Doing good and doing God
How has UK Christianity changed in the last ten years, and what does this teach us about the future? Nick Spencer reflects on Theos thinktank’s first decade
It’s the kind of question you can’t help but ask yourself at a birthday party. Is the champagne glass half-full or half-empty?
The Christian thinktank Theos recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. Launched a month after Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion was published, it has enjoyed some memorable moments since coming into the world at the end of 2006, and is still around to tell the tale. The anniversary got us thinking, however. How has Christianity in the UK changed over the last ten years – and, by implication, how might it change over the next ten? Is the glass half-full or half-empty (or 95% empty)? The anniversary report, ‘Doing Good’, crunched the numbers.
Here are three headlines for you: first, affiliation has fallen off a cliff. Figures disagree (and the 2001 and 2011 censuses are outliers in the figures they reported) but it seems that at some point in the last ten years, the country crossed the 50:50 mark, with the number of Britons who don’t call themselves Christian now exceeding the number who do for the first time in over a millennium.
Second, attendance has declined, but at nothing like as precipitous a rate. Here the data is fiendishly complex and incomplete, but at best guess, the Sunday after Theos was founded there were approximately 4.5 million people in church in the UK, whereas in early 2017 the figure is more likely to be something like 4.2 million.
Third is the level of Christian social action. This has certainly not decreased, and indeed has almost certainly increased. Again, the data is incomplete but those studies and surveys that do exist suggest that there are more Christians, churches and Christian charities socially active today than there were a decade ago.
Does this make the glass half-full or half-empty? The answer naturally depends on which of the three narratives means most to you. …
This is an extract from the March 2017 edition of Reform.