average of over 2,600 baptisms conducted by the Church of England each week during 2011. Thanksgivings for the birth of a child also rose by 11.9% to 6,582.
"The growth of the numbers of children and young people attending is an encouragement and reflects the investment made by churches across in the country on youth and children's workers to serve not only the church but the whole parish," said Bishop James.
While church weddings fell by 3.6% in 2011, to 51,880, the number of wedding blessings - Services of Prayer and Thanksgiving following a civil ceremony - was up by 4.5%. The wedding figures confirm the trend of the past decade where the Church of England married an average of 1,000 couples every week.
There were also fewer church funerals, with Church of England clergy and lay ministers conducting 162,526 in 2011, a fall of 2.8% on the previous year.
These reflect figures from the Office for National Statistics, which showed a fall of 1.8% in deaths in England and Wales in 2011.
On these figures the Church of England conducted an average of over 3,000 funerals every week in 2011 - over 400 every day.
Bishop James added: "These figures are a welcome reminder of the work and service undertaken by the Church of England annually. 1,000 couples married, 2,600 baptisms celebrated and over 3,000 funerals conducted every week of the year."