A new study highlighting religious differences in England and Wales shows that there are now more “nones” or people of no religion in those two countries compared to Christians. A stunning 48.5 percent of people who took the British Social Attitudes survey reported that they had no religion whatsoever, compared to 43.8 percent of those who identified as Christian. “Christian” was identified as Anglican, Catholic or other Christian denominations.
The reason the numbers are so surprising is the percentage has nearly doubled in only four years. In the last survey, done in 2011, 25 percent identified as “nones.”
Stephen Bullivant is a senior lecturer in theology and ethics at St. Mary’s Catholic University, and he has analyzed the data collected through British Social Attitudes surveys for more than 30 years. He told The Guardian there is a striking sense of no religious affiliation as a growing part of England and Wales’ population.
“The main driver is people who were brought up with some religion now saying they have no religion. What we’re seeing is an acceleration in the numbers of people not only not practising their faith on a regular basis, but not even ticking the box. The reason for that is the big question in the sociology of religion.”
While the data is across the pond, it should not be ignored by American pastors and religious leaders. In fact, this data correlates with data that Pew Research Center reported in 2015. In 2007, roughly 16 percent of Americans identified as “nones”—defined as atheists, agnostics or no religious affiliation. In 2014, that number jumped to 23 percent. Thirty-six percent of Young Millennials (born between 1990 and 1996) identified as non-religious, with Older Millennials (born between 1981 and 1990) are a couple of percentage points below their younger peers at 34 percent.
For years, pastors, preachers and religious leaders have been telling people that the church isn’t dying and that Christianity isn’t regressing. The data in England and Wales would signify that while the church is not dead, the religious landscape is shifting quickly. And the trend seems to be following a similar path in America. While those who identify as “nones” in America are still a small percentage of the population, the number is growing.
So what does this mean for the church? What do pastors, congregations and church leaders do with this information? Data like this should always cause us to pause and examine where we are with Jesus in relation to the preaching of the Word and His truth. And it should renew our commitment to the Great Commission of Matthew 28—to preach all that Jesus has commanded us to the uttermost parts of the earth and to make disciples.
However, it should not create a zeal that says we must find all the “nones” in our country and preach at them until we convert them. Instead, we must pray and ask the Lord to open opportunities to share what the Gospel has done, what Jesus has done to change our lives.
But above all, data like this should challenge us to examine our lives as individuals. We should do as Paul exhorted the Corinthian church in 2 Corinthians 13:5:
Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
As culture and society shift around us, it is necessary more than ever for the Christian Church to hold fast to the Word of God and to be open to opportunities to preach the Gospel, be instant in season and out of season, be sober minded, doing the work of an evangelist and fulfilling the ministry that has been given to us by Jesus (2 Timothy 4:2-4).