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The census is not all bad news for Christians

Churches might have failed but the gospel has not

This week, the media headlines have been making a noise about the new religion census data. Those identifying as Christian dropped below 50 per cent for the first time, and the rate of decline is quite dramatic. This is a significant milestone, and Christians ought to ask some searching questions. 

We could dwell on the sadder implications of the news. iNews reported that: “Less than half UK is Christian for first time since Dark Ages” without any hint of irony. However, I am encouraged. After years of sustained attack by a hard, unyielding, secular liberal culture, Christianity is still the largest identified religion in the UK by a long way. 46 per cent of the population still think of themselves as Christian — and, of those saying they have no religion, many of them lament the loss of Christian influence in society. 

Millions tuned in to a Christian act of worship for the Queen’s funeral

True born-again believers may well be a minority, but they are a vibrant people of God bringing the fragrance of Christ to their communities and modelling the counter-culture. We see growing churches in cities, towns and villages across our nation bringing hope, healing and community where they live.

Millions tuned in earlier this year to watch a Christian act of worship for the Queen’s funeral, and millions will watch what they hope will be the Christian coronation of King Charles III next year. These cultural moments, steeped in Christianity as they have been for centuries, remind the nation of its cultural heritage, and the role that Christianity has played in the history of the nation.

Church attendance in the mainstream denominations is in sharp decline. Church of England attendance has halved since the 1980s. Methodist attendance has dropped by two thirds. United Reformed has dropped by as much as 80 per cent. Sadly, this decline is caused by the decline in those denominations’ confidence in the gospel. The unwillingness of Church of England bishops to confidently proclaim the gospel has meant that they are not taken seriously. They offer a lukewarm version of the gospel and a reflection of secular culture — which means they end up offering nothing.

Why attend a church proclaiming the same gospel that culture does?

By proclaiming a false gospel of works righteousness — “be nice, be kind to people and do your bit for the environment” — these churches are merely mimicking culture as everyone knows. Why attend a church that proclaims the same gospel that culture does?

New churches and Pentecostal churches are growing rapidly, however. These are the churches that are unashamed of the gospel and are prepared to be counter-cultural in their proclamation. Recent research shows that no growing church has adopted same-sex “marriage”. This is a key indicator of whether the denomination has capitulated to culture, or faithfully proclaimed Biblical morality.

By contrast, all growing church groups are holding firm to historic Christianity. They are evangelical in doctrine. They have statements affirming that marriage is between a man and a woman. What this shows is that the true, Biblical gospel is still attractive and draws people into churches. It is not the gospel that has failed; it is the church. This gospel brings transformation and life in all its fullness.

Christians should be encouraged by this. The harvest is ripe — people are hungry for the truth and for something solid to believe in in times of rapid change and cultural decline. The gospel offers powerful answers to the problems that individuals and society are experiencing. 

We can lament the decline in Christianity across the nation, but let’s not lose hope. The UK is a mission field with huge opportunity for those who will bravely and courageously proclaim the gospel to a lost and hurting world, where people are confused in their sin and brokenness. The people want to know Jesus, the power and freedom found in his forgiveness, and the way to live lives of meaning, purpose and true identity.

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