A report in last week’s Telegraph suggests that British Christianity is declining more rapidly than previously understood. Initial reports about the 2011 census showed the number of people in England and Wales who describe themselves as Christians had fallen by 10 percent since 2001. But it turns out those figures included Christian immigrants, such as Polish Catholics and African Pentecostals. When one looks only at the native born, the percentage of people who describe themselves as Christians has fallen by an even greater amount–by 15% in the space of one decade. The decline is particularly pronounced among the young. At this rate, the Telegraph predicts, Christianity could become a minority religion in Britain within the next decade.
These numbers have worrisome implications for the future of the Established Church. In a country where only a minority is willing to describe itself as Christian, what would be the basis for maintaining state Christianity? A spokesman for the Church of England admits the census numbers present a challenge, but notes that recent attendance figures have been stable, and that the committed core “of the faithful remains firm.” Maybe so, but state churches, almost by definition, need to draw support from society as a whole, not only the people who attend every Sunday. Perhaps those respondents who said they weren’t Christians nonetheless think the established church serves a useful social function and want it to endure. But maybe not.