07/05/2013 02:47 BST

Church Of England Christmas Attendance Up But It's Not Good News For Archbishop Of Canterbury

Christmas attendance is up in the Church of England but the diocese where the Archbishop of Canterbury presides has experienced the biggest drop in average weekly and Sunday worship figures, according to new statistics.

Canterbury was the worst-performing diocese for average weekly church service attendance with a 9.5% drop in this category between 2010 and 2011 - closely followed by Portsmouth at -8.2% and Durham at -8%, Church of England annual statistics have shown.

The Canterbury diocese also saw a fall of 8.3% for average Sunday attendance followed by Portsmouth at -7.8% and Durham at -7.1% over the same period.

justin welby church of england

It's mixed news for the recently appointed Archbishop

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who is head of the Church of England, is also bishop of the diocese of Canterbury. He is supported in his ministry by the Bishop of Dover, a supplementary or "suffragan" bishop.

The previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, left his post at the end of last year to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. His successor, the Most Rev Justin Welby, was enthroned in March.

By contrast, the top three dioceses for growth in average weekly attendance during the same period were Southwell and Nottingham at 10.7%, Norwich - identified in the 2011 Census as the least religious local authority in England and Wales - at 9.1% and Ripon and Leeds at 7.4%.

The top dioceses to register a rise in average Sunday attendance were Southwell and Nottingham at 8.8%, Lincoln at 4.8% and Blackburn at 4.4%.

The figures also showed a 14.5% increase in Christmas attendance between 2010 and 2011, reaching a total of more than 2.6 million.

A spokesman for the Church of England said the rise was partly attributable to poor weather on Christmas Day in 2010.

But he added that figures from 2012 suggested another increase in Christmas attendance, indicating a growing popularity in church-going at Christmas.

The number of christenings increased by 4.3% and was accompanied by a rise of just over 5% in adult baptisms, the figures showed. Thanksgivings for the birth of a child also rose by 11.9%.

A spokesman said average weekly attendance overall fell by 0.3%, to around 1.1 million, representing a "stabilising" of the figures.

Church of England weddings saw a slight decrease of 3.6% in 2011, to 51,880, whilst the number of wedding blessings - services of prayer and thanksgiving following a civil ceremony - was up by 4.5%.

Church of England clergy and lay ministers conducted 162,526 funerals in 2011, a fall of 2.8% on the previous year.

The Rt Rev Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said: "These figures are a welcome reminder of the work and service undertaken by the Church of England annually - 1,000 couples married, 2,600 baptisms celebrated and over 3,000 funerals conducted every week of the year.

"The attendance figures are heartening, especially the very strong growth in Christmas Day attendance.

"The encouraging news of further growth to come even on these high figures is very welcome and points to a growing trend.

"Also welcome is the stabilising of the numbers of those who attend church services on a weekly basis.

"With almost half of our dioceses showing growth, there is a quiet confidence underlying these figures."

Andrew Copson, British Humanist Association's chief executive said in response to the figures: "Most people don’t look to the Church of England even at the times of year or times in their life when to do so was traditional even for non-believers.

"98% of people don’t go to a Church of England service on an average week and only 5% of people go at the "popular" time of Christmas.

"98% of young people are not confirmed, 88% of babies are not baptised, 66% of funerals (and a slightly higher proportion of marriages) are not Anglican. In all these areas, the long-term decline of Church involvement continues.

"In an ideal world, these figures would be of interest only to academics and the church itself but in a country where the church in question has a privileged legal and constitutional position, they must be subject to wider public scrutiny and their implications drawn out.

"What they show is a church established by national law that has long ceased to be a truly national church. It is about time the legal position caught up with the social reality and the privileged place of Anglicanism and Anglicans was brought to an end."