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Number of self-identifying Anglicans falls

11 July 2019

Survey respondents ‘are less religious than their parents were’


THE number of British people who identify themselves as Anglicans is lower than ever before, the latest figures from the British Social Attitudes survey suggest.

The report, published by the National Centre for Social Research, on Thursday of last week, found that only 12 per cent of respondents would describe themselves as “belonging to the Church of England [or the Church in Wales and Scottish Episcopal Church]”. This figure is down from 14 per cent last year, 22 per cent in 2008, and 40 per cent in 1983, when the survey was first run.

Among 18- to 24-year-olds, just one per cent said that they belonged to the Church, while 33 per cent of those aged 75 and over identified as such. Two per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds identified as Anglican last year (News, 7 September 2018).

An unexpected figure is the rise in those who identified as a non-denominational Christian, which is 13 per cent, up from three per cent in 1998. This means, the report says, that the number “is now equivalent to ‘Church of England’”.

It continues: “Wider research suggests that Britain is becoming more secular not because adults are losing their religion or inclination to practise but because old people with an attachment to the Church of England and other Christian denominations are gradually being replaced in the population by unaffiliated younger people.

“To put it another way, religious decline in Britain is generational; people tend to be less religious than their parents, and, on average, their children are even less religious than they are.”

Speaking this week, the new National Lead for Evangelism and Witness, the Dean of Derby, the Very Revd Stephen Hance, said: “We are now in a culture where people are three generations unchurched . . . and, whereas for older people, it’s almost as if some of those experiences inoculated them against Christian faith later in life.

“I think that we are working now with people who have literally no experience at all of the Christian Church to react against, even. It’s new terrain.”

The research also found that, of those brought up as Anglican, fewer than half (47 per cent) still identified as such. The first age group where ten per cent or more identified as Anglican is 45-54.

The number of people who said that they have no religion has not changed since last year’s survey, at 52 per cent. Of the 3879 surveyed, however, 38 per cent said that they were Christian: two per cent fewer than last year.

Only seven per cent of 1552 surveyed described themselves as “very or extremely religious”, while 33 per cent identified as “very or extremely non-religious”.

The report says: “As it becomes more acceptable to say that you have no religion, even vaguely religious people who in the past would have identified themselves as belonging to the Church of England or another group no longer do so. Hence the non-religious category is more inclusive now than in the past: it does not consist solely of highly-educated atheists and agnostics.”

However, the number who identify as confident atheists has risen from ten per cent in 1998 and 18 per cent in 2008 to 26 per cent, with a stable 19 per cent expressing confident faith. 

10% in 1998 to 18% in 2008 and then 26% in 2018

The report says: “Taken as a whole, these patterns suggest secularisation is increasing on two fronts: the decline in overall levels of involvement with religion, and consolidation of those who were wavering towards more confirmed secular positions.”

Katie Harrison, the director of the ComRes Faith Research Centre, said this week: “The rise in what NatCen calls 'confident atheism' is very important, and indicates a significant change.

“At the same time, in other parts of the world, we see substantial growth in numbers of Muslims and Christians, so a challenge for British businesses and organisations operating globally will be to engage appropriately with customers, suppliers and colleagues in cultures where religion is much more present in daily life.”

Two-thirds (66 per cent) of people in Britain say that they never attend religious services, apart from special occasions such as weddings, funerals, and baptisms, and 11 per cent say they attend at least weekly.

The deputy chief executive of the National Centre for Social Research, Nancy Kelley, said last week: “This long-term decline in religious identity, practice, and belief is one of the most profound social changes we have measured as part of the British Social Attitudes Survey.

“It is clear that society is becoming more secular, and that more of us are confidently atheist, but it would be wrong to assume this means faith is no longer an important part of British life.”

The Church of England’s Director of Evangelism and Discipleship, Dave Male, said: “Times have changed, and for many people ticking a box marked ‘Church of England’ or ‘Anglican’ is now an active choice and no longer an automatic response. In spite of this, the Church of England remains at the heart of communities. . .

“Christmas attendance at Church of England services is at its highest level for more than a decade, and the numbers attending church regularly rose in 2017. More than 33,000 social action projects are run or supported by Church of England churches, including foodbanks, parent and toddler groups, holiday and lunch clubs.

“We are living in an era of rapid social change, but people are still searching for meaning and answers to life. Only this weekend, the General Synod heard that as many as 5000 new congregations, mission communities, and outreach initiatives have been set up in the past 15 years, attracting a majority of people — sixty per cent — who have not been churchgoers before.”

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