Pentecostals now outnumber Methodists at church services in England, according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It means that as the festival of Christmas approaches, this fastest growing group within Christianity, globally and in the UK, has moved into third place behind Catholics and Anglicans in terms of attendance.
Dr. David Voas, a senior researcher at Manchester University’s School of Social Sciences, specialises in examining religious change in modern society. He said: "Methodism, a branch of Christianity that originated in England and spread around the world, is dying in Britain. By contrast, immigration from Africa and elsewhere has lead to growth in Pentecostal churches, where the worship style is more flamboyant."
Evidence for this shift comes from the English Church Census, conducted by the independent charity Christian Research, and substantially sponsored by the ESRC. Based on trajectories of growth or decline, this shows estimated Sunday attendance at Methodist churches falling from 289,400 in 2005 to 278,700 in 2006.
Next year (2007) sees the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley, credited with writing 9,000 hymns, including ‘Hark, the herald angels sing’, which will be heard up and down the country this Christmas. Dr Voas said: "In the mid-19th century, about half the population was in church each Sunday - a quarter of those churchgoers being Methodists. Today only one sixteenth of the English population can be found in church on a Sunday, fewer than a tenth of whom are Methodists."
Pentecostal worship is extremely vibrant, often involving healing and exorcism, shouting and clapping, fainting and speaking in tongues, and impromptu praying and prophesying. According to Dr Voas, congregations in half of the Pentecostal churches in England are predominantly black. In addition, half of all Pentecostal churches in the UK are in London. He said: "Black churchgoers in Inner London, where they outnumber white attendees, are an important source of growth in the context of the national decline in church attendance. So it is significant that 40 per cent of Pentecostals, but only four per cent of Methodists, are black."
The Methodist Church closed 264 churches between 1998 and 2005 - more than any other denomination. During the same period, attendance declined by one quarter. By contrast, Pentecostal numbers grew by a third, and many new churches have opened. The Pentecostal movement includes many separate organisations and autonomous churches: the Assemblies of God and Elim being the largest denominations in this category.
David Voas added: "It seems inevitable that the Methodist Church will be reabsorbed into the Church of England. The Pentecostals have appeared out of nowhere in the last couple of decades, but it remains to be seen whether they can make significant inroads into the white population."
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NOTES FOR EDITORS:
1. Dr David Voas is a senior researcher at the Cathie Marsh Centre for Census and Survey Research, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, MANCHESTER M13 9PL.
2. Methodology: This study is based on analysis of statistics from the English Church Census, conducted by the independent charity Christian Research, and substantially funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. All 37,500 churches in England were asked to provide information on attendance, with Sunday, May 8, 2005 chosen as the census date; the response rate was exactly 50 per cent. Full results can be found in Pulling out of the Nose Dive: A contemporary picture of churchgoing. What the 2005 English Church Census reveals, and also Religious Trends 6, both published in September 2006 by Christian Research.
3. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2006-07 is £169 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk
4. ESRC Society Today offers free access to a broad range of social science research and presents it in a way that makes it easy to navigate and saves users valuable time. As well as bringing together all ESRC-funded research (formerly accessible via the Regard website) and key online resources such as the Social Science Information Gateway and the UK Data Archive, non-ESRC resources are included, for example the Office for National Statistics. The portal provides access to early findings and research summaries, as well as full texts and original datasets through integrated search facilities. More at www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk
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