Research by Peter Brierley: Cathedral Worship

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Peter Brierley examines the growth in attendance at Britain's Cathedrals

Canterbury Cathedral

Mother Church of the Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Unlike Anglican attendance generally, numbers attending Cathedral services are increasing. The evidence is unmistakable, and the increase is among both adults and children. Midweek attendance has more than doubled over the past decade, while Sunday attendance has wobbled but remained basically constant. The obvious question is, "Why?"

There is no definitive answer to the question, but various pieces of research suggest some interesting considerations. In one study, attenders at two different Cathedrals said their main reason for attending (88%) was the "spiritual atmosphere" and the "feeling of peace". Their second reason (86%) was "the choir" and "the music". The location and the worship made a "contemplative atmosphere" (84%) which was "friendly" (80%). 

These are high percentages and are echoed whether a person regularly goes to church or not. In another study, this time of those visiting St David's Cathedral in Wales, 77% of those who never normally attended church services said they found "the cathedral uplifting", while of those who only occasionally attended 84% said this, while for regular worshippers it was 95%. All three groups put "a sense of peace" as their second reason for attending.

This suggests questions like: Are our church services too irreverent, too noisy? Are our services too geared to entertainment, too non-stop? Should we pause and have a time of silence? Many years ago I was part of an inter-denominational team who took turns to lead a monthly worship service. After a while, the one I came to appreciate most was the one led by the man who was a Quaker – we had 45 minutes of complete silence!

Further studies have compared the age of attenders at other Cathedrals (Worcester and Lichfield) indicating their agreement or not with the statement, "You don't have to go to church to be a good Christian," which some 80+% of those under 30 agreed with, dropping steadily to 60+% for those 60 and over. Would under 30's, a key group, find the impressive size and atmosphere of awe and peace more attractive than our less inspiring church buildings? On the other hand, many under 30s find Hillsong services popular – characterised by large venues, informality and much noise! Many Christians under 30 attend the larger Anglican churches – could size of building and congregation be a relevant worship component for this age-group?

7th March

March 7th, 2012 - Posted & Written by The Editor

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