With over 170 distinct religions counted, the religious make-up of the UK is diverse, complex and multicultural. The 2011 Census shows that minority and alternative religions are steadily growing, as is Islam. Less than half of the British people believe in a God and from 2009 the annual British Social Attitudes results has revealed that over 50% of us say we're not religious1 and a 2014 YouGov poll saw 77% of the British public say they're not very, or not at all, religious2. Comprehensive professional research in 2006 by Tearfund found that two thirds (66% - 32.2 million people) in the UK have no connection with any religion or church3.
However people continue to put down what they think is their "official" religion on official forms. As a result of this Census Effect in the 2011 National Census, 59.3% of us put their religion down as "Christian"4. Half of those who say they have no religion to pollsters still put one down on the 2011 Census. Even despite this, Christian numbers are substantially down from the 2001 figure of 72%. Religion in Britain has suffered an immense general decline since the 1950s. Between 1979 and 2005, half of all Christians stopped going to church on a Sunday. Four in five britons want religion to be private, not public, and have no place in politics5. All indicators show a continued secularisation of British society in line with other European countries such as France.
|Christianity||33 200 000||59.3%|
|No Religion||14 100 000||25.1%|
|Islam||2 700 000||4.8%|
|Jedi Knights||176 632||0.3%|
|Heavy Metal||6 242|
|Bahá'í Faith||5 021|
|... view full list and compare to the 2001 Census|
“This secular majority presents a major challenge to churches. Most of them - 29.3 million - are unreceptive and closed to attending church; churchgoing is simply not on their agenda.”
Tearfund (2007) on 2006 research3
The primary social research tool in Britain is the British Social Attitudes Survey, an annual mini-census. In 2009 'No religion' was stated by 50.7% of the UK population1. Comprehensive professional research in 2006 by Tearfund found that two thirds (66% - 32.2 million people) in the UK have no connection with any religion or church3, a figure which meshes perfectly with another poll in the same year that saw 63% say they are not religious 6. A decade ago, headcounts revealed that just over 6% of the population go to church on a Sunday7 (for every 6 who do, 94 do not). In 2003 August, only 18% of the British public said they were a practicing member of an organized religion, 25% they were members of a world religion8. According to these results, one fifth of self-declared members would also not describe themselves as actually practicing that religion.
17% of the population responded that religion was one of the most significant factors in their lives. A persons' own experience, parents, education and friends come first for nearly everyone8. (2003)
Those who do profess religion in the UK are largely inactive. A 2007 poll commissioned by the British Library found that 50% of religious folk "do not practice religion very much, if at all"9, with Christians being the most inactive. A 2014 poll found similar results, with 50% of British Jews saying that they are not at all religious10. Muslims were most religious, with only 7% saying they're not10.
A large 2006 poll of year 9 and 10 teenagers in Cornwall found that only 19% said that they 'have a religious faith'7. If these teenagers reflect the future, British religiosity is going to continue to drop.
One single fact can be found in all of the statistics: Britons are mostly non-religious and are increasingly both innocent and ignorant of religion.
The cultural attachment to Christianity in general lives on and Monica Furlong in her year 2000 comprehensive review of the state of English religion summarizes the English in the same way as Grace Davies who wrote "Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging": by saying the English "believe without belonging" to Christianity. That is, many profess belief but do not take part in organized religion. Subsequent scholars (and we will see much supporting evidence below) have doubted whether we believe at all; one said we "don't believe, and don't belong".
“In the twenty years between 1980 and 2000 the Church of England suffered a 27 per cent decline in church membership. The Roman Catholic Church suffered a similar decline in the same period in mass attendance. Methodists, Baptists and others suffered decline too, though in all the churches, it must be said, there have been significant successes in certain churches and particular enterprises. The only institutional church which has continued to grow has been the Orthodox Church - Greek and Russian - where demand for churches exceeds supply, mainly because of immigration from Orthodox countries.
There is a rather touching footnote to all this, which is that people questioned about how much they go to church, give figures which, if true, would add up to twice those given by the churches.”
|Belong to a religion and attend services||74%||71%||55%||37%||31%|
|Does not belong||3%||5%||26%||31%||38%|
Source: British Social Attitudes (2006/7)12
Those who 'do not belong' have first shed the practical and theoretical underpinnings of their religion, before finally overcoming social pressure to "state your religion". There are many who are not at the later stages of this secularisation process, so they still say they 'belong', although they are in the process of forgetting & discarding the physical and mental aspects of what they say they belong to.
So why do so many people say they are Christian? Sociologists know that if they count heads and ask about beliefs, more people say they belong to a religion, and say they have the beliefs of a particular religion, than actually do. People over-state their own religiosity; that's why statistics from polls will often give higher percentages of 'believers' than will head-counting and deeper investigations. To read about this, click here: "Institutionalized Religions Have Their Numbers Inflated by National Polls" by Vexen Crabtree (2009).
