Thinking Anglicans

YouGov@Cambridge on Religion

Earlier this year YouGov@Cambridge did a census of British life and attitudes, using a representative sample of adult Britons. Some of the questions were on religion, and British Religion in Numbers (BRIN) has published this summary of the results: YouGov@Cambridge on Religion. It starts:

40% of adults professed no religion, 55% were Christian and 5% of other faiths – age made a major difference, with only 38% of the 18-34s being Christian and 53% having no religion, whereas for the over-55s the figures were 70% and 26% respectively.

BRIN’s conclusion is:

All in all, these data point to a society in which religion is increasingly in retreat and nominal. With the principal exception of the older age groups, many of those who claim some religious allegiance fail to underpin it by a belief in God or to translate it into regular prayer or attendance at a place of worship. People in general are more inclined to see the negative than the positive aspects of religion, and they certainly want to keep it well out of the political arena.

The full data set is available here.


  • Ed Tomlinson says:

    Ah but this is misleading. One might also see a difference in attitude to alcohol between generations. This says less about a new generation and more about state of life in different eras.

    I would have shuddered at the thought of driving a people carrier at the age of 18. Now I delight in something to keep my children safe.

    One might find that these same anti-religious youths soon become the ones who see its worth.

  • Could the reason for the perceived decline in the exercise of public religion be due to the fact that the institutional Churches are failing in their duty of loving care to the society that surrounds them?

    Is the whole idea of God, as the Old Man in the Sky with a Big Stick, no longer attractive to a people who long for some sort of meaningful and helpful understanding of the difficulties they experience in just coping with everyday life?

    How do the devotees of a Vengeful God attract the young, for instance, to their worship services? Is it by fear? Or is that no longer sufficiently frightening for a generation whose fears are bound up with whether or not they are going to have a job when they leave school – or maybe even, whether they are going to survive the threat of global-warming?

    The Church will have to prove itself far more understanding of what it takes to merely survive the problems of each day as it comes; of how to ensure that the Creator of All is an Enabler, and not a Destroyer; a Lover and not a Denier of meaningful relationships.

    The threat of Hell-fire is no longer a guarantee of putting bums on seats. What the world needs is to hear of the Love of a God who has shared our humanity – who understands all there is to know about us – and still persists in loving us – despite our waywardness. Now that is a God worthy of all worship. who would not want to serve him?

  • rjb says:

    The conclusion is a fairly familiar one, but I wonder how warranted it really is. After all, it may well be the case that older people are more religious than younger people, but it is also true that British society is becoming older as people live longer. So the question is: are religious congregations really dying out (as statisticians frequently assume) or is religious observance simply a phenomenon that is always more common among older people than among the young?

  • Nat says:

    Ed, you make a valid point. I’m sometimes amazed at how my attitudes towards all sorts of things have changed over the years (and I blush at some of my youthful opinions!)

    However, it is not just “anti-religious youths” who stay away. My younger friends are in their 40’s, and both they and my contemporaries stay away because all they see is squabbling, rejection, fixation on sexuality, and various forms of hatred.

    Granted, much of the more virulent hatred comes from non-mainline churches, but we Episcopalians are tarred with the same brush (and by our own endless debate on sexuality). To bring anti-religious youth and all the others back in, we MUST be seen to do something far, far better, more loving, more open and welcoming, and more courageous. So far, I see not enough sign of this in ECUSA, and frankly, far less in the C of E..


  • Stephen Srikantha says:

    Thank you Fr Ron Smith! You are absolutely right – we need to start preaching the Love of God.

    However, the voices that are heard the loudest are the ones that precisely contradict this message of the Love of God. A deeply vengeful God who needs to satisfy Himself with the suffering and bloody death of His Own Word made Flesh is presented to the public. It would even seem that some are attracted to this idea of God and, thus, we see some churches that proclaim this message attracting a great number of worshippers.

    Yet, I wonder, for each person that is attracted by this type of God, how many people are put off from even setting foot into a church ever again?

    I hope and pray that we will have the courage to preach the Love of God in Christ and live out this Love.

  • badman says:

    It is undoubtedly true that people tend to become more interested in the Church as they age and appreciate their own mortality and move away from a degree of in-the-moment self obsession which can characterise the young.

