Prudence Jinga, 30, is sitting in the front row of her church enjoying the service. She has been looking forward to today’s service particularly because she is to join the choir for the first time. But the church is empty. Only a handful of people managed to make it
While others need convincing to attend church, Prudence is one of the three in five British adults that goes to church every Sunday, according to an opinion poll by the National Churches Trust.
The opinion poll reported 27 per cent of British youth would only visit church gatherings more frequently if they had access to free Wi-Fi. The poll, conducted by ComRes aimed to discover what factors influence church attendance, despite a decline in the number of people going in recent years.
It said respondents between the ages 18-34 would like UK churches to offer free Internet, as part of a campaign to back the government in providing financial support to places of worship in order to protect their heritage and history. There are approximately 4200 churches in the UK. With around 3,630 registered in London, according to the National Churches Trust. Some of these, however, may no longer be in use as these figures were taken from the 2009 census.
“Looking to the future, our poll shows how even more people could be encouraged to visit churches,” said Claire Walker, Chief Executive of the National Churches Trust. “That includes making sure that visitors receive a friendly welcome and providing better facilities such as toilets, a café or refreshment area. Wi-Fi was seen as particularly important by young adults.”
Last year, Andrew Lloyd Webber, who sits as a Conservative in the House of Lords, indicated that discussion over installing Wi-Fi for the general public at churches have already taken place with the government.
Church contributors like Pastor Greg Macqueen and Sister Monica Marie Cardona, who prefer a more traditional approach, criticize the proposal. They say that people do not go to church “based on social media”, but they go based on their willingness to learn Bible studies from an early age. Some regular churchgoers agree. Washington Moyo, 34, from Brixton, says he has been going to church since he was a child. A practice that both his parents encouraged at home.
New approaches, however, are necessary. Research conducted by Barna Group on behalf of the Church of England, says that factors such as growing up in a Christian family have the most impact to positively influence people to attended church.
Pastor Greg, who serves the Celebration Church UK, says the reason why churches are struggling to draw in a huge audience is because there is a “generation gap [between the church and the youth] that is affecting young people”.
“Part of a challenge that we are having as a church is that we are not based in a community. So that affects how we operate. For churches to be able to attract lots of young people, they need to be located near an institution – campus or school,” says Pastor Greg with certainty. “The church needs to be in a position that is interactive – not necessarily entertaining – but to provide something that will keep the attention of young people.”
Worship groups like the University Catholic network, allow students to worship in spaces closer to universities. The Newman House in central London, for example, acts as meetup point for students who wish to gather each Sunday for mass and take part in outreach and social activities.
Each week, students volunteer at the St. Patrick’s Christian Church in Soho Square to feed venerable and homeless people. This is part of the Catholic movement to encourage young people to engage with the church and the community. Sister Cardona says this draws in more than 80 students who show up for these services. She insists the Internet is not needed.
Prudence, however, says introducing Wi-Fi in the church might not be such a bad thing. The modern Surrey native is convinced this will help get young people to start opening the actual Bible.
“Especially the children. We need to keep them entertained and feed their minds … and this will enable them to read the physical Bible and to know where to find the verses, rather than to just access Bibles online,” she explains, as she prepares to leave the church building after the services.
Furthermore, she says this will enable churches to focus more on the younger generation instead of just “catering its services to the adults and feeding a congregation that is already informed”.
Photos: Jordaania Andima
Sub-edited by Anushka Gurnaney