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How the church is changing

THE CHURCH OF TODAY?: Although the number of religious people is falling, Roger Harding of the National Centre for Social Research believes there is a way to engage young people

A NEW report has revealed that an increasing numbers of the British population are describing themselves as having no religion.

The data, derived from a survey on religious affiliation conducted by NatCen, found that 53 per cent of the British public now describe themselves as having “no religion”, up from 48 per cent in 2015. When the survey was first conducted in 1983, the proportion saying they had no religion was 31 per cent.

The decline in religious affiliation is impacting the Church of England particularly hard. Just 15 per cent of people in Britain consider themselves Anglican, half the proportion who said this in 2000.

The proportion of people describing themselves as Catholic has remained relatively stable – at around 1 in 10 – over the past 30 years. Around 1 in 20 (6 per cent) of people belong to non-Christian religions.

The fall in religious affiliation has been partly driven, at least in part, by young people. In 2016, 71 per cent of young people aged 18-24 said they had no religion, up from 62 per cent in 2015.

Roger Harding, Head of Public Attitudes at the National Centre for Social Research, said: “This increase follows the long-term trend of more and more of us not being religious. The differences by age are stark and with so many younger people not having a religion it’s hard to see this change abating any time soon."

Roger Harding

“The falls in those belonging to the Church of England are the most notable, but these figures should cause all religious leaders to pause for thought. With falling numbers some faith leaders might wonder whether they should be doing more to take their congregation’s lead on adapting to how society is changing.”

I personally don’t believe the results of this survey highlight that the church is on its last legs. Instead, it indicated that the church, needs to re-appraise how they connect with the modern world.

Many traditional denominations have seen their numbers boosted by immigrant communities from the Caribbean, Africa and Eastern Europe. This is not surprising because these communities have retained their belief in God and need for church despite the growing secularisation of society. It’s the indigenous population that churches need to focus on reaching.

The success of churches like Holy Trinity Brompton and Hillsong, the denomination founded by Brian Houston, highlight it is still possible to reach Britain’s indigenous population with Christianity.

Churches just need to be confident of the message that they are sharing, understand where people are at and meet them where they are and be relevant. If I was a church leader reading the results of this survey, I would not let it send me into a state of despair.

Rather, I would gear myself up for the challenge of sharing one of the world’s most powerful enduring messages in human’s history – God’s enduring love for humanity and remember words of scripture which state “All things are possible of God.”

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