Christians in England, Wales now outnumbered by people of no religion
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Christians in England, Wales now outnumbered by people of no religion

Churches steadily losing members, study finds, as number of unaffiliated citizens grows

Stephen Bullivant discusses his book, “The Trinity: How Not to be a Heretic.” Hosted by Doug Keck, March 2016 (YouTube screenshot)
Stephen Bullivant discusses his book, “The Trinity: How Not to be a Heretic.” Hosted by Doug Keck, March 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

The number of people in England and Wales who self-identify as having no religion now outnumbers adherents of Christianity after nearly doubling between 2011 and 2014, according to a new analysis, The Guardian reported Tuesday.

The analysis is meant to refresh the current research on the subject, which was suffering from outdated statistics. It represents data from British Social Attitudes surveys compiled between 1983 and 2014.

While those who define themselves as Christians, regardless of their denomination, comprised 43.8 percent of the population as of 2014, those who identify themselves as having no religion, concisely referred to as “nones,” made up 48.5 percent, almost doubling in size since the last figures were presented in 2011, when they made up 25 percent of the population.

The analysis was published by Stephen Bullivant, senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St Mary’s Catholic University in Twickenham, southwest London, who compiled and analyzed data on the subject collected by British Social Attitudes surveys over 30 years.

“The main driver is people who were brought up with some religion now saying they have no religion,” Bullivant told The Guardian.

“What we’re seeing is an acceleration in the numbers of people not only not practicing their faith on a regular basis, but not even ticking the box. The reason for that is the big question in the sociology of religion.”

Chart showing the segmentation of "nones" versus the religiously affiliated in England and Wales according to Stephen Bullivant's research. (Graphics: Daniel Douek)
Chart showing the segmentation of “nones” versus the religiously affiliated in England and Wales according to Stephen Bullivant’s research. (Graphics: Daniel Douek)

 

Bullivant’s report centered on England and Wales, and did not present data on Northern Ireland or Scotland.

Northern Ireland stands in stark contrast to England and Wales, with only seven percent of the population belonging to religions that aren’t Christian or claiming to belong to no religion.

However, in April a Scottish Social Attitudes survey found that secularism was on the rise in Scotland as well, albeit not as rapidly as in England and Wales. According to the survey, over half of the Scottish people, 52 percent of the population, is not religious, compared to 40 percent in 1999.

In February 2016 the Church of England announced it expected church attendance to fall continually for the next 30 years, underlining concerns about rising indifference to organized religion within the younger generations.

Bullivant’s report also demonstrates that Catholic and Anglican churches are losing members much faster than they’re able to attract them.

For every person recruited to the Anglican church, 12 are lost, according to the report. In the ranks of the Catholic church the situation is nearly as bad, with ten people opting out of Catholicism for every one recruited.

Bullivant demonstrated in his report that the conversion efforts made by churches in England succeed in drawing in believers from other denominations, but not nonbelievers.

“There’s a kind of denominational musical chairs,” Bullivant told The Guardian. “No one is making serious inroads into the non-Christian population.”

Bullivant said, “Churches need to take this kind of data very seriously,” expressing hope that his research act as a catalyst for further research on the matter.

In a response to a request for comment by The Guardian, a spokesperson for the Church of England said: “The increase in those identifying as ‘no faith’ reflects a growing plurality in society rather than any increase in secularism or humanism. We do not have an increasingly secular society as much as a more agnostic one.”

“In a global context, adherence to religion is growing rather than decreasing. Christianity remains the world’s largest religion with over 2 billion adherents. In the UK the latest census found the overwhelming majority of people to have a faith.”

The Catholic church did not respond to a request for comment.

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