Year 2000 snapshots:
In 2000, 60 per cent of the population claimed to belong to a specific religion with 55 per cent being Christian. However, half of all adults aged 18 and over who belonged to a religion have never attended a religious service.13
Church attendance in 1999 was 7.5% on an average Sunday, down from 10% in 1989 and 12% in 1979.
The historical dominance of Christianity power in England led to the full institutionalizing of Christianity. Christianity is the 'established religion' of the UK. Although much of this is reversed - public offices are no longer restricted to members of Catholic or Protestant denominations, some oddities do still remain. For example "the Church of England is required by law to display a complete, accessible Bible in all its places of worship"16. There is no similar law placing requirements on Mosques or Synagogues. Such an outdated law is nowadays considered improper: the state has no right to interfere in such a way. Most of the time the legal entanglement of Church and State involve the former having disproportionate or improper influence on the latter. Bishops still sit in the House of Lords (the UK's second chamber of government) - "Britain is the only country left in the democratic world that allows clerics to sit in its legislature as of right"17. Although there is a long-lasting "disestablishment" movement in the UK, the public do not know enough about religion to be roused to either oppose or support it. The government tends not to devote much time to actively dismantling such apparatus because even though it is an democratic embarrassment, the public themselves don't often notice.
In a 2012 poll conducted by YouGov and BSAS, 81% of the British stated that religion is a private matter, and should be separate from politics (only 6% thought otherwise), and 71% said that religious leaders should not influence the government18. Only 7% think that Britain would be a better place if more religious leaders held public office18. Battles between Christian powers and democratic propriety have a long history. These links are to another page:
Almost all minority religions that appeared in 2001 and 2011 Census results have grown over the 10 years. Christianity has plummeted, although there is almost universal agreement amongst sociologists that the decline is amongst who have for a long time have not held Christian beliefs - or any other religious beliefs. The decline is caused by people ceasing to put "Christian" because they think it is the right answer; and putting, correctly "no religion" instead.
|2001 Census||2011 Census4||Hover over populations and percentages to view more detail.|
|Christianity||42 079 00020|
|33 200 000|
|Belief that a single creator god had a son, Jesus Christ, born to a human mother, and that Jesus' crucifixion by the Romans brings salvation|
|No Religion||9 104 00020|
|14 100 000|
|The rise secularisation has seen public and private religion decline throughout the developed world|
|Islam||1 546 626|
|2 700 000|
|Strict monotheism taught by Muhammad, the world's 2nd largest religion|
|Hinduism|| 552 421|
| 817 000|
|Cultural religion of India which was historically decentralized and disparate and not a single belief system. Western influence made it into a single religion, an identity which Hindus now accept.|
|Sikhism|| 329 358|
| 423 000|
|Prayer, meditation and self control to become a soldier of God.|
|Judaism|| 259 927|
| 263 000|
|Organized Judaism emerged from Babylonian writings. Belief that God has a special contract with a Hebrew tribe, involving many specific rules of behaviour|
|Buddhism|| 144 45321|
| 248 000|
|The belief that meditation and good living can break the cycle of reincarnation and result in enlightenment|
|Jedi Knights|| 390 12720|
| 176 632|
|A campaign saw many put this down as their religion on the UK census in 2001. Midichlorians exist in all living beings, which create a 'living force' that can be interacted with|
|Paganism||30 569||57 000||Part of the neo-pagan range of religions|
|Spiritualism||32 404||39 000||The belief that the souls of the dead communicate with the living, mostly through Mediums, but, suffered serious credibility problems with the original founders admitted to fraudulently inventing the 'rappings' that formed the communications It is sensible to suspect that some who put this on the Census merely meant to say that they are "spiritual", not that they support Spiritualism.|
|Agnosticism||14 909||32 382||Belief that (1) God, if it exists, is by nature unknowable and will always be unknowable, or, (2) that the individual being asked cannot conclude if god exists or not for lack of evidence one way or the other|
|Jain||15 132||20 000||Beliefs include non-violence and equality of all living things|
|Humanism||8 297||15 067||An organized form of atheism where moral and ethical goodness is emphasized|
|Wicca||7 227||11 766||Neo-pagan organisation based around reconstructed elements of folklore|
|Ravidassia||11 058||Souls are part of the divine and proper living allows us to realize God|
|Rastafarian||4 692||7 906||God (called Jah) fathered a black Jesus; marijuana use in rituals|
|Heavy Metal||6 242||A campaign saw many heavy metal fans put this down as their religion on the UK census in 2011 Its sudden appearance hints that metallers encouraged each other to put that answer much like Star Wars fandom (and thrillseekers!) put Jedi Knight in 2001. This is not without precedent: recall the popular campaign that saw heavy metal band Lordi win the Eurovision Song Contest in 2006 (which normally sees only saccharine pop music).|
|Bahá'í Faith||4 645||5 021||Belief that a series of prophets have come from God, and that Bahá'í is the latest religion founded by God. A liberal offshoot of Islam, but persecuted in Iran|
