Comments: Cathedral statistics 2012

That is incredible. What specifically is going on to bring that sort of growth, especially among young people to bring them to Cathedrals?

Posted by Josh L. at Monday, 12 August 2013 at 7:39pm BST

This is a direct result of the phenomenon as described
by the sociologist Grace Davie 'believing without belonging'.
People go to an environment that provides
religious experience with neither commitment nor
involvement required.

In this sense Cathedrals damage normal parish
churches where attendance requires much
more in the way of commitment. Generally at least
outside London 'regular' congregations are in

So let's not get too excited.

Posted by Concerned Anglican at Monday, 12 August 2013 at 9:49pm BST

Increased attendance is largely attributable to: (i) the architecture (I assume, for instance, that more people go to, say, Winchester than Portsmouth or Durham than Newcastle); (ii) the music; (iii) the sense that they are belonging to an immemorial tradition; and (iv) because, for some, the cathedral community is a sort of spiritual top drawer. It cannot be denied that, for many, there is a good deal of snobbery involved. In addition, cathedrals have proved very adept at marketing themselves and enhancing the "visitor experience" in a way that is impossible for many cash-strapped parish churches.

There can be no doubt that cathedrals have acted as the proverbial upas tree - sucking the life out of parish churches for miles around. Would the drastic rationalisation of ancient parish churches in London, Norwich, Canterbury, York, Chichester, Worcester, Chester, etc., have occurred had those cathedrals never existed? Well, yes (look at Colchester), but perhaps not to quite the same extent.

Posted by J Drever at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 1:30am BST

Many cathedrals have appointed Canon Pastors and some are already both cathedrals & parish churches. Their growth could be due to excellence in worship, good youth/children work, and a renewed commitment to pastoral care. They have borrowed what is best in parochial church life and chosen to do better that which we they have always done. The fresh expression is in the quality of traditional liturgical forms of worship. Done well, it is this that attracts young people. Accompanied by teaching and welcome, it is this that holds young people.

Posted by Commentator at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 9:15am BST

'Concerned Anglican's' dismissal of those who believe without belonging does an injustice to both them and the cathedrals (and I might add parish churches) where such people are very welcome. Why shouldn't people come and worship and then go away, who are we to dismiss their faith as shallow or compromised. How do we know what their circumstances are, why they choose not to become further involved in cathedral activities or even why they don't stay for coffee afterwards? It is arrogant to suggest that only those who do such things are 'real' Christians.

One could also postulate the opposite, those who belong with out believing. Cathedrals make an ideal place for those who want to experience the life of the church, who want to explore faith, taste the excellence of worship, liturgy, music and preaching, and who want to feel a sense that this is a place for them without having to be examined in what they believe and have to join the club.

One has to wonder whether in their desperate search for 'bums on seats' through through their family and all age services, their abandonment of a recognisable liturgy, incessant activities, and their demand that you 'participate' some churches at least are putting off the very people they seek to attract and have become a club for those who go and are alien to those who look in the doors and run a mile.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 9:53am BST

The idea that our successful cathedrals are somehow 'damaging' parish church life is nonsense. They are clearly providing something that many people want and need. It is parish churches who need to examine what they are doing and why they are failing to attract those who either go to their cathedral, sometime driving long distances past many parish churches, or who wouldn't go at all.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 10:05am BST

Partly true Concerned Anglican but most Cathedrals (even those not obviously also parish churches) have a committed core of regular worshippers who are involved beyond worship and this is often quite large..several hundreds if not more. Activities for school groups seem to me very imaginative and here in Canterbury there are lots of groups (often of young people) at Evensong.Yes its usually part of a tourist/historical trip but it is surely a form of pre-evangelism and helps keep the rumour of God alive.
Richard Ashby's comments are very pertinent "anglican" ethos has disappeared in many places over the last 30 yrs and that has brought some new people in but at a cost of alienating the wider parochial "fringe".At a cathedral you know what you are going to get...and they have the resources to do it well.Given public worship is the C of E's shop window and front door I often think we should be more concerned with what is actually going on liturgically in our churches.

Posted by Perry Butler at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 10:27am BST

Perry Butler,

yes! totally agree. On the several occasions I've moved into new cities the cathedral has always been my default "church of first resort" precisely because you do know what you're getting. Leaving to one side things like WO as considerations (for those for whom they are), it's not a bad place to start asking around for recommendations of parish churches for subsequent services. All too often you just don't know what you're going to get when you walk past the doors of a CofE church. That is a strength - accommodating everyone from the bottom of the candlestick to the top of the flame is no mean achievement (from HTB to Pusey House and all points in between, say) - but for the average person in the street it can also be a barrier.

For all it may have been formulaic, (and I'm NOT suggesting it would work now, or is the answer), there was probably a lot to be said for "we're the CofE, here's the BCP, it's what we will be doing....

Posted by primroseleague at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 11:14am BST

I've crossed swords with Richard over this question before. I'm with Concerned Anglican. Great as they are in many ways (and profoundly irritating as they are in many ways), cathedrals suck the life out of churches in the same cities and they frequently start things which duplicate and inevitably diminish things which parish churches have done for years. They also visibly symbolise and embody the obsession with pomp and hierarchy which is part of the C of E's 'top-down' disease and which is rapidly creating a situation where it's all top and very little middle or bottom. And despite claims made here, cathedral big-wigs do scandalously little to support churches even of which they are allegedly patrons. (I live in Durham - Durham big-wigs please note.)

