Sunday, 29 January 2012

Going, Going...

In what sense of the words is Britain a Christian country?

Post-war Britain has seen a very sharp decline in religion and nowhere is this seen more markedly than in church attendance in the established Anglican church. By 2009, church attendance had fallen to 50% of that of 1968, despite an increase in population.

In 2010, Peter Brierly, former head of Christian Research, told Christians that while in 1998, all but five counties in England had a churchgoing population of at least 6 per cent, today there are only 12 English counties with that figure and there are seven counties with a churchgoing population of less than 4.5 per cent. He predicted that almost all counties would have a churchgoing population of less than 4.5 per cent by 2020.

He also said that while 60 per cent of British people are not in the church, that figure rises to around 80 per cent among the under-15s and around 75 per cent among 15 to 29-year-olds, with 59 per cent of all churches in England having no members between the ages of 15 and 19 He warned that in the 2020s many churchgoers will die out (Source)

Source: British Social Attitudes Survey
These figures come on top of a Social Attitudes Survey which showed that by 2009, not only did those saying they have no religion outnumber Christians for the first time ever in the UK but that they were in an absolute majority at 51%, also for the first time.

The most recent figures, for 2010, show a very similar picture with Christians accounting for 44%, other religions 6% and no religion at 50%.

Other studies have shown that the Christian church is losing the battle in the very area which has the most impact in the long term, at the younger end of the 'market'. This trend is complicated slightly by the underlying demographic change towards an older population but none-the-less these trends together show a very poor long-term future for the church.

Other trends also point to a major rejection of Christianity. The number of ministers and the number of church buildings has declined but not so fast as the fall in membership, but the sharpest decline has been in attendances showing that the proportion of those who actually call themselves Christian who go to church has declined sharply. In the words of the Why Church report, "...congregations are on average getting much smaller with many more nearing the point when they will cease to be financially viable."

And the picture is no better for British Christianity when compared to the rest of the European Union, where church attendances and religious belief have also fallen. The UK is now fourth from bottom in the church attendance 'league table'.

Again in the words of the Why Church report, "If the Church in England was the national football team we would have sacked the manager long ago."

Well, quite!

So, to answer my opening question, there really is no sense in which we can call the UK a Christian country. This simply flies in the face of the facts; and facts moreover which will get much worse for the Christian church over the next 20 years. Projecting these trends forward we can expect to see rates of non-belief approaching 67% with combined religions accounting for some 33%  of which Christianity will constitute only about 25%.

Surely it's now time we disestablished the Church of England, ended it's tax-exempt status as a 'charity' in its own right and removed their senior clergy from the House of Lords, where they could only claim to represent a minority interest, even if they bothered to take soundings of the opinions of those who are still members of what is in reality, nothing more than a social club for people who still believe in fairy tales and magic.


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