The Church of England is asking its followers to give feedback on funerals and christenings in a drive to make services more popular.
The Archbishop's Council has commissioned independent researchers to delve into how the Church ministers to its faithful at the key moments of birth and death. The research is partially motivated by concerns over the gradual decline in people using churches for christenings, weddings and funerals now that secular alternatives are readily available.
The two projects will seek feedback from congregations about what improvements could be made. A similar scheme began five years ago in the Bradford and Oxford dioceses to examine weddings, for which brides and grooms were asked to "rate" their marriage on subjects as varied as the friendliness of the vicar and whether church staff were helpful.
The feedback was forwarded to the bishops within each diocese, creating a powerful impetus for clergy to improve their performance. In the areas where the rating system has been used, the Church says the number of weddings has increased by between 10 and 50 per cent.
For a Church struggling to fill its pews, tapping into the marriage market is both spiritually and financially lucrative. Some bishops were even sent to wedding shows to help sell the advantages of a church service and dispel misconceptions that brides and grooms must be regular worshippers or that vicars will be unapproachable.
The Church hopes a new approach to christenings will enjoy similar success. The researchers will report back in 2016, though improvements to services may come in earlier.
The Bishop of Norwich, the Right Rev Graham James, said: "By listening to England in this way, we have found that the Church's traditional ministry is still wanted and appreciated by people. It has given churches a spring in their step, and helped them serve people better who come for a wedding."
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