Religious trends in Britain

Updated Thursday afternoon and evening

Ruth Gledhill writing in The Times:

A lack of funds from the collection plate to support the Christian infrastructure, including church upkeep and ministers’ pay and pensions, will force church closures as ageing congregations die.

In contrast, the number of actively religious Muslims will have increased from about one million today to 1.96 million in 2035.

According to Religious Trends, a comprehensive statistical analysis of religious practice in Britain, published by Christian Research, even Hindus will come close to outnumbering churchgoers within a generation. The forecast to 2050 shows churchgoing in Britain declining to 899,000 while the active Hindu population, now at nearly 400,000, will have more than doubled to 855,000. By 2050 there will be 2,660,000 active Muslims in Britain – nearly three times the number of Sunday churchgoers.

The research is based on analysis of membership and attendance of all the religious bodies in Britain, including a church census in 2005.

Only in the large, evangelical churches of the Baptist and independent denominations is there resistance to the trend, but many of these churches also show some decline. One small area of growth is in Northern Ireland, where the enthusiasm of Pentecostals and other independents has led to a slight increase in numbers of churches – a trend expected to continue to 2050. The three growing denominations are the Orthodox, Pentecostals and smaller denominations, all dependent to a degree on immigration.

The crisis is particularly acute for Methodists and Presbyterians, as many worshippers are aged over 65. The report predicts that these churches might well have merged with others by 2030. “The primary cause of the decrease in attendance is that people are simply dying off,” the report says.

By 2050 there will be just 3,600 churchgoing Methodists left in Britain, Christian Research predicts. Anglicans will be down to 87,800, Catholics to 101,700, Presbyterians to 4,400, Baptists to 123,000 and independents to 168,000.

The national breakdown shows similar declines across England, Wales and Scotland. Churchgoing across all denominations in England will fall from about 3 million today to about 700,000 in 2050. In Wales it will tumble from 200,000 to 42,000 and in Scotland, from 550,000 to 140,000. The figures take into account the recent boost to Catholicism from the number of Polish immigrants to Britain, particularly in Scotland.

The report predicts that by 2030, when Dr Rowan Williams’s successor as Archbishop of Cantebury will be approaching retirement, there could be just 350,000 people attending just 10,000 Anglican churches, with an average of 35 worshippers each. The next Archbishop after that could find his position “totally nonviable”, the report says, with just 180,000 worshippers in 6,000 churches by 2040.

George Pitcher at The Telegraph paints a different picture:

The Church of England moved to discredit the research last night, criticising its methodology and saying the results were “flawed and dangerously misleading”.

A C of E spokesman said: “These sorts of statistics, based on dubious presumptions, do no one of any faith any favours.

“Faith communities are not in competition and simplistic research like this is misleading and unhelpful.”

The research does not compare like with like, according to the spokesman. The number of practising Muslims, for instance, is based on the number of people who said they were active in the 2001 census.

If the same process were applied to Christians it would give a figure of 20 million active churchgoers, according to Church House, the headquarters of the C of E.

The study used the number of adults on the Church’s parish-based formal voting lists as the sole measure of its active “members”.

This omitted large numbers who worship every week and are involved in their churches in other ways, according to Church House.

The Rev Lynda Barley, head of research and statistics for the Archbishops’ Council, said last night: “There are more than 1.7 million people worshipping in a Church of England church or cathedral each month, a figure which is 30 per cent higher than the electoral roll figures and has remained stable since 2000.

“More are involved in fresh expressions of church and chaplaincies across the country and we have no reason to believe that this will drop significantly in the next decade.

“These statistics are incomplete and represent only a partial picture of religious trends in Britain today.”

By the way, Stephen Bates reports that congratulations are in order for Mr. Pitcher:

The Daily Telegraph, which recently brusquely sacked its former religious correspondent Jonathan Petre at a few moments’ notice after 23 years on the paper, as well as his partner, Sarah Womack, the paper’s social affairs correspondent, has announced that it has appointed a real-life reverend to succeed him: George Pitcher, curate of St Bride’s church in Fleet Street. Pitcher, a bit of an Anglican leftie who was once of the Observer until he saw the light, told PR Week last year that he was “somebody of the journalistic tribe who is not going to blush when someone says bugger”.

From a more staid announcement:

The curate of St Bride’s church in Fleet Street, the spiritual home of printing and the media, has been appointed religion editor for the Telegraph titles.

George Pitcher, the former industrial editor of the Observer and co-founder of PR firm Luther Pendragon, will be part of an “integrated religious affairs team” across the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, and

Word on the street is he’s a decent guy.

Gledhill’s piece raised the question of church finances. See Pitcher’s informative article on that subject here.

Thursday afternoon update

Thinking Anglicans has an extensive roundup including, a statement from the Church of England, and a post by Stephen Brown who reminds us, “One of the rituals of the Christian year [in the UK] is the publication of a report from the evangelical outfit Christian Research suggesting that Christianity is doomed.” Ekklesihas an excellent piece of journalism on the reporting. The Times does not fair well in the analysis.

Check out Thinking Anglicans for more links.

Last but not least, “Benita Hewitt [the new director of Christian Research Association, whose Religious Trends have been quoted] describes the article as very misleading. Church attendance once a week is compared to mosque attendance once a year, and no allowance has been made for once a month, once a year, midweek and FX church attendance.” See also Christian Research’s own numbers contradicting the Times here. (With thanks once more to Thinking Anglicans.)

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