    But what is worrying is that Christianity is increasingly seen as abhorrent, positively obnoxious, because of its attitudes to women, and homosexuals, and because of the child abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. In 2007, Ruth Gledhill of The Times wrote: “Tell anyone outside the Church that you’re a Christian these days, and they make one assumption about you. It is not that you are spiritual, or ascetically-minded, or dedicated to helping others, or opposed to the culture of consumerism. It is that you are a homophobe.”

    I went to a parents’ evening at my children’s school last night in which the hostility to news of a summer camp promoted by the Christian Union was very strong.

    This is an atmosphere in which people will not come to the church because it has become toxic, and there is no reason to think that they will overcome their distaste when they are older.

    The Bishop of Buckingham in 2008 said that making a homosexuality a “lead issue seems to be missional suicide.” Strong words, but I agree with them.

  • Richard Ashby says:

    ‘People in general are more inclined to see the negative than the positive aspects of religion, and they certainly want to keep it well out of the political arena’.

    …and out of their bedrooms as well.

    Isn’t that the nub of the problem?

  • Fr Mark says:

    No, I don’t think Ed’s point is valid, because in previous generations there was a higher degree of residual churchgoing folk memory. Even when I was at a non-church school, we all said the Lord’s Prayer every morning at assembly and mimed “Praise my Soul, the King of Heaven” or other such hymns. The same is not the case today, and therefore as this younger generation ages, they will not have anything to come back to.

    The key challenge is how we connect with the totally unchurched. To fail to do so looks like certain death for the institution – Ed’s form of it as much as anyone else’s – in coming decades.

    One thing I am sure of is that petty squabbling a la AMIE designed to hang on to power for a small number of ageing straight men at the expense of excluding everyone else ain’t going to connect with anyone unchurched at all…

  • JCF says:

    As long as the following is true

    “People in general are more inclined to see the negative than the positive aspects of religion”

    the belief that “These young fools will grow up, into Our Church” is so much whistling past the graveyard.

  • Laurence C. says:

    “Now that is a God worthy of all worship. Who would not want to serve him?” Father Ron Smith

    Those who have come to the conclusion that ‘he’ is non-existent.

  • rjb says:

    Alright, then, let’s assume that the report is essentially correct and that religiosity is declining across time as congregations grow older and die. Is it entirely heretical to question whether this might be entirely a bad thing? Might it not be the case, as an Italian priest said to me recently, that God’s plan for the church in the future is not to be a dominant voice in society but as a sprinkling of leven?

    At any rate, I don’t think the hand-wringing over this is helpful, and I don’t actually think It’s All About the Gays (after all, there seems to be no immediate shortage of gay men in the C of E). More likely it’s all about a culture of late capitalism that privileges selfishness, immediate gratification, moral hysteria, militarism, entitlement, consumerism, the cult of youth, and the accumulation of personal wealth at all costs. Trying to take on a basically ungodly culture based upon a satanic economic system is more challenging than merely adopting a more positive attitude towards homosexuality (which, incidentally, I also think we should do).

  • Pluralist says:

    The work we did on a council estate suggests that religiosity does not increase with age, but that the older generation is more religious than the younger. So the upshot is a continued decline, as has happened.

    The older generation went to Sunday School but the younger have no grounding in religious dialogue except for RE lessons in schools, and by and large they describe religions.

  • 55% of adult Britons are followers of Jesus? I find that astounding. I’m now 52, and in the high school in south east Essex that I attended in the early 1970s I doubt if more than five of the kids in my class of thirty or so were convinced and practising Christians.

    Either someone’s been doing some extraordinarily effective evangelism since I left England in 1975, or these terms are being used in such a loose way as to be meaningless and unhelpful.

  • MarkBrunson says:

    Even those who “identify” as Christian merely see it as a placeholder, meaningless, or as a political, rather than faith, identity.

    Mr. Tomlinson’s deluding himself. There were never that many Christians.

  • Thomas Renz says:

    Christianity may be “increasingly in retreat” in Britain but increasingly “nominal”?

    Hardly in my experience. If 70% of the over-55s still call themselves Christian, it’s because in that generation “nominal” Christianity is a major option and professing “no religion” is seen by many as another faith commitment.

