Church attendance in UK headed for steep fall: report

Friday, May 9th, 2008

The number of people attending Church in the UK is declining so fast that regular churchgoers will be fewer than those attending mosques within a generation, research published on Thursday suggests.

The decline - from the four million people who attend church at least once a month today - means that many of the churches of the Church of England and the Catholic Church, as well as those of other denominations, may well be forced to close.

By contrast, it is predicted that the number of actively religious Muslims will rise from about one million today to 1.96 million in 2035.

According to Religious Trends, an analysis of religious practice in Britain, published by Christian Research, even Hindus may come close to outnumbering churchgoers within a generation. The forecast to 2050 suggests that churchgoing in Britain may decline to 899,000 while the active Hindu population, now at nearly 400,000, will have more than doubled to 855,000. By 2050 there will be 2,660,000 active Muslims in Britain - nearly three times the number of Sunday churchgoers.

The research is based on analysis of membership and attendance of all the religious bodies in Britain, including a church census in 2005.

Some have reacted to the news by suggesting that it is time for the disestablishment of the Church of England. Martin Salter, the Labour MP for Reading West and a member of Reading inter-faith group, said: “I think all faiths could be treated equally under our constitution. These figures demonstrate the absurdity of favouring one brand of Christianity over other parts of the Christian faith and the many other religions that grace our shores.”

Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary with responsibility for community cohesion, said: “We will look at these findings very closely. Britain is a secular democracy with a strong Christian tradition but many faiths have a home in Britain.”

According to the report, Christianity is becoming a minority religion in the UK.
However, the larger evangelical churches of the Baptist and independent denominations seem to be demonstrating some resistance to the trend. Some of these churches also show some decline, however.

Northern Ireland, where the enthusiasm of Pentecostals and other independents has led to a slight increase in numbers of churches, is a small oasis of growth amidst the relative gloom from other parts of the UK. The three growing denominations are the Orthodox, Pentecostals and smaller denominations, all dependent to a degree on immigration.

The crisis is particularly notable among Methodists and Presbyterians, as many worshippers are aged over 65. According to the report, such churches may well merge with others before 2030. “The primary cause of the decrease in attendance is that people are simply dying off,” the report says.

By 2050, it is projected there will be just 3,600 churchgoing Methodists left in Britain, Christian Research predicts. Anglicans will be down to 87,800, Catholics to 101,700, Presbyterians to 4,400, Baptists to 123,000 and independents to 168,000.