New Church of England poll confirms image of inactive Christians

15 September 2017

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JUST six per cent of British adults read or listen to the Bible, pray at least once a week, and go to church at least once a month, suggests a new poll commissioned for the Archbishops’ Council Evangelism Task Force.

The national mission and evangelism adviser, Rachel Jordan, said this week that this frequency of practice was the threshold for a “tough” new definition of “practising Christian”. It “shows us who the most committed people are – those who themselves might be willing to take on the task of spreading the good news of Jesus in his country”.

The survey of 8150 British adults was conducted by ComRes in March and published this week. Just over half (51 per cent) of those responding to the survey defined themselves as Christian. This compares with the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, published last week, which found that 41 per cent of 2129 respondents identified themselves as Christian (News, 8 September).

Of the Christian respondents in the ComRes survey, 32 per cent were over 65 and just six per cent were under 24. Fifty-six per cent classified themselves as Anglican, once again, a higher percentage than the BSA finding. Almost two-thirds of the Christians said that they had become a Christian aged 0-4. Just 14 per cent agreed when asked whether they were an “active Christian”; 28 per cent agreed with the definition: “follower of Jesus”.

Asked about how often they read or listened to the Bible, 55 per cent of Christians answered “never”; 14 per cent said at least once a week. Twenty-nine per cent said that they never prayed; 34 per cent at least once a week; 18 per cent daily.

Regarding church attendance, a third said “never”, 19 per cent at least once a month and 14 per cent at least once a week.

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For all three measures of commitment, Anglicans were the most likely to tick “never”; Pentecostalists and members of Independent or Free Evangelical Churches were most likely to report frequent practice. All those who described themselves as “active Christians” reported doing these practices at least every month.

Of the “followers of Jesus”, 45 per cent read/listened to the Bible at least weekly; 80 per cent prayed; 53 per cent went to church at least monthly.

The proportion of those who reported never going to church increased the lower down the social class, from 27 per cent of AB respondents to 41 per cent of DE respondents.

“There are lots of surveys out there which measure how many people nominally identify as Christians,” Mrs Jordan said. Leaders from the HOPE Revolution Partnership, which includes the C of E, had wanted to  “devise a measure which shows us who the most committed people are – those who themselves might be willing to take on the task of spreading the good news of Jesus in his country.

“We’ve been tough in our definition,” she said. “There was no point being woolly, that isn’t helpful to us for the task of evangelism. This is not about how many are in the pews; this is about assessing how many people in this country are likely to be deeply committed, practising Christians. This is a helpful measure that gives us a real sense of the scale of the task ahead.”

One of the objectives of the survey was to find out the views of those who had once been religious but were no longer. Of the respondents who said that they did not belong to a religious group, 89 per cent said that they had never considered themselves to be a member of one. Nine per cent selected “Christian”.

Findings for this former Christian sub-group pointed to a high level of practice formerly. Thirty-eight per cent said that, when they considered themselves Christian, they had read or listened to the Bible at least once a week; 56 per cent had prayed at least once a week; and 58 per cent had gone to church at least once a month.

Looking at former religious adherents as a whole, 38 per cent had stopped under the age of 18. The equivalent figure was 41 per cent for those who had been Christians.

Another poll carried out by ComRes earlier this year on behalf of the HOPE Revolution Partnership, which includes the C of E, found that one-in-five young respondents de­­­scribed themselves as “active Chris­tians” (News, 23 June). This compares to seven per cent of the poll of UK adults described above.

The young respondents also reported higher levels of practice. Of the 41 per cent of young people who described themselves as Christians, nearly half reported that they read or listened to the Bible at least monthly, and 64 per cent said that they prayed; 51 per cent reported going to church.

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