Muslim takeover an exaggeration, says statistician

14 May 2008

by Bill Bowder

CLAIMS that the numbers of “active” Muslims in the UK would overtake that of churchgoers by the middle of the century were denounced this week as inaccurate.

Figures published by Christian Research in its Religious Trends survey were used by The Times last week to suggest that the number of monthly churchgoers would drop from its present four million to 1.96 million in 2035. Meanwhile, the number of “actively religious” Muslims would increase from the current one million to 1.96 million by the same date.

Using figures in this way was “flawed and dangerously misleading”, a Church of England statistics’ expert said. “These statistics are incomplete and represent only a partial picture of religious trends in the UK today,” said the Revd Lynda Barley, head of research and statistics for the Archbishops’ Council. First, they took no account of the number of people who worshipped during the week or who joined the Church through fresh-expressions initiatives.

Second, they did not compare like with like. The number of active Muslims was based on a calculation of those who said they were Muslims in the 2001 Census. “The same process for those who said they were Christians at the last Census would yield about 20 million active Christians, of whom around 14 million are active Anglicans,” said Mrs Barley.

Benita Hewitt, executive director of Christian Research, said that projecting the figures to 2050 was “crystal-ball gazing”. She acknowledged that the figures took no account of how future generations of Muslims and other minority faiths might behave as they accepted more of the UK-majority culture.

Media, page 28

Mystery advice. Christian Research launched a Mystery Churchgoer project this week to tell churches how strangers feel when they come for the first time.

In a pilot project, nine out of ten churches had welcomed the new worshippers; everyone said they could hear the sermon; and nearly everyone said they could understand it. But seven per cent said they felt unwelcome, excluded, or uncomfortable. “It’s really important that we make an effort to properly understand the perceptions and barriers to engagement”, said Ms Hewitt.

  Churches can sign up to the mystery-visitor scheme for £60 plus VAT (News, 9 May).

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