THE NUMBER of British people who identify as Church of England has more than halved in the last 15 years, according to the most recent British Social Attitudes Survey.
It reveals that the proportion of Brits who describe themselves as ‘belonging to the Church of England’ is at a record low. The number has fallen since 2002 from 31 per cent to 14 per cent, with the sharpest decline happened among 45- to 54-year-olds (35 per cent in 2002 compared with 11 per cent in 2017).
Meanwhile, the proportion of people who describe themselves as Roman Catholic (8 per cent), belonging to ‘other Christian affiliations’ (10 per cent) and ‘of non-Christian faiths’ (8 per cent) have remained fairly stable. However, 52 per cent of respondents now say they have no religion, compared with 41 per cent in 2002. Among those surveyed, men are more inclined to say they follow no religion than women (57 per cent compared with 48 per cent).
Dave Male, the Church of England’s director of Evangelism and Discipleship, has responded, saying: “It has been clear for some time that we have moved from an era of people automatically, and perhaps unthinkingly, classifying themselves as Church of England or Anglican to one in which identifying with a faith is an active choice.
“We also know from research that people, particularly younger people, are less aware of denominations.”
He added: “Yet research, especially amongst young people, shows an increase in willingness to engage in faith.”
The survey found that although religious affiliation has dropped across all age groups, young people are least likely to be religious, with 70 per cent of those aged 18-24 say they have no religion. This is an increase from 56 per cent in 2002.
Meanwhile, 2 per cent of this group view themselves as Anglicans, down from 9 per cent in 2002.
In contrast, those aged 65 and over are most likely to say they belong to the Church of England (30 per cent). In 2002, 51 per cent of this age group identified as Church of England. This age group has also seen a sharp decline in religious identity, with 34 per cent saying they have no religion today, compared with 18 per cent in 2002.
In 2002, 35 per cent of 45- to 54-year-olds said they followed the Church of England. The figure for that age group is now 11 per cent – the biggest fall in percentage points across age groups.
Roger Harding, Head of Public Attitudes at the National Centre for Social Research, said: “Our figures show an unrelenting decline in Church of England and Church of Scotland numbers.
“This is especially true for young people where less than one in 20 now belong to their established Church. While the figures are starkest among younger people, in every age group the biggest single group are those identifying with no religion.
“We know from the British Social Attitudes Survey that people’s views are becoming more socially liberal on issues like same-sex relationships and abortion. With growing numbers belonging to no religion, faith leaders will no doubt be considering how to better connect to a changing society,” he added.
The survey also found that 21 per cent of respondents who affiliate themselves with the Church of England say they attend church – apart from special occasions, such as weddings and funerals- at least once a month.
This is compared with 42 per cent of Roman Catholics. The majority of Brits who follow either religion attend church less than once a month (Anglican 78 per cent, Roman Catholics 58 per cent).
“Our experience is that people – of all ages – haven’t stopped searching for meaning and answers in their life,” Dave Male added.
“Ultimately the Church exists to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
“That was never meant to be easy and that work goes on whatever the figures may say,” he said.