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How to stop dwindling attendance figures at church

Jim and Sheila King have learned a lot over the past few months.

Jim and Sheila King have learned a lot over the past few months.

The retired couple from Meadow Croft, Chalfont St Peter, have just returned from a tour of churches across the UK, having taken in services in towns and cities such as Sheffield, Manchester, Southampton and London.

Jim, an associate priest at Chalfont St Peter parish church, and Sheila, former head of Fulmer Infant School, took on the trip to learn new ways to boost attendance figures at their church.

“We visited 11 different churches in total,” says Jim. “It is fair to say that a lot of churches across the country are seeing fewer and fewer people coming along each week.

“Today, many people have not grown up going to church, and it is not as common as it was for schools to visit churches, so a church can seem like quite a frightening and intimidating place.

“We drew up a list of places where attendance figures are very good and we went along to see how they are doing things.

“In Chalfont St Peter, the attendance figures are quite good, but we wanted to find out what the really successful places are doing.”

After completing the trip, they discovered an emphasis on the family and making church fun for children was the key to success.

The pair watched as the successful churches engaged with youngsters and put on activities throughout the week for families to get involved with.

Jim says: “A lot of the churches had football teams that the kids would come along to, and we saw that all their friends were going along to the services and to special events that encouraged them to take part.

“Because of that, church becomes a fun place to go for children, and a place where their mums and dads can meet and have a chat and be sociable.

“We saw that church doesn’t have to be traditional or formal.

“There is a place for that as well of course, but the really successful churches have expanded their horizons to take in other things, and that was the main lesson we learned.

“It’s something we want to try to do more of here.”

In Beaconsfield and Chesham meanwhile, people agree churches in Buckinghamshire need to become more attractive places for young people.

Pam Crawford, administrator at St Mary and All Saints Church in Beaconsfield, said: “Our attendance figures are good at the moment and I would say we are thriving.

“Our reverend, Jeremy Brooks, made an effort when he came into the role two years ago to make church a more family-orientated place and it has worked well.

“I think that is the key really to driving attendance figures up.

“There has to be a mix of the traditional and the new, and churches have to adapt as time continues.

“You don’t want to change completely, but it is important younger people and families come along, and that is what the case has been for us.”

At St George’s Church in Chesham, however, the emphasis remains on the traditional.

Jenny Allison, the church warden there, says: “We are a relatively small church, and our attendance figures remain quite constant.

“We have a traditional service and it is what our congregation wants. However, I do see that for other churches, they need to move with the times and try to attract new people.

“I know that attendance figures are down in general across the UK, so bigger churches need to do something to sort out the problem.

“But there will always be a place for smaller, traditional churches like ourselves, and it would be a shame if those types of churches were ever to stop.”

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