Connecting with Culture
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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.