February 2013

Statistics, Surveys and Trends

At the end of the last year the Office of National Statistics released more data from the 2011 National Census. One of the areas covered by this press release was the area of religion. The headlines included the drop in people claiming they are Christian and the bizarre fact that ‘Norwich is the most godless place in Britain’.

I spent a bit of time looking up the data for our area. The census is held every 10 years and the religious question was the same, so any change is not in the method but in people’s response. In 2001 in Rayleigh 76.5% of people agreed they were Christian. In the time I had, I couldn’t find the comparable Rayleigh statistics for 2011 but I did find the statistics for the area of Rochford District Council. In this enlarged area in 2011, 63.3% said they where Christian. As Rayleigh makes up about 40% of the population of Rochford, roughly speaking there has been a drop of around 13% in identification with Christianity. (In the same time in Rayleigh/Rochford there has only been a small percentage increase in other religions.) Obviously people are more comfortable with claiming no religious inclination.
Also in 2012, shortly before the release of the national census figures, the think tank ‘Theos’ published a report ‘Post Religious Britain’ which surveyed religious practice in England. One of its findings was that 11% of the English population say they attend a religious service at least weekly. These are included in the 16% who say they attend at least monthly. (NB in this survey, a religious service would include a temple, mosque etc as well as church.)
So 63% of Rayleigh say they are Christian and if national statistics hold for Rayleigh (and ignoring the small minority of other religions in our area) only a quarter of them (the 16%) believe in Christianity enough to attend church at least monthly.

The down side is that less and less people – and especially those under 40 – have any experience of Christianity and are inclined to be more suspicious of any organised religion including Christianity. It is obvious that it is harder for a church to build bridges into the surrounding community especially when that community is slowly becoming more mistrustful (if not hostile) to the church. Where these trends will end up I don’t know. It may well be that it is increasingly difficult for churches in their present form to survive, let alone thrive. But I wonder if we need to learn to look at those who continue to call themselves Christian and never attend, and even those who don’t bother to call themselves Christians any more, with different eyes.

In 2012 we explored the theme of Welcome. I know that whenever we have visitors coming to our home there is always an effort, there is always a cost of time and energy. Of making sure the house is clean, of cooking something special, of turning off the TV so we can actually talk, of lingering over the meal and enjoying each others company. And we almost always say afterwards ‘wasn’t that a good evening.’ Perhaps we need to learn and pay the price of offering a real welcome to those both in and outside our community of faith. I’m sure we’ll gain in the exchange but, with God’s grace, we might also discover that they are ready to gain life in abundance.


February 2013