|Druidism||1 657||4 189||Celtic religion in prehistoric England, famous for building Stonehenge. Modern reconstructed Druidism is part of the neo-pagan range of religions|
|Taoism||3 532||4 144||A relaxed and peaceful religion based on following and accepting the flow of life|
|Zoroastrianism||3 738||4 105||An ancient dualistic religion from Iran with one good god (Ahura Mazda) and one evil one (Ahriman)|
|Unitarianism||3 987||A liberal and non-Trinitarian Christian church|
|Scientology||1 781||2 418||Derived from the writings of science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, a series of practices called Dianetics is used to clear minds of alien influences and attain a state of mental perfection|
|Pantheism||1 603||2 216||God is everywhere, and everything, but is not transcendent and may have no distinct consciousness|
|Heathenism||278 *||1 958||Modern uptake of Nordic religion. Part of the neo-pagan range of religions|
|Satanism||1 525||1 893||An atheist religion that uses dark and evil symbology for self-development and anti-religious purposes - Satan itself is not a real being, just a symbol. Satanism is under-represented in the UK Census; the actual numbers are about double.|
|Witchcraft||1 276||A description of various cultural practices, which are often part of a parent belief system|
|Deism||639||1 199||Belief in a single creator god who is not "personal" and does not have human emotions, and which many believers say does not interact with the world|
|Shinto||1 075||Official collection of practices in Japan, more cultural than religious|
|Universalism||971||923||Belief that all people go to heaven|
|New Age||906||698||A disparate and diverse collection of popular beliefs and practices|
|Shamanism||650||Belief that Shamans need to keep good relations with tribal ancestor spirits for the good fortune of the whole tribe|
|Traditional African Church||588||A range of Churches ranging from mostly Christian, to those mostly encapsulating native African spirituality|
|Animism||401||541||The belief that all objects contain spirits. More a traditional form of belief that a "religion" in the Western sense|
|Druze||260||515||A semi-secretive esoteric religion with features of a Mystery Religion|
|Occultism||99||502||Normally existing within other belief systems, occult systems concentrate on esoteric meanings in texts, often with magical undertones|
|Unification Church||252||452||Sun Myung Moon embodied the Second Coming of Christ, and his commercialist church runs a media empire|
|Brahma Kumari||331||442||This group are preparing to rule the world after a coming apocalypse, and embrace many practices which are now called New Age|
|Church Of All Religion||70||408|
|Eckankar||426||379||New Age religion, a mix of Sant Mat, Theosophy and Scientology|
|Raja Yoga||261||An astika school of Hindu philosophy based around mastering and quieting the mind, involving meditation|
|Vodun/voodoo||123||208||A traditional religion from Haiti with an ethical focus on combating greed and promoting honour|
|Mysticism||158||204||The belief that God is unknowable but accessible, and that doctrinal religion hampers spiritual growth|
|Thelema||184||A magical system of discerning True Will with inspiration from a host of Egyptian gods|
|Chinese Religion||148||182||A varied cultural religion practiced traditionally on a town-by-town and region-by-region basis|
|Native American Church||234||127||Beliefs vary from tribe to tribe and are sometimes noticeably Christian|
|Confucianism||83||124||A collection of ethical and moral teachings|
|Ancestor Worship||98||Belief that good relations need to be kept with tribal ancestor spirits. Often a form of Shamanism|
|Free Church Of Love||49|
|Amish||24||Peaceful Christian fundamentalist group famous for its rejection of technology and strict adherence to OT and NT laws|
Please note that in the 2001 Census, the population was 52.4 million; in the 2011 one it was 56.1 million, which is a 7% increase. Any category in these results that has not grown by 7% has actually shrunk, in terms of its penetration of the populace.
The British public, both adults and children, are almost wholly ignorant of the basic facts surrounding Christianity and other world religions. The Ofsted report on Religious Education (RE) in schools (2007) states that there is a problem even with teachers' insufficient knowledge of RE at primary school level22 and likewise with recruiting the correct specialists at secondary school level22. Not many people seem to mind, as religious education is seen as easy, and the lessons themselves often used for discussions of current affairs rather than religious studies. There is a pandemic innocence of knowledge about religion.
“Children who do not come from churchgoing homes - as I did not - now grow up largely ignorant of Christian ideas in a way unimaginable half a century ago. [...] The comments about religion by journalists in the press and on television [...] suggest that even the basic Christian ideas are no longer understood by university-educated people, still less by others. Indeed even churchgoers can reveal an ignorance of the main elements of Christian belief.”
In data revealed in a Mori poll from 2003 Aug, only 55% of the English population could name one of the four Christian gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). Slightly more, 60%, could name the sacred book used by Muslims: the Qur'an.
Religious education seems all round to be shunned, and this goes hand in hand with the obvious lack of concern the average British person has for religious matters.
“When I asked the Very Reverend David Edwards, the author of over thirty books on modern Christianity, for his assessment of the state of spirituality in England, he just told me bleakly that 'The English have lost any sense of what religion is'.”