    For many under-55s wearing the tag “Christian” without any faith commitment only makes sense, if you want to get your children into a CofE school and professing “no religion” often simply indicates a lack of faith commitment. Isn’t it nominalism which is in decline more than anything else?

  • Erika Baker says:

    “I went to a parents’ evening at my children’s school last night in which the hostility to news of a summer camp promoted by the Christian Union was very strong.”

    I certainly wouldn’t have sent my own children to one.

    What people object to is being lectured and being told that WE have a truth that THEY have to learn and to obey. As long as we remain moralistic, more interested in social control (not just about sex) than genuine spiritual growth regardless of where it might take the seeker, as long as we give answers rather than allow space for questions, we really stand no chance engaging a generation that is being taught to think for themselves, to evaluate moral choices on a wide ranging set of criteria and that knows that all religions claim to possess THE truth. Some of the platitudes my daughter was told when she started asking about why she had leukaemia, why anyone should have leukaemia, why she was cured but not others… were enough to turn her off church altogether. Especially when they were immediately followed by Praise songs.

    The Spirit will still be in the world and active in people’s lives even if they don’t go to the 8 o’clock.

  • Fr Mark says:

    rjb: but do you really think the decline is to do with us failing to take on a “satanic economic system”? The economic system was considerably more satanic in the 19th century, I would imagine.

    What motivates me to think that religion matters is the practice of spirituality, not moralising about economics, sex or anything else. I think Western Christianity lost confidence in its spiritual tradition some time ago, and that is what we ultimately stand or fall by. Eastern Christians (especially in Russia) and Muslims, by contrast, have a powerful spiritual praxis which evidently still works for them.

  • Chris Smith says:

    The Fundamentalist Movement in all branches of Christianity, Judaism and Islam is most definitely a POLITICAL movement and thus should no longer receive the tax exempt benefits that institutional Religion enjoys. The Anglicans share the same issues as the rest of the family of Religious institutions. The hypocrisy of the leaders of these three groups, along with the misogyny and homophobia that is advocated and practiced are major reasons why people turn their backs on the institutional “leaders” in Religion. The sheer meanness and ugliness of the Far Right’s message is enough to send people running from the churches, synagogues and mosques!

  • ‘The Fundamentalist Movement in all branches of Christianity, Judaism and Islam is most definitely a POLITICAL movement and thus should no longer receive the tax exempt benefits that institutional Religion enjoys. ‘

    Excuse me?

    I mean, does no one read Yoder’s ‘The Politics of Jesus’ any more?

    Christianity has always been a political movement. From the beginning, it announced the triumph of the Kingdom of God over the kingdoms of this world. From the beginning, it took two titles that the Romans applied to their emperor (‘Saviour’ and ‘Lord’) and gave them to Jesus. It made slaves and women equal to men in baptism, and told Philemon to see his slave as his beloved brother. It told the rich to sell their possessions and give to the poor. It told people to love their enemies rather than taking revenge on them and going to war against them. It told people who wanted to be first of all to be servants of all.

    This is not political?

  • Murdoch says:

    Danielle Tumminio published an article last summer on J.K. Rowling’s theology:

    “. . what the Harry Potter books do is to accomplish the work of Christ utilizing a whole community instead of a single person, which explains why no individual character closely resembles Jesus. This means that salvation is accomplished not by one person but by many people working together, with love (aka God) for a guide. Ethically, a theology like this has important implications because it empowers people — both in Harry’s world and our own — to live the life compassion for which Jesus lived and died.”

    “The love of God” is very abstract. It means mainly that we exist. Love among persons is more commonly experienced. (I wonder if the writer of I John got it backwards: not “God is love,” but Love shapes our idea of “God.”) I see little prospect of reviving medieval theorizing about God, but humans need community. Put the emphasis on people locally, and look to Jesus’s teaching on equality, (economic) justice, and compassion. People are leaving dogma and clericalism behind. The church might move with them.

