Church of England is 'standing on the brink of a precipice'

(Photo: Church of England)

As the General Synod of the Church of England gathered once again in London on Friday, Rev Ian Paul, a member of the Archbishops' Council challenged the agenda in forceful terms.

Suggesting that Synod had made "avoiding reality a bit of an art form," he claimed that the Church of England is "standing on the brink of a precipice". A precipice which could leave the next generation with nothing but a "heap of ruins" to fight over.

Rev Paul suggested that the last 10 years of discussions about sexuality have left the Church "more anxious, more divided and more uncertain than ever before," and he held out little hope that another eight hours of debate - as scheduled next week - would provide any answers.

"Fiddling while Canterbury burns doesn't even capture it," he said, pointing to the real problem of a Church on the brink of disintegration.

"Over the same 10 years adult attendance has declined by 30 per cent, child attendance by 40 per cent," he said. 

He said that "there is a very real prospect that ministry is going to completely collapse in large parts of the Church of England within the next five years."

However, he was clear that decline was not inevitable.

"The Church in England is not in decline, other churches are growing," he pointed out. "But we are reluctant to learn from them. We now represent less than 18 per cent of all Christians in a church on a Sunday."

This view is backed up by the Bible Society – who found that the proportion of people attending church changed very little between 2018 and 2023. Their research showed 7% of the population attend church weekly and one in ten attend once a month.

In an article for Baptists Together, Mark Woods, a Baptist minister said, "In terms of overall numbers, the Church in England and Wales is not declining. But it is changing shape, and increasingly less white.

"However, when historic denominations extrapolate a narrative of inevitable decline from their own difficulties, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – who wants to take a cruise on a sinking ship?"

This is not the first time Rev Paul has tried to draw Synod's attention to these challenging statistics, nor is it likely to be the last. The question is whether anyone will listen.

"Brothers and sisters," he finished, "if we continue to avoid this reality, if we continue with this fruitless conversation, that will be the legacy we leave - the Church of England - a heap of ruins for the next generation. It's up to us."

Susie Leafe is director of Anglican Futures, which supports orthodox Anglicans in the UK.