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MAKING SENSE OF THE CENSUS




Much to the delight of the secular media, the headlines from the 2021 census proclaimed the simple fact that the number of people who self-describe themselves as Christian has fallen to less than half the population of England and Wales. The percentage is 46.2% as compared with 59.3% in the census of 2011. “Christian” remained the largest common response. The second most common response was “no religion” at 37.2% as compared with 25.2% in 2011 (across England & Wales as a whole). The next largest religion was Islam with 6.5% of the population describing themselves as Muslim as compared with 4.9% in 2011. (Birmingham has very different figures). WHAT ARE WE TO MAKE OF THESE BALD FACTS? First, we need to understand them in the light of other research which focuses on the life and health of the worshipping community of Christians as compared with those who are really nominal Christians or just Christian as an expression of culture. The number of those who are practising is around 6% of the population. That number has fallen over the last few decades but it is much more stable in recent years. In other words, while some churches are continuing to decline, and some denominations are in fairly steep decline, some churches and some denominations are growing. Overall, the shape of the Christian church is changing. It is becoming more Evangelical, Pentecostal or Charismatic in flavour and composition (EPC). The Roman Catholic Church is in much more serious decline and because of its size (previously around a third of the Christian population), it has a disproportionately large impact on the overall figures, especially amongst those who are Christians by heritage rather than active faith. The reasons for the recent and sudden decline of the Catholic Church in the UK are complex and there is not space to discuss them in this short article. Second, non-religious does not mean atheist. In fact, the census reports that only 14,000 people specifically described their religion as atheist. There may be others who chose the designation of “no religion” who might also be atheist, but the evidence suggested that this is not a large number. Curiously, many who are in the “no religion” category, believe in God, or in some spiritual reality or power but they are not part of any organised religion. Third, there is obviously an opportunity for the church to grow amongst those who presently have no religion but who believe in something and are searching for a framework of faith. 20% of the population describe Jesus as God in human form. Most have a very positive view of Jesus. 54% believe that Jesus was a real historical person as compared with 22% who thought he was a mythical or fictious figure. Even more interestingly, a high percentage have a positive view of Christians that they know, using descriptors such as caring, friendly, hopeful, good humoured and generous. One in three non-Christians, after a conversation with a Christian want to know more about Jesus Christ. In short, while the number of nominal Christians are declining, and will probably continue to decline for some years to come, we have many reasons to expect that the believing church can and will grow in the coming decade. (Martin Robinson - Engage WM)


CENSUS DATA - INTERACTIVE MAP




If you want to explore the census information for your own locality then there is a very helpful interactive map with the data colour coded: e.g. IDENTITY DATA such as Faith in Birmingham & surround : https://www.ons.gov.uk/census/maps/choropleth/identity/religion/religion-tb/muslim?lad=E08000025 and POPULATION DATA such as people born in Africa, but living in Birmingham & surround: https://www.ons.gov.uk/census/maps/choropleth/population/country-of-birth/country-of-birth-12a/africa?lad=E08000025 If you want more information from the Talking Jesus research see this article https://www.engageuk.org.uk/post/a-city-to-reach-talking-jesus

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