Churchgoing in Britain Declines, But Some See Hope

Practicing Muslims May Now Outnumber Anglican Counterparts

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LONDON, APR. 15, 2001 ( The decline in churchgoing in Britain has been highlighted in a survey that gives fresh cause for concern for the Anglican Church, whose membership is falling fast, the Guardian reports.

The poll, for the Catholic weekly magazine The Tablet, shows there is still a strong vestigial belief in Christianity, but the established churches are neither attracting nor benefiting from it.

Catholics form only 11% of the population, yet they make up 26% of all those who regularly attend a religious service more than once a month, making them effectively the largest denominational churchgoing population, the survey found.

The study also found that the level of religious belief among the young is relatively low. While 80% of those aged over 65 still believe that Jesus lived, only 54% of those aged 18-24 do so.

The findings also show that Muslims and Hindus, despite representing only 3% of the population, now make up 9% of all those attending religious ceremonies regularly. More Muslims may be attending a mosque each week than Anglicans attending church. If only half of Britain´s 2 million Muslims take part in regular worship, that already exceeds the proportion of worshippers in the so-called national church.

Although 43% of the population claim to be Anglicans, they make up only 24% of those attending services as often as once a month and nearly half of those who never go to church, the Guardian said.

Some in the Church of England, including the archbishop of York, David Hope, have expressed concern that the leadership´s concentration on management structures in recent years has not helped it to preach its message.

The Anglican Church has even resorted to focus groups to find out how it might appeal better to the uncommitted, and was alarmed to discover that the people most associated with it in the public mind were the actor Dame Thora Hird, 90, and the pop star Sir Cliff Richard, who is 60, the Guardian said.

The Anglican Church has claimed that although surveys have shown snapshots of Sunday attendance sinking below 1 million for the first time three years ago, such figures pay little attention to changing patterns of churchgoing, such as more people attending services in their work lunch hours.

Nevertheless, since 1980 the Church of England has suffered a 27% decline in membership, a similar figure to that in the Catholic Church, the Guardian said.

In a Gallup poll last year, only 38% of those questioned said they believed Jesus was the Son of God. When the same question was asked in 1957, the comparable figure was 71%.

Yet, the Tablet´s editor, John Wilkins, was quoted as saying: «The findings are really surprising in showing that the image of Britain as a secular society is not completely true. The picture is more complicated than that … there is a widespread residual belief.»

The Anglican bishop of Southwark, Thomas Butler, said: «I think it shows that the British are daylight atheists. When things get difficult in their lives they discover that they believe more than they thought they did, and that is when they seek out the churches.»

The newest research, carried out by Opinion Research Business, was conducted last month by telephone poll across Britain with 1,001 respondents.

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