The Church of England is to send a ‘hit’ squad into the north of Cambridgeshire to encourage people back to church.

It will include a part-time evangelism coach to work alongside clergy and lay workers to help get the message across.

Over the next five years, the Changing Market Towns project will use £2.13 million of funding from the Church of England, which is being matched by the Ely diocese, to support the campaign.

The diocese is responsible for 337 churches but has singled out six towns - and a village - where they want to see more people in the pews.

Nationally church attendance has dropped to less than two per cent but in March, Wisbech, Chatteris, Littleport, Ramsey, Huntingdon and Downham Market the average Sunday service church attendance is just 0.9 per cent.

Figures released by the diocese show that although that is the average, in Wisbech it drops to 0.5 per cent and in Huntingdon to just 0.3 per cent.

This compares to church attendance in Cambridge which is three per cent.

The Rt Revd Stephen Conway, Bishop of Ely, said: "I am delighted that this major project has received support.

"We hope that, through it, very many more people will be enabled to join a journey of faith and share in God's work of transforming their communities.

"It is far-reaching, complex and ambitious and an expression of our faith in the power of God."

The market towns project will fund more staff, art projects and help encourage churches to open up as an all week welcoming environment with a "range of opportunities for faith discovery and worship."

The project will see a community mission worker appointed for Ramsey, and a 'clergy-led plant' into Huntingdon, in which resources from 'stronger churches' in the diocese will be used in the town to promote growth.

The project hopes to attract 780 new attendees at churches across the diocese over the next three years, with attendance at churches rising by 1.5 per cent.

A five-year plan wants the community to see that the church is "alive and active."

The project is part of 'Levers for Change' within the Diocese of Ely's Ely2025 Growth Strategy and will filter through to neighbouring towns of Whittlesey, Ely, Soham, St Ives and St Neots to help transform communities.

Part of the problem may be a lack of young vicars to inspire the younger generation. Church of England; statistics show the average clergy age is 56.