  • Perry Butler says:

    I agree with Thomas Renz that it is nominalism that is in retreat. Neville Figgis ,as he pondered the impact of pluralism ,said thet the religion of the future would be less extensive and more intensive…and that was in Edwardian times!. What concerns me is how the C of E responds to this situation…I fear many now being ordained have ( to my mind) a rather sectarian outlook that has little interest in what I would call “parochial religion” and see their task as building up strong “congregations” ( which to the outsider often seem self ministering and little concerned with fringers and those who will never be “four coursers” ).It is increasingly difficult to sustain the parochial model but if it goes the C of E will suffer,and so will christian practice in England.Nominalism does provide possibilities of moving towards something less nominal. Definite unbelief is harder to counter.We need a strong core,yes but I prefer my churches to be like light bulbs..light gently shades into darkness.

  • Having just read ‘The Great Emergence’, I think that the main problem is with the church’s out-moded over-centralised tactically-naive authority structure.

    Sacred space (including the idolatrous) has changed in today’s secular society. It’s more likely to be the trophy room of your favourite Premier League football club; your most carefully created iPod playlist; the blog of a respected, but controversial journalist; the air-time of a really witty radio presenter; the chill-out moments during the set of a top-flight DJ; the on-line avatar of the top-scoring ‘Gears of War’ video game champion. Today, the sacred is anywhere that elite talent, or experiences earn our deep admiration and respect.

    These spaces only negate the gospel in the modern idea-marketplace when we ignore them. However, we are fighting some of the cleverest brand experts, who can evoke mass responses from the simplest of tag lines.

    St. Paul’s impassioned plea failed to resonate with the inhabitants of Lystra, as he dissuaded them from making him a part of their ‘pop idol’ circuit. By the time that he reached Athens, he was able to offer a more composed challenge to idolatry. Nevertheless, this was not enough to overcome scepticism. In Corinth, it changed.

    1. A new flexible unit of Christianity interfaced with society, the house-church, evolving as a more accessible adjunct to the synagogue. What is the new, more accessible unit of Christian interface with society? Is it a controversial blog, an uplifting ‘house’ music DJ set; a thought-provoking Facebook group; a flash-mob in the city? It’s certainly not the traditional church assembly.

    2. Enterprising, savvy and empowered laity spearheaded this change, rather than following formal lines of authority. This allowed for tactical corrections to be made without immediate recourse to Jerusalem. Church expansion was largely managed by exception.

    3. The Holy Spirit communicated strategic direction about deployment of resources through supernatural insight and prayerful grass-roots discernment. He began to work miracles of restoration and redemption in a manner that challenged conventional wisdom of society *assymetrically*: ‘My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (1 Cor. 2:4)

    4. The receptive audience was (and is again) not comprised of the society’s elite: ‘Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.’ (1 Cor. 1:26)

  • Rosemary Hannah says:

    I think the main problems are –
    1 when I was young the ‘Christianity’ that was preached was a mild middle class morality devoid of anything demanding, challenging, or recognisable as being in any way related to the message of the historical Jesus.
    2 – This is what people used to experience and still fear expect they will meet
    3 The propaganda of the new radical atheists and the far Christian right that if you do not swallow the idea of all of the Bible being literally true you are not a ‘real’ Christian.
    4 Tedious worship – don’t to it! Be happy clappy, be ultra high church, just don’t be tedious.
    5 – the real cruelty of the created world – be can no longer believe in a historic fall, before which the lion eat grass.

  • H. E. Baber says:

    Believe it or not the figures are comparable for the US over 3/4 of Americans 18-29 saying they’re “more spiritual than religious” and around half saying they “have no religion.”

    Liberal mainline churches don’t invest much time or money in evangelism so the public face of religion is conservative evangelicalism–which turns most people, particularly younger people, off. Evangelical churches spend a significant part of their operating budget on advertising (evangelism, outreach). What does the average Anglican parish spend? When I was on vestry at my Episcopal church here in the US we spent less than 1% of the budget on advertising. Evangelical “pastors” knock on doors. You show me one, just one, priest who’s done that.

    So bad money drives out good. And currently to the general public Christianity looks like nothing more than a special interest group for promoting a socially conservative agenda.

    I’m all for nominal Christianity–get those bums on pews and who cares what they believe: it isn’t the business of the Church to make windows into men’s souls. The problem is that Christianity has become a specialty item pitched to an aging, shrinking niche market of social (and usually also political) conservatives rather than mild middle class morality devoid of anything demanding or challenging.

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