Tearfund poll probes prayer habits of believers and non-believers

16 January 2018

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MORE than a quarter of Christians in the UK have never prayed, a new poll published by the international Christian charity Tearfund suggests.

The survey of 2069 adults was conducted by ComRes last month, and published on Sunday.

Of all respondents, more than half — 1065 — identified themselves as Christian of whom 73 per cent said that they had prayed in the past. But the frequency of prayer varied from several times a day (seven per cent) to hardly ever (ten per cent), or only in times of crisis (13 per cent).

Several denominations were represented in the poll, though most (622) described themselves as Anglican. Of all Christians surveyed, 27 per cent said that they had never prayed.

Another finding from the poll is that one in five of the 869 non-religious people surveyed said that they had prayed in the past. Of these, most prayed in times of personal crisis or tragedy (55 per cent), or on the off-chance that an element of their life or circumstance might change (32 per cent). Almost one quarter said that they had prayed as a “last resort”, or to feel comforted or less lonely.

Taking the survey sample as a whole — which included Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, those of no religion, and “other” — more than half (52 per cent) said that they had prayed in the past. Of these, 55 per cent said that they were most likely to pray in a crisis.

Other reasons given for prayer included belief in God (39 per cent), or the belief that prayer could bring about change (32 per cent).

But although a third of those who prayed said that they had done so in places of worship, fewer people attended church or worship regularly: nine per cent of people surveyed said that they attended at least once a month, compared with 30 per cent once a year.

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More than half of those who attended church regularly used the Bible to help them pray, while one in five used printed prayer resources, such as prayer sheets. Just seven per cent used online prayer resources such as a prayer app or diary.

A third of people surveyed said that they prayed in bed, before sleeping, or first thing in the morning, while others said that they prayed while doing domestic activities, such as cooking (20 per cent), or leisure activities such as exercising (12 per cent).

The most popular topics of prayer included the family (71 per cent); thanking God (42 per cent); healing (40 per cent); and friends (40 per cent). Prayers for global poverty or natural disasters were less common (24 per cent), though the youngest and oldest generations (18-24-year-olds, and 65-year-olds plus) were more likely to pray for these issues.

The poll was released to mark 50 years since the founding of Tearfund. Dr Ruth Valerio, who is the global advocacy and influencing director at the charity, said: “Prayer can be a struggle for Christians, and it can be difficult to know how to pray or what to pray for.

“One of the main challenges people face when they begin to pray for global issues, is feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of our world, and the number of things that happen within it. At Tearfund, our aim is to equip and inspire people to pray for an end to extreme poverty.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written a prayer to mark the anniversary, which can be found on the Tearfund website. Visitors can add their name to the prayer, which asks for an end to extreme global poverty. They can also sign a petition, donate, or sign up to prayer alerts. The charity is hoping to gather one million signatures by the end of the year.

The prayer will also be recited by participating churches around the world on the charity’s anniversary on 27 May. www.tearfund.org/50years

Andrew Brown, press column:‘Dear God, we’re not sure you exist, but . . .’

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