Church of England reaches more on social media than in services

Olivia Rudgard
More people are reached via smartphone and computer than in physical church services - Peter Macdiarmid /Getty Images 

The Church of England now reaches more people on social media than in services, new figures reveal. 

The statistics suggest the church has now reached a tipping point where more people follow its online accounts than attend church services. 

Around 1.1m attend services at least once a month, while the church estimates 1.2m people are "reached" every month via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. 

The figures showed that the decline in regular church attendance continued in 2016, with average Sunday attendance reaching a new low of 780,000 people. 

Over the same period the Church has tripled its followers on both Facebook and Instagram.

But the Church admitted it was struggling to convert a large digital audience to physical attendance at services. 

William Nye, secretary general to the General Synod, said the figures were a "sobering reminder" of the challenge faces by the church. 

He said that while the internet was an area of growth, "our challenge is to join up that growing online Church life to the physical community of Church that forms the body of Christ.”

The figures also showed that another area of growth was midweek services, at which attendance by people who did not attend on Sunday increased from 111,800 in 2011 to 122,700 in 2016

The rise is thought to be partly explained by the growing popularity of services such as choral evensong, which is held in urban cathedrals and attracts young professionals. 

Midweek services are also held as part of the "fresh expressions" movement, which organises less conventional services in an attempt to attract young adults. 

Sam Donoghue, head of children and youth ministry support in the Diocese of London, said the diocese had invested £3m in trying to attract young people to church. 

"In some ways the idea of church being uncool has gone - these children are growing up past that. You can't rebel from your parents by refusing to go to church. 

"Some of them are exploring our churches as safe places. They're solid buildings, the repository of tradition," he said. 

He added that some churches had started Instagram accounts to increase young people's interest in church. 

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