Monday, 11 April 2011

Aisle be there

Oh deary me. It looks like there's a crisis in the church, and it's got nothing to do with a crumbling steeple or woodworm in the trestle tables. Attendance at services is dwindling to such a degree that, in Britain, only 15 per cent of the population go to church once a month.

According to a study conducted by economists at the universities of St Andrews and East Anglia, young people begrudge spending a large amount of their time in church, given that death is still a long way off. Conversely, it's pensioners who make up the majority of congregations, since they're keen to secure their ticket to the impending afterlife. Turn up once a week for guaranteed access to the kingdom of heaven and 500 Tesco Clubcard points.

Although this phenomenon has been observed in the majority of wealthy western nations, it's particularly prevalent in the UK, which has seen the Church of England adopting all manner of 'trendy vicar' techniques to try and engage the young folk. Researcher Dr Elissaios Papyrakis reckons that "religious organisations should be prepared to accept and attract a 'greying church', with membership skewed towards the older generation, particularly in countries which have high life expectancy."

The Church of England was quick to respond to the academics' findings, claiming that the study "made a number of assumptions about why Christians want to share their faith. Age really isn’t the important thing. It is the duty of every Christian to share the good news of the gospel with those who haven’t heard it, irrespective of age."

That may be their 'duty' but I'm not sure it's the reason why many people bother to go to church. Call me a hell-bound cynic, but I have a feeling that half the regular attendees only show up to get their hands on the keys to the church hall for a few rounds of knockout whist.

But that's the nature of the Church of England. It's not so much a religion, more a social network for the over-seventies. Plus, I guess when your days are numbered, you want the time to drag by, like you're stuck in the fourth dream layer of Inception.

I remember, years ago, having a meeting with the marketing director of Brewers Fayre - the popular family pub brand. She told me that they faced an unusual paradox, in that they were the nation's favourite family restaurant, but their customers didn't really enjoy food. So it was a restaurant for people who weren't fussed about eating. I'll pause for a moment to let the analogy sink in...

And we're back in the room.

The Catholics have their guilt, the Baptists have their zeal, and the Salvation Army have their brass instruments. The Church of England has a bunch of anxious looking brides, biting their lip through the service just so they can get some half-decent wedding photos.

Whether you like it or not, there's something quintessentially English about a religion that's more interested in bake sales than salvation. Having said that, the next time you see me I might well be pinned to the ground by a lightning rod, like Patrick Troughton in The Omen. In which case, I take it all back...

No comments:

Post a Comment