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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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02.12.2022

The Census Results: Should We Panic?

On Tuesday, the results of the 2021 Census for England and Wales were published.

They revealed that the proportion of people who call themselves Christian had dropped to 46.2%. The number identifying with ‘No religion’ jumped by over 8 million, from 25% to 37% between 2011 and 2021.

‘Christians now in a minority in England and Wales for the first time’ was the headline across news media outlets. How should we respond?

We shouldn’t be shocked. The decline in the number of people calling themselves Christian is part of a demographic and cultural trend spanning half a century. In 2001, 71% of people ticked the Christian box, dropping to 59.3% in 2011, and 46.2% in 2021.

The findings might not be shocking, but they are significant. The historic role of Christianity is changing in our society. The impact of the Christian story on our culture and politics has been enormous. Christianity underpins many of the ‘liberal’ and ‘secular’ assumptions we make about the world today, and its influence can be seen in the social ‘goods’ it gifts society, in our art, literature, music, and even the English language. If the foundations of a culture disappear, it doesn’t take long for the whole building to collapse.

But we shouldn’t panic nor be pessimistic. Contrary to the headlines, this is not the first time that Christians have been a minority. That is the norm. Jesus started with just twelve disciples. Christians are called to be different from the world around us.

The census figures should encourage us to be more intentional about living all of life with God. Christianity grew exponentially in just a few centuries because of the way the early Christians behaved in their everyday lives and work. In contrast to other groups, Christians remained in urban areas during plague, caring for the sick and dying. Christian populations grew faster because of their opposition to infanticide, and because women were valued. Instead of fighting against their persecutors, Christians willingly went to their martyrdom while praying for their captors.

The world is not the same as it was back then but, as we seek to come to terms with a changing society, there’s a great deal that we can learn from those who have gone before us. And, if we can be a truly faithful presence, we might yet see the growth of the church in our lifetimes.

Paul Woolley
CEO, LICC

Comments

  1. Many people who call themselves “Christians” are not really committed and could not claim to be regular participants in prayer, worship, fellowship and service. Even those who do participate may not really search the bible and in fellowship reflect upon what being a disciple actually entails. Comments like this may have been true for decades, perhaps centuries.
    This is why those of us who have benefitted from the inspired witness of others (usually older in the faith than us) which has nurtured our faith in Jesus, should not only be grateful to God but also supportive of “Frontline” guidance and ministry, including the work of LICC.
    Still in a minority, still facing an uphill struggle on the “narrow way”, we have much to be thankful for and a glorious calling before us. Thank you Lord!

    By William Nixon  -  2 Dec 2022
  2. Interesting “coincidence” that the passage in my SU reading notes for the day this figure hit the news was in Luke 13, where Jesus is asked “are only a few people going to be saved?”
    His reply puts the census into perspective for me:
    – it’s whether we know and obey me that matters, not how we tick a box
    – even if many reject him, there will be many more we wouldn’t expect who follow him.
    And Luke adds more context, placing this between:
    – parables of mustard seed and yeast – even if we are small and few, we are influential, and
    – lament for Jerusalem – keep caring about people rejecting Jesus.

    By David  -  2 Dec 2022
  3. As a rough estimate would it not be true to say that utilising the Biblical definitions of the ‘normal’ Christian: born-again/filled with the Holy Spirit/bearing good fruit, the proportion of true disciples of Jesus in the UK is around 5%? Should we not be so radically Spirit-led/Jesus-like in the expression of our Faith that it is plain to everyone? Nominal Christianity (c.41% of the population which tragically includes some Clergy) is perhaps the most damaging hindrance to non-believers genuinely seeking after truth.

    By Peter Riley  -  2 Dec 2022
  4. I think people are often collapsing post church with no longer Christian. Post church may prove inevitable for
    Christians who believe climate and gender inclusion and critique of power need to be central to all the church seeks to do in this generation. Post church is often where young people end up if church leadership is reductionist, and stuck in simplistic visions of faith rather than messy and robust and open. Post church is often a place of deep faith development and stripping away cultural norms and re finding Christ’s radical message . I support many in this luminal space . Jesus is to be found in the messy, counter cultural spaces so thank God post Jesus isn’t the same thing as post church . Let’s pray for Christians to live true lives of love and service whether in or out of church and as you say don’t panic (mr mannering!!)xx

    By Rachie  -  2 Dec 2022
  5. I took my area of London where 47% identified as Christian. I then looked at church electoral rolls or membership numbers in annual church reports and assuming at least monthly attendance then around half of that 47% would be in church. What is interesting is that the other half may be what Professor Linda Woodhead calls those who ” believe without belonging”. The bigger challenge is how to get the ” nones” engaged with faith.
    In 2001 there was not a “no faith” box to tick. Even now how many of the “nones” are totally without faith.
    One US survey suggested only circa 10%.

    By David  -  2 Dec 2022
  6. I would like to suggest that Christians have not been ‘discipled’ (I do not mean being taughttaught) and thus we do not have an effective Church. The Gospel is far more than Jesus is our Saviour, it is more about Him being our Lord in every aspect of life – both individual and corporate. Virtually all Christian ‘courses’ do not have a ‘whole-life’ perspective (the 6M’s is a start) and thus there is not a proper foundation built in all Christians. We need to see that the Scriptures has something to say and apply to virtually every area of life. To me, the Church does not have in place a training (not teaching) structure whereby two to three Christians gather together on a regular basis to learn and be shown how to apply the Bible in individual, societial and corporate life. (Maybe we should follow the Evangelism Explosion model???) Upon recognising one’s desire to follow Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, and giving all the glory to God, one needs help to understand a biblical worldview and to practise biblical character as well as know how to see how own’s faith should be lived out personally and in the workplace/clubs/home/church. I could say more but I will leave it at that and point you to my website below.

    By Greg Fletcher  -  9 Feb 2023

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