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Church groups respond to 2011 Census view of a diverse, pluralist Britain

New Census figures released today demonstrate that religiosity in England and Wales is increasingly diverse and complex, says religion thinktank Theos ...

New Census figures released today demonstrate that religiosity in England and Wales is increasingly diverse and complex, says religion thinktank Theos.
Statistics from the 2011 Census show that 59.3% (33 million) of people say they are Christian, down from 72% in 2001. Some 25% (14.1 million) said they had no religion, up from 15.5% in 2001. The Muslim population had increased to 5%. Other religions in total made up nearly 8.4%.
A question on religion was included in the Census for the first time in 2001. It is the only optional question on the Census. The census offers us the only truly national survey of religious identity. It is seen as so significant that the British Humanist Association even campaigned in order get people to tick the 'no religion' box rather than leave the optional question unanswered.
The Census measures a sense of belonging rather than belief. By contrast, recent Theos/ComRes research shows that many of those who say that they are not religious still believe in things like heaven, life after death or the resurrection of Jesus.

The report, Post-religious Britain?: The faith of the faithless isolated those who are clearly non-religious – who never attend a religious service, or call themselves atheists, or place themselves in the ‘non-religious’ category – and then examined what they actually did believe. It found that even amongst atheists - the most sceptical group in the population - nearly a quarter (23%) believe in the human soul, 15% in life after death, and 14% in reincarnation.

Theos’ Research Director Nick Spencer, said: “Religion is difficult to define and difficult to measure. The census measures religious identification, not beliefs or practice. It’s about what people call themselves, and which ‘group’ they wish to identify with.

“These figures show that we have a plural religious landscape, but that doesn’t mean we’re atheists. Digging deeper, we see that even those who say they have no religion often have a variety of spiritual beliefs, but they don’t want to associate these to religious institutions.”

“These figures are a challenge to the Churches and reflect how British society has changed,” said the Revd Dr Martyn Atkins, General Secretary of the Methodist Church. “But we are not discouraged. We are excited to be Christians in part of an increasingly diverse, multi-faith society and we believe that British society is enriched by this mix.

“It has always been clear to Methodists that the Church exists not only for those who say they belong to it, but those who don’t. We rejoice when Churches are growing, but we also rejoice when we can share with others in transforming our world and our communities for good. The numbers of people that attend worship on Sundays and on special occasions like Christmas are important, but they only show a small part of the picture.

"Churches remain committed to making a difference to many more people’s lives through the wider activities of our communities, in church groups, fresh expressions, work in schools and places of community through volunteering, chaplaincies, being street pastors and good neighbours."

Norman Ivison, Director of Communications for Fresh Expressions, comments: "The newly published statistics show what many have been saying for some time. The Church in England and Wales needs to find new ways of engaging those who no longer have, or never had any interest in the Christian faith.

"The reality is that inherited church life is still attractive to many people but not to everyone. New forms of church are developing throughout the UK, alongside parish and other traditional structures, which are increasingly helping those who have never been to church to discover the Christian faith for themselves. The Census statistics demonstrate that real alternatives need to be offered for those who find conventional church inaccessible for all sorts of reasons."

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