Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Christianity in Britain on the Way Out?

From The Church Times (UK):
First, the bad news from the 2005 English Church Census, published on Monday. Churchgoing in England continues to decline at a rate of 2.3 per cent a year.

But there is good news, too. The rate of decline has slowed from that of the 1990s, when numbers fell by 2.7 per cent a year.

For clarification: A 2.7% decline per year means you lose half your membership by 2031; a 2.3% decline per year means you lose half your membership by 2036. It’s not really much of a victory.

The census, conducted by Christian Research, was sent to all 37,500 known churches in England in May 2005, and half of them responded. The title of the findings is Pulling out of the Nosedive, referring to the signs of recovery after a troubling decade.

Of course, pulling out of a nosedive only works if you have sufficient altitude to begin with. Otherwise, it only changes the shape of the hole you make in the ground.

The fortunes of the various denominations differed (see table, right). Whereas the average drop across the board was 15 per cent in the seven years since the last survey, in 1998, the Church of England declined by only 11 per cent. The fastest rates of decline were among Roman Catholics and Methodists; whereas the Pentecostal Churches showed significant growth over the period.

As a result, Methodism has dropped to fourth place behind Pentecostalism. If these rates continue, the C of E will overtake the RC Church within the next four years.

It is a sad commentary when your source of hope is that your neighbor is dying faster than you are. Perhaps the last parishioner of the Church of England will be able to dance on the grave of the last British Catholic. By the way, I looked up a definition of “overtake” – to catch up with and pass by. I really don’t think they are using the word correctly.

Two notable factors stand out from the results. One is the significance of ethnicity. The black-led Churches, especially the ones that attract immigrants, have grown during the past seven years. Ten per cent of all churchgoers responding to the survey were non-white.

The same will probably be true of Anglican Churches in the USA, where many of the most vigorous and orthodox congregations and dioceses are hoping desperately for “black leadership” from the African Primates, and would be overjoyed to kneel and kiss the ring of a black Archbishop. Had it happened earlier, Lovely-and-Faithful-Wife and I might still be members of the Episcopal Church.

It is interesting that the only English churches maintaining themselves or growing are those with a high view of scripture and of Christian morality and behavior. In the meantime, the dying churches continue to try to attract the uninterested by chasing after the culture. No one ever seems to realize that a church which doesn't call you to a different life isn't a church that calls you to bother getting up on Sunday mornings. It's almost as if God has sent upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false. Wait a minute; I could swear I've read that someplace...