Many large-scale polls indicate that less than half the British public believe in God, with the larger ones showing a rate of 34-35%. Polls of teenagers up to 24 year olds show a lower rate of up to 25%.
|Date||Details||Belief in God|
|2013||YouGov poll of 18-24 year olds25||25%|
|2011||64,000 representative adults polled. 34% believed in a personal (theist) or non-intervening (deist) God, 10% in a generic "higher power"5||34%|
|2008||1000 people were polled both in the UK and the USA and asked "Do you believe there is a God?". Less than 40% in the UK said yes, compared with 80% in the USA.26||<40%|
|2006||12507 people were polled, finding that only 35% in Great Britain believe in any kind of God or supreme being, compared to 27% in France, 62% in Italy, 48% in Spain, 41% in Germany and 73% in the USA.27||35%|
|2006||Poll of 4000 older teenagers in Cornwall found that only 22% could affirm that they believed in God, and 49% said they didn't.28||22%|
|2003||1001 British adults surveyed8.||60%|
|2003||55% of the British public do not believe in a higher being29.||45% inc. those unsure|
If the poll of 4000 year 9 & 10 teenagers28 indicates what the future holds, then we can expect belief in God to continue to fall over the next few decades.
Sociologist David Voas is additionally skeptical even of those who say they believe in God. He says that deeper research reveals that British people's religious believes are not deeply held even when they say "yes" they believe in God, and, such beliefs are rarely acted upon. He says "we cannot conclude from the fact that people tell pollsters they believe in God that they give the matter any thought, find it significant, will feel the same next year, or plan to do anything about it"30.
In 2013, only 33% of the British public said that they believe in an afterlife31. A different poll had 52% say in 2003 that they believed in Heaven8. In 2008, under 20% of Britons said they believed in hell26 - down from a 2003 poll that placed that figure at 32%8. If only 33% believe in an afterlife, and yet, 59% of Brits put down "Christian" as their religion in the 2011 Census, it is clear that many as half of all those who say they are Christian are actually wrong or are completely ignorant of even the most basic Christian beliefs.
68% believed in souls in 20038, meaning that there are many spiritualists who are not theists. In 2013, 65% of the populace revealed no belief Satan - but it is still quite surprising that 18% still do32.
“Opinion polls in this country do indeed show high levels of belief, but in all sorts of things, including reincarnation (a quarter of respondents), horoscopes (also a quarter), clairvoyance (almost half), ghosts (nearly a third) and so on. It is far from clear that these beliefs make any different to the people claiming them. Research suggests that casual believers even in astrology, for example, which is distinguished by its practical orientation, rarely do or avoid doing things because of published advice. [... It] is a phenomenon one might call 'believing without believing'. Views are uninformed, not deeply held, seldom acted upon, and relatively volatile.”
In "Public Faith? The State of Religious Belief and Practice in Britain" by Paul Avis (2003)30
In 2003: Close friends (46%), a walk in the country (41%), music or poetry all are more inspirational than Jesus (24%) or Nelson Mandela (20%), and all those plus Princess Diana (13%) are more inspirational than "a sacred text" with a mere 6%.8.
In 2013: "Parents (82%), Friends (77%), Politicians (38%), Brands (32%) and Celebrities (21%) are all more important to them than religious leaders (12%). That's right - Nike, Apple, J-Lo and the Jedward Twins are influential, whereas the local Bishops, Priests and other religious figures ... are the least referred to"25.
In 2007, Tearfund published the following results of their comprehensive review of British Christian religion in 2006:
Self-disclosure polls of church attendance are generally twice as high as reality. Actual measures of church attendance have shown that Church attendance in 1999 was 7.5%, down from 10% in 1989 and 12% in 1979 (declining by about an absolute 2% per decade). This trend predicts that in 2007, the rate will be close to 6% who attend, not the 10% who think they do according to Tearfund. This estimate was backed up by the English Church Census 2004.
The Christian Research group's fourth English Church Census (2004) is another professional census whose authors have never shied away from reporting honest statistics, no matter how painful they have been for British Christianity. 37500 churches were invited to take part, and about half did. Some stark truths of Church attendance between 1998 and 2005:
Between 1998 and 2005, half a million people stopped going to church on Sunday7.
Daily Telegraph's religious affairs correspondent, Jonathan Petre, says "While 1,000 new people are joining a church each week, 2,500 are leaving"33.
6.3% of the population go to church on an average Sunday, compared to 7.5% in 199833.
29% of churchgoers are 65 or over, compared with 16% of the population33.
Sunday churchgoing is declining at 2.3% per year, slightly slower than the 1990s rate of 2.7% per year7.
Nearly all Church 'growth' is due to immigrants. A massive influx of Polish workers have filled some churches7.
"The Roman Catholics have recorded the largest drop [...], it has halved over the past sixteen years"34.
The drop in the 20-29 age group was 29%34.
"The fastest rates of decline were among Roman Catholics and Methodists; whereas the Pentecostal Churches showed significant growth over the period. As a result, Methodism has dropped to fourth place behind Pentecostalism. If these rates continue, the C of E will overtake the RC Church within the next four years"35.
