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A matter of urgency

The Church of England will no longer be able to carry on its current form unless it halts the decline in its membership 'as a matter of urgency', the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have warned.

Almost half of Anglican priests will retire within a decade and a decreasing membership will find it more and more difficult to maintain its buildings and ministries, say Justin Welby and John Sentamu.

The two archbishops want the Church to invest more in social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get its message across online. Their call for a 'major programme of renewal and reform' comes in a paper prepared for members of the General Synod, which meets in London this month, and sets out a case for an overhaul of finances and organisation.

Sunday attendances have halved (to just 800,000) in the last 40 years despite the CofE claiming that the decline has been levelling off in recent years. Income from donations has risen slightly in the last few years but this is seen as declining congregations digging deeper rather than anything more systematic.

The two archbishops are supporting a series of reports calling for administrative changes in the Church but added: 'Renewing and reforming aspects of our institutional life is a necessary but far from sufficient response to the challenges facing the Church of England.'

They went on: 'The urgency of the challenge facing us is not in doubt. Attendance at Church of England services has declined at an average of one per cent per annum over recent decades and, in addition, the age profile of our membership has become significantly older than that of the population. Finances have been relatively stable, thanks to increased individual giving. This situation cannot, however, be expected to continue unless the decline in membership is reversed. The age profile of our clergy has also been increasing. Around 40 per cent of parish clergy are due to retire over the next decade or so. And while ordination rates have held up well over recent years they continue to be well below what would be needed to maintain current clergy numbers and meet diocesan ambitions. The burden of church buildings weighs heavily."

They said the Church's current arrangements are out of date and widely ignored: 'If the Church of England is to return to growth, there is a compelling need to realign resources and work carefully to ensure that scarce funds are used to best effect.'