Posted by John at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 11:39am BST

There was a study or survey on this side of things that indicated that young people are returning to high church. That they are looking for spiritual experiences without the hype and pandering music they encounter in some places. The ancient liturgies are appealing to them.

There's hope! Just don't drive them away with the culture wars, they are done with those and have little tolerance for homophobia and other issues that are utterly irrelevant to their generation.

Posted by Cynthia at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 4:06pm BST

Perhaps my experience of parish life is rather limited, John. It consists of a lively Surrey outer suburban church with Guildford just down the road, many years at an anglo catholic 'shrine' in Bristol, only a mile from the cathedral, and a small church in a former mining village some miles from but in sight of Durham. I'm not sure that any of them would thank you for suggesting that their life blood is being sucked out of them by their cathedral. Again if parish churches feel that, I would have to ask what they are doing and what they are doing to assert themselves against their cathedral.

I don't like the animosity I have come across here and elsewhere against cathedrals. I don't know whether it is due to envy, jealousy, a feeling of inadequacy or a sense of inferiority but what ever it is the remedy isn't slagging off cathedrals and those who work and worship in them but asking a few searching questions of oneself and ones own place of worship. At the cathedral where I worship now, we do!

Posted by Richard Ashby at Tuesday, 13 August 2013 at 6:20pm BST

I've friends who worship in cathedrals across England. Some cathedrals struggle in just the same way as parish churches. Some cathedrals flourish in just the same way as parishes churches. But the flourishing and the struggling seem to go together. Where the cathedral flourishes, so do the churches around them - so my friends say. And the cathedral with the largest congregations is in a city where the church attendance is unusually high. Lets just try to share good practice and support one another.

Posted by Christian at Wednesday, 14 August 2013 at 9:32am BST

Wasn't criticising you personally, Richard. Those are my views and I'm sticking with them. Those views are quite widely held. The facts at the end of my first posting are just true. What applies to cathedral big-wigs also applies to bishops. We were never visited by Wright or by Welby. There are vast gulfs and shortcomings here and I dislike them intensely. As for 'searching questions', we're always asking them in our church.

Posted by John at Wednesday, 14 August 2013 at 9:38am BST

Perhaps it's unwise to make blanket judgements from the activities or lack of them, in one diocese?

Posted by Richard Ashby at Wednesday, 14 August 2013 at 12:10pm BST

The question I have is about whether the relative success of cathedrals is related to them being better resourced or differently located socially and geographically ... or any number of factors which make simple judgments pointless

Posted by Mark Bennet at Wednesday, 14 August 2013 at 6:18pm BST

As someone who's moved largely from parish church to cathedral worship in recent years myself - I'm a regular customer of Southwell, York, Lincoln and Peterborough - I can understand their increasing popularity. Put simply they have a good product, are slick at marketing themselves, and can appeal to people of all faith traditions and none. They also have regular daily and weekly services which many churches, especially in rural areas, can't provide due to a shortage of clergy and the money to pay them. Musical and liturgical excellence are undoubtedly serious attractions. Cathedrals also allow those who attend them to be as involved or not as they wish. There's no pressure for people to do things they'd rather not because no one else happens to be available.

Posted by Adrian F Sunman at Wednesday, 14 August 2013 at 10:09pm BST

Cathedrals are themselves trying to discover why increasing numbers of people come, why they stay (for instance, it seems that the the attraction of anonymity may not be as powerful as we thought, and the attraction of the spirituality and community of cathedrals may be significant)and the impact of this on the surrounding parishes and community. One strand of the current Church Commissioners funded and commissioned research into areas of church growth is into cathedrals and we look forward to having the report in the autumn and having an informed debate on the conclusions. In the meantime we are grateful for this national report which draws on our annual statistical returns and provides basic data for Chapters to use in their planning.
Viv Faull, Chair of the Association of English Cathedrals

Posted by viv faull at Thursday, 15 August 2013 at 11:02am BST

Thank you, Madam Dean. A 35% increase in Cathedral attendances over the past decade is certainly cause for celebration when, numerically at any rate, there may be less to celebrate. However I think it's right that the possible reasons for the increase are being looked into if only so that Cathedral Chapters understand what lies behind it and can react to it in a way which better meets people's needs. My best guess is that Cathedrals have always been good at what they do but have got even better at it during recent decades.

Posted by Adrian F Sunman at Thursday, 15 August 2013 at 1:52pm BST

It is good that some research is now being done into things which might actually make difference - like whether the rest of us can learn from cathedrals, and what the lessons actually are. For too long statistics like this have been for media use rather than strategic insight.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Thursday, 15 August 2013 at 9:03pm BST

I find it interesting that several of the reasons listed for why people go to cathedrals are the same reasons evangelicals/non-denominationalists go to "mega-churches", but without the negative connotations that word implies, of course.

Posted by Chris H. at Friday, 16 August 2013 at 2:36pm BST
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