"London has 11 per cent of all churches in England, and 20 per cent of all churchgoers. It has 53 per cent of all English Pentecostalists, and 27 per cent of all Charismatic Evangelicals. Also, it caters for 57 per cent of all worshippers in their 20s. "I couldn't believe that figure myself, and had to check it again," said Peter Brierley, the director of Christian Research"35.
Interestingly, the 2001 Census officials included "heathens" in the "no religion" category. Heathenism is a set of distinct religious beliefs, one of the religions generally called Pagan, along with Druidism, neo Paganism and Wicca. Although some may put heathen when they do mean "no religion", some will not. I do not know if it is more correct to list Heathens as "no religion" or "other religion". Asatru, Odinism and other Northern religions are likely to have followers who identify themselves as heathens. So, like you get Christians who are Protestant and Catholic amongst others, you also get Pagans who are neo Pagan, Wicca, etc, and Heathens who are Asatru, Odinists, etc. Listing these as non-religious is probably a mistake, unlike the Jedis.
During email correspondence, the Office for National Statistics revealed further information about the 'Heathen' category. They said: "Responses of "Heathen", with a number of other responses that either indicated no clear religion or faith, or where there was some ambiguity in the term written in, were put in the category of 'No religion'. There were less than 300 people included in this way in the 'No religion' category".37
In 2001, "about sixteen per cent of the UK population stated that they had no religion. This category included agnostics, atheists, heathens and those who wrote Jedi Knight."38 "At the time the Census was carried out, there was an internet campaign that encouraged people to answer the religion question "Jedi Knight". The number of people who stated Jedi was 390,000 (0.7 per cent of the population)."39 An urban myth developed and some people believed that this many votes would make Jedi an official religion, however this is not true.
"Just over 390,000 of the 52,000,000 people in England and Wales wrote in 'Jedi' on their census form. The 'Jedi' response was most popular in Brighton and Hove, with 2.6 per cent of Census respondents quoting it, followed by Oxford (2.0 per cent), Wandsworth (1.9), Cambridge (1.9), Southampton (1.8) and Lambeth (1.8).
It was least popular in Easington, on the north-east coast of England between Sunderland and Hartlepool, where it was quoted by only 0.16 per cent of respondents. Sedgefield, Knowsley, Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr Tydfil and Wear Valley all show less than 0.2 per cent of respondents quoting 'Jedi' ".40
“1893 Satanists were counted in the UK's National Census of 2011 despite "extensive coverage in the media"41 which make some suspect that numbers are higher. The number of Satanists is notoriously difficult to estimate. Most Satanic groups are informal, temporary and ad-hoc (so 'congregation' numbers cannot be counted), and the mainstream Church of Satan does not publish membership numbers. Also, many Satanists are not members of the Church of Satan. Hence, estimates of numbers of Satanists have varied wildly according to authors' imaginations and paranoias. In 2001 and 2002 I enquired at London Satanists meetings and found that only half identified themselves as a Satanist on the census. Others put "atheist" or even Christian denominations as their religion. This is a significant under-representation. As 1525 were counted in the 2001 Census, an estimate of 3050 seems sensible. Now in 2011, with slight growth in terms of percent of the population since 2001, an estimate of 3850 seems sensible42.”
|Compare full list to 2001 Census|
Pagans, Wiccans and "Witchcraft" folk together make up over 70 000 people in England and Wales, according to the 2011 Census results. These minorities are not readily discriminated against in the UK as they are in some countries such as the USA. Maybe this acceptance comes from the UK's longer history with modern Paganisms. Professor Hutton states that it is 'the only religion which England has ever given the world':
“The unique significance of pagan witchcraft to history is that it is the only religion which England has ever given the world. The English have always developed their own distinctive versions of other religious systems ever since their state acquired an identity, but this is the first which has ever originated in it, and spread from there to many other parts of the world.”
"The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft" by Ronald Hutton (1999)43
The following is the final summary on my text on faith schools in the UK, the full text delves into many of the issues introduced below:
“In 2001 there were 7000 state faith schools in England (of 25000). The worst teach creationism/intelligent design and some, although they excel at religious education and Koranic studies, fail on everything else from science to fitness. Faith schools on the whole take in far fewer poor pupils and fewer of those with special education needs than do non-religious all-inclusive schools. Conversely, faith schools tend to select better-educated and more well-off pupils. Reports on the race riots of 2001 criticized faith schools for creating the segregation that increases racial and religious sectarian tensions. Over 800 studies by social psychologists have found that cooperating and extended contact between racial groups is a very good way of producing positive race relations. Faith schools sometimes produce better-than-average results, but they also select students based on ability (despite attempts to stop that), whereas state schools accept poorer students in the first place. The Home Office, National Union of Teachers, Chief Schools Inspector, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers have all spoken out against faith schools. The United Nations Human Rights Commission and the European Union's Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia both recommend non-sectarian education, especially of children, as a means to reduce intolerance. The National Secular Society has long campaigned for the government to reverse the creation of faith schools (100 new ones since 1997), and instead convert faith schools back into all-inclusive secular schools where religion and race do not define the children. Abolishing faith schools will decrease social tension between ethnic and religious groups, increase the fairness of the schools system (as religious schools accept fewer poor and disadvantaged students), and reduce the scope for religious extremism and indoctrination.”
