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Religion in the United Kingdom

UK religious data: 2004 to now

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2004 data:

A government report revealed that about 74% of adults in England and Wales regard themselves as Christians. Another approximately 6% identify with another religion. But only about 7% of Christians in the UK actually attend church regularly. Hanne Stinson, director of the British Humanist Association, said that many adults are "cultural Christians." They see themselves as being Christian in the same way that they are British, almost in a tribal way. She said: "People label themselves with what they were brought up with...If they haven't gone to church for 20 years, they still put themselves down on official forms as 'Church of England'." 1

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More 2004 data:

According to The Telegraph, the results of the 2004-DEC "YouGov" survey:

"... provides overwhelming evidence that the British are now a largely irreligious people. Only a minority believe that God exists and almost everyone acknowledges that Britain is becoming an increasingly secular society...the national mood appears to be one of benign indifference."

YouGov polled 1,981 adults across Britain during 2004-DEC-16 to 18. The margin of error was about ±2.5 percentage points. Some results:

bulletA minority, 44%, believe in God. This is a drop from 77% in 1968 -- an unusually rapid change for religious matters.
bulletOf those who believe in God, 3% believe in more than one God and 10% believe in "some other kind of Supreme Being."
bullet33% believe in the existence of Heaven
bullet25% believe in Hell. This result has changed little since 1968.
bulletOver a third of young adults describe themselves as Agnostic or Atheist. 1

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2005 data:

After reviewing a report by the University of Manchester in 2005-AUG, News.Telegraph reported that "Organized religion is in near-terminal decline in Britain because parents have only a 50-50 chance of passing on belief to their offspring." 2 Dr. David Voas, who oversaw the study said that religion would reach:

"... fairly low levels [before very long] The dip in religious belief is not temporary or accidental, it is a generational phenomenon - the decline has continued year on year. The fact that children are only half as likely to believe as their parents indicates that, as a society, we are at an advanced stage of secularization." 2

Their report was based on interviews of 10,500 households over 14 years and used data from the British Household Panel and British Social Attitudes surveys. They found that between 1991 and 1999:

bulletThe importance of belief in God fell from 37.8% to 32.5%
bulletThe percentage of people who attended church services fell by 3.5%
bulletThe percentage of people who regard themselves as affiliated with a religion dropped by 2.9%.

There was diverse reaction to the survey results:

bulletSteve Jenkins, a spokesperson for the Church of England was skeptical. He said:

"There is an assumption that people 'catch' religion from their parents, but many people come to faith through the grandparents, schools, and their friends. He said that the study had not released "proper evidence...There is nothing to back up the claims. Our recent statistics show that congregations are actually increasing, as is the number of ordinations."

Church of England data shows that in 2004, the ordinations of 564 people were approved -- the highest figure in six years. Congregations in 2003 had increased in size by 1 per cent. This compares to a total population growth which averages about 0.3% a year. 3

bulletThe National Secular Society welcomed the results. Their vice president, Terry Sanderson, said:

"We find [belief] embarrassing as a country and it is time we accepted that...People may say they believe in Christianity but if you question them even slightly it becomes clear that they cannot accept the central tenets of its faith -- they don't believe in its supernatural explanations."

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More 2005 data:

The Mori poll polled 4,270 adults during 2005-May. The margin of error would have been less than ±2 percentage points. Some results:

bullet36% of young adults (18 to 34 years-of-age) define themselves as Atheist or Agnostic.
bullet24% of the adult population as a whole say they have no religion.
bullet11% of those over 65 say they have no religion. 4

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2008 data:

According to reporter Ruth Gledhill, the document Religious Trends published by Christian Research estimates that:

bulletBy 2035, 1.96 million Muslims -- double the number attending today -- will be attending mosques. They will outnumber Christians who attend churches.
bulletChurch attendance in Britain is declining so fast that the "Church of England, Catholicism and other denominations will become financially unviable." By 2030, the number of Anglican churches in the UK will drop to 10,000 with an average attendance of 35 persons.
bulletBy 2050 only about 0.9 million Christians will go to church. There will be only 3,600 churchgoing Methodists, 87,899 members of the Church of Enland, 101,700 Roman Catholics, 4,400 Presbyterians, 123,000 Baptists, and 168,000 independent Christians.
bulletCalls for disestablishment of the Church of England, which has been the official church, will likely result.

Martin Salter, the Labour Member of Parliament for Reading West and a member of Reading inter-faith group, said:

"I think all faiths could be treated equally under our constitution. These figures demonstrate the absurdity of favoring one brand of Christianity over other parts of the Christian faith and the many other religions that grace our shores."

Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary said:

"We will look at these findings very closely. Britain is a secular democracy with a strong Christian tradition but many faiths have a home in Britain."

David Voas, a professor of population studies at the Institute for Social Change at the University of Manchester, said:

bullet"The difficulty is in retaining the children who have churchgoing parents. So long as churchgoing is something that gets you laughed at, so long as there is a social stigma attached to being a churchgoing young person, it will be difficult to reverse the trend."
bulletFor young Muslims, "Being religious is a way that you show you are different, that you are proud of your heritage. One of the ways young Muslims assert their identity is by being more observant than their parents." 6

Reporter Sarah Miloudi reports that, according to the same study, church attendance in Wales could decline to less than a quarter of its current level by 2050, from 200,000 to fewer than 40,000. In England it is predicted to fall from three million to 700,000. In Scotland it is expected to decline from 550,000 to 140,000 in the same period. The study notes that Methodist and Presbyterian members are mainly over 65 years-of-age, are dying off, and not being replaced. A church merger is predicted.

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, noted that the role of the church in today’s society is changing. Church attendance is no longer a good measure of its effect on society.

Lynda Barley, head of research for the Church of England, said that her church felt there was “no reason” to believe attendance would drop as predicted.

The Rev James Karran of the Ararat Baptist church in Whitchurch, Cardiff, and the non-denominational pub church, Solace, said:

"I have read about some figures of where we will be in terms of church going in the next few years. The church is seen as outdated and irrelevant. I do not think this is the case, and I think the Christian message of hope still has a lot to say. I think a lot depends on how this message is put across, as people see the old church buildings and 10 AM starts for services and don’t want that. The church is only just starting to realize things need to be done differently. It will take a few years before we know if this has worked." 7

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "We believe, but not in church," BBC News, UK Edition, 2004-MAY-16, at: http://news.bbc.co.uk
  2. Matt Barnwell and Amy Iggulden, "Religious belief 'falling faster than church attendance'," News.Telegraph, 2005-AUG-17, at: http://news.telegraph.co.uk/
  3. "Population Estimates," National Statistics, 2004-SEP-09. at: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/
  4. "Religion and belief - some surveys and statistics," British Humanist Association, 2005, at: http://www.humanism.org.uk/ **
  5. "Annex II: Polls and surveys on belief," Select Committee on BBC Charter Review, 2006, at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/ **
  6. Ruth Gledhill: "Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour," The Times, 2008-MAY-08, at: http://wwrn.org/
  7. Sarah Miloudi, "Church attendance in Wales ‘plummeting’" Western Mail, 2008-MAY-09, at: http://wwrn.org/

** These web sites contain extensive listings of various polls on religious belief.

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Copyright © 2003 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-FEB-19
Latest update: 2008-MAR-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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