FEWER English people than ever before would consider themselves Anglicans, the latest figures from the British Social Attitudes survey suggest.
The 35th instalment of the annual poll, run by the National Centre for Social Research (News, 4 September 2017), found that only 14 per cent of respondents would describe themselves as “belonging to the Church of England”. That figure had more than halved in just 15 years; in 2002, 31 per cent identified with the C of E.
The sharpest decline in that time has come among the middle-aged. In the same period, the percentage of 45 to 54-year-olds who told the researchers that they were C of E in has fallen from 35 to 11 per cent.
Those most likely to declare an affiliation with the C of E are the over-65s, where 30 per cent still say they belong to the Church. Even this age group, however, has significantly declined over the past 15 years, from more than half (51 per cent) in 2002.
Among those aged 18-24, just two per cent describe themselves as belonging to the Church. This is down from nine per cent.
Other affiliations have remained relatively stable. The most recent survey found that eight per cent of respondents identified as Roman Catholic, while ten per cent said that they belonged to “other Christian affiliations”, and a further eight per cent were “of non-Christian faiths”.
Roman Catholic respondents were far more likely to report regular church attendance: 42 per cent confirmed that they went to church (apart from special occasions, such as weddings and funerals) at least once a month. The figure for C of E respondents was 21 per cent.
The majority of respondents — 52 per cent — now say that they belong to no religion at all, down one per cent from last year. The least religious age group was the young: seven in ten of those aged under 25, although the percentage of the over-65s who said they had no religion has risen from 18 per cent to 34 per cent.
In Scotland, 56 per cent of respondents were “Nones”.
The head of public attitudes for NatCen, Roger Harding, said that the results showed an “unrelenting decline” in the Church of England. “While the figures are starkest among younger people, in every age group the biggest single group are those identifying with no religion.”
The C of E’s director of evangelism and discipleship, Dave Male, said: “It has been clear for some time that we have moved from an era of people automatically, and perhaps unthinkingly, classifying themselves as Church of England or Anglican to one in which identifying with a faith is an active choice.
“Yet research, especially among young people, shows an increase in willingness to engage in faith. Our experience is that people of all ages haven’t stopped searching for meaning and answers in their life.
“Ultimately the Church exists to share the good news of Jesus Christ. That was never meant to be easy, and that work goes on whatever the figures may say.”
This view was echoed by Mark Russell, the chief executive of the Church Army. He said that the sobering figures should “sharpen” the Church’s thinking around mission and evangelism to younger people. But he also suggested that most of the young people who did come to Anglican churches — including the 300 or so who regularly attend his Sheffield congregation — would not even be aware that they were part of the C of E.
“I don’t think they even know they’re Anglicans,” he said on Friday. “Their identity is not to the C of E: it’s to the Christian faith. But I don’t think there’s any room for complacency.”
The key to reaching the increasingly irreligious younger generation was to make space for them to authentically talk and explore faith and spirituality, Mr Russell argued. “If every church in England found one way to provide a safe space for young people to talk about faith we would make a colossal impact on this.
“The missing ingredient is confidence: people lack confidence that we have something important to share and that we are able to share it.”