The English have produced world-class religious clerics and scholars. Universities and Christian centers of learning proliferated in England. However the depth of the religious convictions of most Christians is seriously questionable. From historical "Celtic Christianity" to the modern-day liberal Church of England, many have questioned whether Britains now, or our ancestors in the past, ever really took to Christianity the same as others and whether or not we really were ever in sync with the rest of the Christian East. Jeremy Paxman in his book studying English personality, history, religion and identity, comments:
“[In history, the English] were not in any meaningful sense religious, the Church of England being a political invention which had elevated being 'a good chap' to something akin to canonization. On the occasions when bureaucracy demanded they admit an allegiance, they could write 'C of E' in the box and know that they wouldn't be bothered by demands that they attend church”
Paxman observes that the Church of England is how it is because "that is how the English like their religion - pragmatic, comfortable and unobtrusive". Although in recent years evangelical, extreme and fundamentalist Christianity has been slowly catching on. However the Church of England still remains a "power" within the UK, which can exert pressure through the media. It is still given press attention although there admittedly more scandal and shock, than awe or reverence.
“The only sensible conclusion to draw from the uniquely privileged position of the Church of England - its official status, the bishops' seats in the House of Lords, the Prime Minister's right to appoint senior clerics and so on - is not that it represents some profound spirituality in the people, but that it suits mutually convenient purposes for state and Church”
The absolute, institutionalized and symbolic strength of the Church of England has disappeared. The history of the English finding their identity after the two world wars is a history of the realisation that there is no Christian Britain. The Church of England, as the following mass of reports, stats and charts show, has recovered from its historical hollow bloat: The bubble of English commitment to a Christian Church has popped.
“It is not exaggerated to conclude that between 1960 and 1985 the Church Of England ... was effectively reduced to not much more than half its previous size.”
"Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging" by Grace Davie (1997)46
“The number of people who say they are members of the state religion has dropped by 40% since 1983, according to a poll by the National Centre for Social Research (NCSR).”
“The Church of England is between a rock and a hard place, and there are bitter pills to be swallowed. The most painful fact with which it has to deal (along with other churches) is the all-round drop in numbers: churchgoers, those on the electoral roles, numbers of baptisms, confirmation, church weddings - all have dropped steadily since the 1930s, with consequential loss both of morals and of income. Much is made of the increase in the numbers of ordinands (those training for the priesthood), but this, the only good news on the table at the time of writing, seems an odd criterion of renewed life - many chiefs and few Indians will scarcely solve the problem.”
“A report on youth published for the General Synod Board of Education in 1996, which says that 'the total Sunday attendance at Anglican Churches amongst 14- to 17-year-olds is 60,739', a drop of 34.9 per cent since 1987. [...] If the same rate continues to apply, there may be no young people at all in the Church in twenty years time. The report goes on to say that this does not just apply to church services - a similar drop has also been observed in church organisations.”
The following charts and data show a consistent decline across several decades. Most data show a peak in the 1930s of Church membership and participation. The decline from then to the 1960s was marked, but slow. The decline since the 1960s has been rapid and shocking. The 90s saw the rate of decrease begin to decrease. I believe that the data of the next decade or two will show us the true numbers of Church of England affiliation. What I see is that a bubble has burst: The public are no longer deferring to the Church of England. As a result, stats have dropped sharply as this change in behaviour occurs. We will now see real participation data! We will also see a continued genuine decline in numbers.
“Between 1990 and 2001, the Church [of England] lost 18% of its Sunday communicants, 17% of its clergy (none of them bishops) and 1% of its buildings. The Church Commissioners' gradually shrinking endowment of £3.5 billion, is about half the value of, say, Yale University's investments. [...] Last year, 70% of gross endowment income went on paying pensions alone. [...] Donations per head have increased steeply in recent years, in part because the disappearance of working-class believers has left congregations older and wealthier”
The overall picture is of a Church that has lost most its membership and is losing the rest. Its financial situation is poor and getting worse, with a top-heavy organisation with less and less income for more and more pensioners. This is a bleak picture, and I do not know that anything will reverse it. The Churches financial hope is that all the pensioners die before the Church Commissioners' funds dry up completely. Drastic measures yet to be introduced, but which I expect, is a culling of bishops and staff. I do not foresee much building-selling as there are not many buyers who can do anything with old, semi-derelict Churches or huge Cathedrals! The government, in the future, will need to step in and take ownership or control of decaying Church buildings (for demolition & conversion to useful buildings?) as the Heritage Fund cannot cope (and wouldn't be justified) in paying the costs associated with maintaining these anachronistic structures. It is difficult to imagine that the Church hierarchy is unaware of the risk - but in 2015 Jan two archbishops still felt the need to warn the ruling Synod of the situation:
“The Church of England will no longer be able to carry on its current form unless the downward spiral its membership is reversed "as a matter of urgency", the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have warned. [...] Dwindling numbers in the pews will inevitably plunge the Church into a financial crisis as it grapples with the "burden" of maintaining thousands of historic buildings, they insisted.”
