Clicks instead of Communion: Church of England goes digital as attendance hits new low

The Church of England's congregations are ditching Mass for Macbooks as regular attendance is being replaced with digital engagement.

The CofE's long-term decline shows no sign of slowing as the latest figures released today show fewer and fewer people are weekly churchgoers.

Stephen Radford/ UnsplashWilliam Nye, the CofE's top mandarin, admitted the challenge was to translate digital growth to physical attendance.

But the Church tried to gloss over the new low in attendance and pointed to statistics showing it was reaching more than one million every month through its digital drive. A new social media strategy is seeing communion replaced with clicks as 1.2million engaged with the Christian message through the CofE's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Last year the Church hired its first head of digital communications, Adrian Harris, who previously ran the online strategy for Tesco, Bupa and the Conservative Party, as part of its 'renewal and reform' programme to try and stem the tide of decline.

Paid more than three times the average clergyman, Harris' mission as a 'digital evangelist' is to 'take risks for the Gospel in exploring how digital engagement can lead to spiritual and numerical growth'.

He said the latest figures of online engagement showed more people want to know about Jesus.

'As the digital evangelism statistics show, people across the country are engaging with the Church's digital and social media platforms to grow in faith and find out more about the Christian faith,' he said.

William Nye, the CofE's top civil servant, said the figures for actual attendence are 'a sobering reminder of the long-term challenge' and he admitted the decline is 'likely to persist for some years ahead'.

But he pointed to the digital drive as one way the Church was trying to stem the tide 'as the online dimension of people's lives becomes ever more significant'.

He said: 'Our challenge is to join up that growing online Church life to the physical community of Church that forms the body of Christ.'

But the investment into Church House's bolstered communications team is showing glimmers of making tangible difference in the numbers attending church.

Alongside the decline inaverage Sunday attendance, other indicators of growth such as its 'worshipping community' – a measure of numbers coming to church once a month or more – remained relatively stable at 1.1million and the numbers at Christmas rose from 2.5million to 2.6million.

Dr Rachel Jordan, the Church of England's national mission and evangelism adviser, said: 'The Church of England has taken seriously the challenge of ageing congregations and is sharpening its focus and work on the opportunities of reaching new generations in different ways - church growth starts young. Our digital presence has been boosted by the work of the Renewal and Reform programme investing in an excellent team communicating effectively with millions through digital campaigns.'