The Church of England has launched a campaign to make baptisms more popular after it was revealed that the number has halved in 15 years.
Fewer than one in six of all infants is now baptised and in major cities the number has fallen to one in ten.
A book of guidance is being sent to clergy asking them to modernise their approach. One suggestion is that they make cohabiting couples feel more welcome, with a view to encouraging them to become regular churchgoers.
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The guide says: “For some families today, the baptism of a child represents an opportunity for the first public acknowledgement of the parents’ relationship. Churches can use this as an opportunity to promote marriage.”
Just over 15 per cent of babies were christened into the CofE in 2005. The total of 93,000 Anglican baptisms was just over half the 184,000 as recently as 1990, they revealed.
In the early 1930s seven out of ten of all children were baptised into the Cof E. More than a third were still christened in the early 1980s. Latest figures show that the popularity of christenings remains high in the countryside and some provincial towns but that in London and Birmingham fewer than one in ten babies are baptised.
The guidance, Connecting with Baptism, showed that the highest number of christenings is in Carlisle, where more than 40 per cent of babies are baptised.
“Significantly more infant baptisms as a proportion of births take place in rural dioceses such as Carlisle, Hereford and Lincoln,” it said.
The drop in baptisms mirrors a long-term decline in church attendance overall. The CofE saw its figures for Sunday attendance drop below the million mark at around the turn of the millennium. Roman Catholic churches in much of the country have also seen a fall.
However large-scale immigration from Eastern Europe has meant some Catholic churches in London are overflowing on a Sunday.