The Telegraph (2015)50
|Roman Catholics (England)||1 703 800||-3.2%||1 217 800||-4.2%||875 600||-49%|
|Church of England||1 260 800||-2.6%||975 900||-1.6%||867 400||-31%|
|Pentecostals||236 700||-0.1%||214 600||+4.9%||287 600||+22%|
|Methodists||512 300||-2.9%||379 700||-3.4%||289 400||-44%|
|Baptists||270 900||+0.2%||277 600||-1.2%||254 800||-6%|
|New Churches||167 000||+2.2%||200 500||-1.2%||183 600||+10%|
|Independent Churches||298 500||-4%||191 600||-0.2%||190 500||-36%|
|United Reformed||149 300||-2%||121 700||-6.2%||69 900||-53%|
|Total of above:||4 599 300||3 579 400||3 018 800||-34%|
The Christian Research English Church Census, 20057
These figures only reflect Sunday attendance; some denominations and churches have experienced increased numbers mid-week, but only involving small numbers compared to the overall decline.
|Anglican||2 297 571||2 180 108||2 016 593||1 870 429||1 808 174|
|Baptist||236 212||240 211||243 736||232 118||230 772|
|Independent||252 172||252 991||308 258||342 319||356 921|
|Methodist||596 406||540 348||500 702||475 440||458 773|
|Orthodox||196 850||203 140||223 686||265 918||275 805|
|Other||155 835||138 948||127 632||129 823||130 703|
|Pentecostal||104 648||126 743||138 316||158 695||169 782|
|Presbyterian||1 641 520||1 505 290||1 384 997||1 288 505||1 242 406|
|Roman Catholic||2 518 955||2 337 853||2 204 165||2 167 994||2 044 911|
|Total||8 000 169||7 525 632||7 148 085||6 931 241||6 718 247|
|% changed per year:||-0.24||-0.24||-0.14||-0.25|
|1930||3 693 000||14.7||52,53|
|1940||3 423 000||12.0||52,53|
|1950||2 959 000||9.6||52,53|
|1960||2 862 000||8.9||52,53|
|1970||2 559 000||52|
|1978||1 761 000||52|
|1984||1 495 000||52|
|1990||1 396 000||52|
|1996||1 291 000||52|
|2002||1 210 000||52|
|2007||1 173 000||52|
Persons on the Church Electoral Roll. "Electoral Rolls are revised annually and new rolls are compiled every six years. Thus in 1996 and 2002 and 2007 new electoral rolls were compiled."52
From 2002 onwards, the Electoral roll has included those registered in Europe, which have numbered around 10,000 people.
“A key element in the fall of church membership which started in the 1950s was an alarming failure to recruit even the offspring of adherents... between the mid-1950s and 1980, the number of Church of Scotland Sunday-school pupils almost halved, and a spectacular fall in church baptisms followed; between 1967 and 1982, they fell by half in the Church of Scotland and by almost 40 per cent in the Catholic Church.”
"A Social History of Religion in Scotland since 1730" by C. Brown (1987)54
|Anglican||15 911||14 654||14 064||14 137||13 920||820 ( 5.9%)|
|Baptist||2 418||2 469||2 648||2 803||2 936||85 ( 2.9%)|
|Independent||1 575||1 483||2 022||2 786||2 903||67 ( 2.3%)|
|Methodist||2 726||2 632||2 617||2 668||2 657||246 ( 9.3%)|
|Orthodox||126||160||187||241||249||0 ( 0.0%)|
|Other||1 884||1 850||1 922||2 324||2 321||1 054 (45.4%)|
|Pentecostal||1 605||2 243||2 580||3 359||3 462||532 (15.4%)|
|Presbyterian||3 776||3 632||3 412||3 159||3 060||324 (10.3%)|
|Roman Catholic||8 892||8 854||8 408||7 980||7 798||0 ( 0.0%)|
|Total||38 913||37 977||37 860||39 457||39 306||3 120 ( 7.9%)|
“The turn of the century has seen a decline in the numbers of clergy, though there has been a recent small upturn. By the year 2000 the Church [of England] will have around a thousand less clergy than it had in 1980 - around ten thousand.”
“The Church [of Engand ...] could face a dramatic shortage of priests within a decade as almost half of the current clergy retire, according to the Most Rev Justin Welby and Dr John Sentamu.”
