Lessons from the steep decline of Christianity in Great Britain
By Bill Connor
The recent release of the 2021 United Kingdom census data has brought a bombshell finding to Christian observers everywhere. In England and Wales (covering the vast majority of the population of Great Britain), those who identify as Christian have fallen from 59 percent of the population to only 46 percent in the past decade. That comes on the heels of the previous decade, which saw the numbers fall from 72 percent Christian in 2001 to the 59 percent in 2011. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/2022/is-religion-dying-in-england-and-wales.
Unfortunately, this poll may not give the full extent of the decline, partly due to the questioning in the poll. In 2020, the British Social Attitudes Survey used a more precise question about Christianity: “Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion? If yes, which?” In that survey, 53 percent of UK respondents claimed no religion and only 37 percent claimed Christianity as their religion. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/nov/29/why-is-the-christian-population-of-england-and-wales-declining Considering Christianity has been the most profound influence on the culture of the UK for more than 1,000 years, this trend (with the resulting accompanying trends in the breakdown of the family and plummeting
birthrates) portents a dark future. All leaders in the West, particularly Christian leaders, should take note of the lessons. Let me explain.
It is important to recognize those claiming “no religion” have risen exponentially to 37 percent by the 2021 census data. The head of Humanists UK, Andrew Copson, claims the census numbers “confirm that the biggest demographic change in England and Wales of the last 10 years has been the dramatic growth of the non-religious.” The problem has not been one of other religions converting those in the UK, but of the British leaving the church out of a seeming lack of commitment. Most church leaders understand this dynamic, and many mainline denominational churches have attempted to liberalize and become more “relevant” to modern society. This liberalization has invariably meant moving away from previously accepted church doctrine based on scripture. In doing so, these denominations have brought the opposite results of what they sought.
British researcher and writer, John Hayward, has studied the hard data, and particularly the numbers of the decline by denomination in the UK. His writings give the precise current numbers and trend lines for all British denominations going back decades and has led to clear conclusions. According to Hayward of his studies, “All the evangelical denominations are growing, except for the Brethren. By contrast, all the mixed denominations are declining, with the liberal ones declining the most.” https://anglican.ink/2022/05/21/growth-decline-and-extinction-of-uk-churches/ In the UK, the majority of those identifying as Christian were part of the established Anglican Church, including the Anglican community of the Church of Scotland and Church of Wales. Other similar long-established mainline denominations, like the Methodists, contained the vast majority. Even with the rise in numbers with the scripturally faithful Evangelical Churches, the overall numbers continue to plummet as the elderly in now liberal denominations pass away.
Hayward studied the specific deviations in accepted doctrine of churches seeking relevancy versus those unmoved and found, “To date, no growing church has adopted same-sex marriage. All of these denominations hold firm to historic Christianity. Indeed, they are all evangelical in doctrine … Not all denominations are declining (in the UK); there are growing ones: churches that stand on historic Christianity and against the progressive ideology … I can see that the growing evangelical congregations will have surpassed the liberal and mixed denominations by the middle of the century.” https://anglican.ink/2022/06/01/uk-church-decline-and-progressive-ideology/ Critical to note is that other religions/denominations standing firm to established doctrine, like Orthodox Judaism and Islam, have likewise not seen the decline of those churches moving to progressive ideology. I think it is important to note that within denominations individual churches and even subgroupings of denominations have stood firm to doctrinal faithful and reaped the growth. That is particularly true of parts of the Anglican community.
American leaders need to pay attention, as the dynamic is playing out throughout Christianity in the West. As the percent of Christians in the West has declined, Christian influence on society and culture has declined and as a result society has become more morally ambiguous. Families break apart or never form, and children are left without moral guidance. The growing (scripturally faithful) churches offer the anchor and moral clarity people seek at this time. Those attending scripturally faithful churches are not coddled with whimsically morphing values, as has happened in too many of the declining churches. Christians are exhorted to commit to counter-cultural “biblical” moral standards, which don’t change. In regaining biblical Christianity, the church will grow and society will benefit from the salt and light the church is called to provide.
Bill Connor is a 1990 Citadel graduate, 30-year Army infantry colonel (ret.) and combat veteran. He is a writer and attorney and lives in the Charleston area.