The 2011 Census makes interesting reading. It says that the number of people identifying themselves as Christians has gone down from 37 million in 2001 to 33 million – that’s 59% of the population.
It also tells us that we are more diverse than ever in our history.
We are a secular society
At the top of the pagan pile is Norwich, the most secular city in the country, where nearly half the population are not religious. Brighton is in second place.
We all know that these numbers are misleading. 59% are not practising Christians. If there were that many we’d think revival had come and Jesus was about to return. There would be a church building every 100m, no-one would want to work on Sundays and songs of praise would have a prime time slot and be hosted by Dermot O’Leary.
But still, those numbers mean something. Even less people want to pretend they are Christians.
As Robert Pigott says on the BBC Website –
‘it is a sign of the loosening influence of Christianity, but also of changes in the way people think about religion. Being “Christian” has for many people become an increasingly ill-defined practice, incorporating a wider array of spiritual aspirations and beliefs… a “soft” Christian allegiance has proved vulnerable to secular trends, a suspicion of institutions such as churches, and visible signs that Christian morality is becoming increasingly distanced from secular ideas such as equality.’
He’s right that the church’s morality seems almost immoral and out of touch – you can see that in the debate about gay marriage. People used to think that Christian morality was good even though they didn’t believe the gospel. But that has changed and morality has moved on. Now we decide for ourselves about right and wrong.
He’s right that the church’s morality seems almost immoral and out of touch – you can see that in the debate about gay marriage. People used to think that Christian morality was good even though they didn’t believe the gospel. But for many this has changed and morality has become a matter of personal choice. People want to decide for themselves what is right and wrong.
We need a real spiritual revival. That’s what we should be praying for. Tinkering with views on morality won’t work. Hearts that put Jesus on the throne is what we need. Then there really could be 59% Christians.
We are a diverse society
There’s something else happening: the number of UK residents born outside the UK is up to 13%, much higher in the big cities. The top 3 nations they come from are India, Poland and Pakistan. At the same time the number of Muslims has nearly doubled from 1.5 million (2001) to 2.7 million. So in the UK we have many different nationalities, cultures and religions. Perhaps more than at any time in our history.
Some argue that these people should adopt our great cultural values – queuing patiently (unless someone jumps ahead of us); politeness (unless you’re at a football match); tolerance (so long as you don’t question the god of equality); religious freedom (sort of), a free press (permanently on a sleazy feeding frenzy) and of course fish & chips! In reality our culture does have some benefits and we might agree that some cultural adaptation must be necessary. But as Christians, our biggest priority is for them to meet Jesus.
The Church is on a mission to introduce secular and religious people to Jesus
So it’s an interesting cocktail. Along with the growth of a secular frontier we have another unique multi-cultural mission opportunity right on our doorstep with people from other nations. These people are often much more religious and receptive to the gospel than pagan Britain. How can we befriend them and introduce them to the real Jesus?
We live in a secular and pluralistic society. Christians are a marginalised minority. We are aliens needing to be a witnessing, missional movement not a controlling maintaining institution. But that’s ok. We have God’s word and Spirit and we need to just keep telling people about Jesus, living like Jesus and praying like Jesus and those statistics can change – nothing is too hard for God.
Something to talk about
This is a current news story and something to talk about with your friends and neighbours. Here’s a few possible conversation starters but I’m sure you can think of better ones:
- What did you say in the census about your religion? If you said Christian why was that?
- Is religion a good thing?
- What do you think a Christian is?
- How should we decide about right and wrong?
- What do think about the large number of foreign born people living here? What can we teach them?