THE number of people identifying themselves as Christian has
fallen by more than four million in the past decade, figures from
the 2011 Census of England and Wales, released this week, show.
The figures show a fall of nearly 13 per cent in the number of
Christians since the 2001 Census, despite a growth in population.
Christianity was found to be the only religious group to experience
a decline. In total, 59 per cent (33.2 million) identified
themselves as Christian, down from 71.1 per cent (37.3 million) in
The figures showed that the number of Muslims had risen by two
per cent, to five per cent. The largest growth area, however, was
in the number of people declaring themselves as having no religion
- a rise of ten per cent in the past decade, to 25 per cent.
The question "What is your religion?" was the only voluntary
question on the 2011 Census, and 7.2 per cent of respondents did
not answer it. The British Humanist Association, which ran a
campaign last year to encourage people to tick the "no religion"
box on the Census, said that the results showed that Christianity
was in terminal decline.
But Christian groups, such as the think tank Theos, said that
the census measured identity rather than belief. The research
director of Theos, Nick Spencer, said: "The Census measures
religious identification, not beliefs or practice. It's about what
people call themselves, and which 'group' they wish to identify
"These figures show that we have a plural religious landscape,
but that doesn't mean we're atheists. Digging deeper, we see that
even those who say they have no religion often have a variety of
spiritual beliefs, but they don't want to associate these with
The main Christian denominations all agreed that the statistics
represented a "challenge", but insisted that they were not
discouraged by them.
The Church of England's director of communications, the Revd
Arun Arora, said that the figures showed that England remained
a "faithful nation".
"England remains a country where the majority of the nation
actively identifies the role that faith plays in their life.
Clearly we welcome the fact that Christianity remains the most
populous faith in England - with six in ten people identifying
themselves as Christian. When all faiths are taken together, people
of faith account for two-thirds of the nation - two in every three
people identify themselves as having a faith.
"Obviously, the fall in those choosing to identify themselves as
Christians is a challenge. We need to look closely at the fuller
figures published next year, and to reflect on what these tell us.
One of the reasons may well be fewer people identifying as
'cultural Christians', i.e. those who have no active involvement
with churches and who may previously have identified as Christian
for cultural or historical reasons."
A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Bishops' Conference said:
"The overall decrease in the number of self-identifying Christians
is consistent with recent social-attitude and social-value surveys.
Christianity is no longer a religion of culture, but a religion of
decision and commitment. People are making a positive choice in
self-identifying as Christians."
The highest proportion of people in England identifying
themselves as Christian in the census was in Knowsley, Liverpool:
80.9 per cent of the population. Tower Hamlets, in London, was
found to be the one area where there were more Muslims than
Norwich had the highest proportion of people identifying
themselves as having no religion: 42.5 per cent; closely followed
by Brighton and Hove, at 42.4 per cent; and Caerphilly, at 41 per
The chief executive of the British Humanist Association, Andrew
Copson, said that the Census showed that faith was in terminal
decline: "It is time that public policy caught up with this mass
turning away from religious identities, and stopped privileging
Linda Woodhead, professor of religion at Lancaster University,
said that many of those who ticked "no religion" did so because
"religion is such an unattractive word, it suggests people are
"Picking the 'no religion' box doesn't mean they are necessarily
secular, but this doesn't account for why people don't tick the
Christian box. We know from other surveys that the number of
Catholics has held fairly steady, and that the decline is in the
Church of England."