Tear Fund Report Provides Best Evidence Yet That The UK Is A Secular Society

A survey just released by Tearfund*, a relief and development agency working in partnership with Christian churches, confirms that a significant majority of the population are not involved in churches and do not hold the most basic of Christian beliefs.

The National Secular Society’s Executive Director Keith Porteous Wood said of the survey: “This thorough survey provides the most authoritative evidence yet that Britain has become an overwhelmingly secular society. It shows that two thirds of the UK population ‘have no connection’ with the church and that only a quarter ‘believe in a personal god’, just one of the several minimum requirements to qualify as a Christian. The survey also reveals that nearly 40 per cent of the population say they “have no religion”.

“Matthew Frost, Chief Executive of Tearfund, takes ‘great encouragement’ from the survey. For once we agree: the National Secular Society takes great encouragement in the survey too.

“The survey claims that 15 per cent of the population go to church ‘at least monthly’, a fairly undemanding standard when weekly is, or was, the accepted minimum standard. In reality, this figure is more likely to be ten per cent as survey respondents are known to overstate their attendance, which this survey has found to be by ‘around a third’.

“We congratulate Tearfund on commissioning this helpful survey, but the quality of analysis of the data falls seriously short of the intellectual rigour of a peer-reviewed scientific paper. No in-depth study in this area is complete without serious attention being paid to trends. The old are much more religious than the young, but an evidence-based analysis of whether people get more religious as they get older (they don’t) is shamefully evaded, as is the sixty year decline in church attendance in the UK. UK Church membership was 13.4% of the population in 1980, 9.4% in 2005 and is projected by Christian Research ** to drop to 4.5% in 2040. Sunday churchgoers of all denominations are expected to fall to less than a third of what they are now. And the churches? Around 10,000 Anglican churches – more than half of the total now in existence – are expected by Christian Research to close by 2040.

“Yet the survey has been heralded with a press release headed: ‘Potential congregation of 3 million just waiting to be asked’. Eye catching maybe, but delusions such as this should caution readers to read the commentary with a pinch of salt”.

* Churchgoing in the UK Research report from Tearfund (pdf)

** Religious Trends 2005/2006 Publ Christian Research (Section 12)