The Church of England in Lancashire has been told to reinvent itself for the 21st century or “wither away” like the county’s once-mighty cotton industry.
While a decline in attendance has been halted in recent years - in stark contrast to a spectacular drop in Catholic congregations - the Bishop of Blackburn is calling on Anglicans to join him on a programme of radical change.
“A few tweaks and adjustments will not suffice,” said Bishop Julian Henderson in his new vision for the diocese.
Bishop Julian has hailed a slight increase in church attendance in Preston as “encouraging.” But he is preaching against complacency in the city where in 2013 weekly numbers were almost 10 per cent up on those back in 2006.
“It is encouraging the figures in the Preston area are remaining steady - and have actually increased slightly in the last decade,” he said. “But there is much to do in the city and the wider region to engage with people of all ages for whom the church has ceased to have relevance.
“The Gospel message is even more relevant than ever in a world where these is much pain and suffering.”
Bishop Julian wants the diocese to have a “clear sense of direction” for the future.
“I am convinced that we need to embark on radical change,” he said. “We need to re-invent ourselves for the 21st century. Anything less will leave us to wither away (rather like the once-mighty Lancashire cotton industry).”
Preston has seen many church closures in recent years - both Anglican and Catholic - as the exodus out of the centre of the city to its suburbs has gathered pace.
A number have been knocked down, while others have found new uses, including a radio station, a performing arts centre, an alcohol rehabilitation unit and a museum conservation centre. Others have been converted into apartments, while one became part of the County Hall complex.
If numbers remain constant then it is not envisaged Preston will see any more Church of England closures in the near future - although money is still in desperately short supply in the city centre parishes.
“For the most part our congregations are holding up quite well,” said the Vicar of Preston, Fr Timothy Lipscomb, who has just launched an appeal to help fund the work of the city’s Minster and also repair the oldest church in Preston, St George’s off Lune Street.
“We could always do with more people, but we are doing pretty well.
“Of course it varies depending on where the church is located. In places like Fulwood and Broughton we are more likely to get more people going to church. And it is also the case at churches with good schools producing good results.”
While some see another decline ahead for Christian faiths, some even predicting the disappearance of all churches from inner city Preston, Fr Timothy is more optimistic.
“I’m not fearful of the future,” he said. “But I’m not complacent either. It would be nice if we could attract more people because it is always the same faithful few who do everything.
“But we have enough people coming to churches to make them viable, which is important. As long as we are there to serve an area, that’s what is important.”