The Telegraph (2015)50
|(denominations in 1992)||1975||1980||1985||1990||1992|
|Anglican (7)||19 783||19 366||18 892||18 340||18 236|
|Baptist (9)||3 619||3 344||3 375||3 627||3 614|
|Independent (27)||4 536||4 611||5 331||5 932||5 898|
|Methodist (6)||9 066||8 492||7 954||7 591||7 401|
|Other (43)||1 992||2 004||1 998||2 064||2 148|
|Pentecostal (69)||1 655||1 935||2 041||2 143||2 215|
|Presbyterian (13)||6 177||5 897||5 650||5 489||5 450|
|Roman Catholic (15)||4 104||4 132||4 222||4 297||4 290|
|Total||51 067||49 931||49 632||49 690||49 470|
|Church Of Scientology||0.1||0.2||0.3||0.3||0.4|
|% population Trinitarian||68||67||67||66||64||71.6|
|% population Other||4||5||5||6||7|
Davie (1997) provides most of the historical data, but, I am not sure that her "Trinitarian" is exactly equal to the 2001 Census' "Christian" category. There are certainly non-trinitarian Christians. Nonetheless, I have transpositioned the numbers of 'Christians' in the 2001 column for ease of comparison. More importantly, the Census would have been a radically different context for people to answer as to their religion.
|1960||55.4||53, 56, 46|
The decline in this number from the 1930s was slow, from a peak of about 70%, but the decline in the number of Anglican baptisms from the 1950s has been rapid. In the 1990s, 3 out of 10 newborns have been baptised and by 2010, only 1 out of 10. Infant baptism has always been an important source of recruitment for Anglican churches, the slight increase in child and adult baptisms has not made up the numbers.
The Pagan Federation offers baby blessings, as does The National Secular Society and the Family Covenant Association. So worried is the Church of England, that in 1999 we saw a Church offer its own version for newborns with parents who are not religious.
“Terry Sanderson, a spokesman for the National Secular Society, said the church seemed to be losing its "core business", - the "hatch, match and dispatch" trilogy of births, marriages and deaths. He said: "People want to welcome their child into the world without welcoming them into the church.”
BBC News (1999)57
|Year||Davie 199746||Wilson 1966|
The percent of 15 year olds confirmed in the Church of England has never been much more than 30% of the population of England. Between 1960 and 1982 the actual number of confirmations taking place each year declined by more than 50%. It's not just that people are being confirmed at an older age. Total confirmations in the age group 12 to 20 years have also decreased from the 1960s53. In 2010 the total number of confirmations was 22,093, down 3,000 from 200952.
|Year||Sunday School Teachers|
Bryan Wilson 1966
These graphs are from data published by the Church of England which show the percent of the total population of England and Wales involved. The marriages graph has "Anglican" mean "Church of England" or "Church of Wales", and also shows the % as the total population of England and Wales (excluding the Isle of Man and Channel Islands).52 You might expect that the National Secular Society would have found statistics that show lower attendance, therefore supporting their cause that organized religion should not be an official part of public politics. However in 2011 they commented on Christmas attendance and state higher values59. They mention that surveys before Christmas in 2010 saw about a quarter of respondents say that they were going to go to Church over Christmas, but, actual counts of attendance shows that only 11% did, which is less than half of those who said they would. This is very similar to the phenomenon by which in official polls, about twice as many say they are religious as actually are. See "Institutionalized Religions Have Their Numbers Inflated by National Polls" by Vexen Crabtree (2009). The Church of England think that just over 2% of the population attended Christmas or Easter in Church in 2010.
|England Cremation Rates (%)|
|Source:||Grace Davie 1997||Cremation Society|
“From 1939 cremation rapidly overtook religious coffin funerals as the preferred postmortem arrangement for bodies. England was the first Western country to adopt cremation as widely. Secular government should rightly have control over such matters as it is wrong to force particular rituals on a populace consisting of multiple faiths and varied beliefs.
England has acute problems with space to bury the dead, most formal burial grounds are full and rotate slots, smashing the bottom of old coffins and putting new ones on top. There are few other options, as such, religions that have impractical dogmas telling people how they should behave towards the dead have become obsolete and largely ignored by many, especially professionals.”
By Vexen Crabtree 2012 Dec 12
(Last Modified: 2015 Feb 26)
Second edition 2007 Jul 05
Originally published 2000 Apr 26
Parent page: United Kingdom: National Successes and Social Failures
The Economist. Published by The Economist Group, Ltd. A weekly newspaper in magazine format, famed for its accuracy, wide scope and intelligent content. See vexen.co.uk/references.html#Economist for some commentary on this source.
(2003, Ed.) Public Faith? The State of Religious Belief and Practice in Britain. Published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, UK.
(1996) Religion in the Modern World: From Cathedrals to Cults. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK [Book Review]
(2009) "Institutionalized Religions Have Their Numbers Inflated by National Polls" (2009). Accessed 2015 Apr 08.
(2011) "Anti-Religious Forces: Specific Factors Fuelling Secularisation" (2011). Accessed 2015 Apr 08.
Currie, Gilbert and Horsely
"Churches and Churchgoers" (1977). Via a source that I have neglected to record.
(1997) Religion in Britain since 1945: Believing without Belonging. Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge, UK. Originally published 1994.
(1999) The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. 2001 paperback edition published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
(UK government 's Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills) "Making sense of religion" (2007). Report published 2007 Jun by Ofsted, London, UK. www.ofsted.gov.uk. Accessed 2007 Jul 02.
(1998) The English. Quotes from 1999 Penguin Books edition.
(1966) Religion in Secular Society. Penguin Books softback first edition.