- (Photo: Reuters/Luke MacGregor)
There has been a huge 13 percent drop in the number of people in Britain identifying themselves as Christian, according to new data released from the 2011 Census.
The shocking statistics reveal that the number of Christians has fallen from 37 million to 33 million since 2001. Christians now make up only 59 percent of the population, as opposed to 72 percent in 2001.
Meanwhile, the number of Muslims has risen from 1.5 million to 2.7 million - or 5 percent of the population - while the number of people describing themselves as having no religion rose by 10 percent to 25 percent of the population.
Knowsley had the highest percentage of Christians, while Norwich registered the highest number of people with "no religion."
Newham, Haringey, Brent, Boston and Lambeth all showed increases in the number of Christians.
Chief executive of the British Humanist Association Andrew Copson said the data represented a "really significant cultural shift."
There has also been a fall in the number of people who are married, from 50.9 percent in 2001 to 46.6 percent - or 21.1 million – in 2011.
Speaking ahead of the release of the Census data, the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams resisted the idea that the Church was fading away, highlighting the continued popularity of cathedrals.
"This is not the familiar story of a church that's fading away," he wrote in the Radio Times. "It should make us think twice before signing up to that particular cliché."
The Methodist Church has responded to the new Census figures with a renewed determination to serve others. The Methodist General Secretary, the Reverend Dr Martyn Atkins said the results meant that Christians needed to "think and act smarter" if they were to be good witnesses to Jesus Christ today.
"These figures are a challenge to the Churches and reflect how British society has changed," said Dr Atkins.
"But we are not discouraged. We are excited to be Christians in part of an increasingly diverse, multi-faith society and we believe that British society is enriched by this mix."
He insisted that the Church's commitment to being there for those who attend as well as those who do not remains the unchanged.
"Churches remain committed to making a difference to many more people's lives through the wider activities of our communities, in church groups, fresh expressions, work in schools and places of community through volunteering, chaplaincies, being street pastors and good neighbours," he said.
The Methodist Church is currently engaged in more than 7,000 outreach activities, serving more than 600,000 people.
Methodist churches have also been pioneering 'fresh expressions' of church, including cafe churches, children's churches and sacred spaces.
"The Census results mean we need to think and act smarter in seeking to be good witnesses to Jesus Christ today, and many Methodists will relish that opportunity," said Dr Atkins.
"We believe God continues to be at work in Britain and elsewhere and we remain committed to working with God and being available to God for good."
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has said the fact that six out of 10 people in England and Wales are still identifying themselves as Christian "is not discouraging."
Responding to the data, a spokesman for the Catholic Church said: "Christianity is no longer a religion of culture, but a religion of decision and commitment. People are making a positive choice in self-identifying as Christians."
Separate polling shows that the Catholic population has remained consistent at 9% of the total population in the last few years.
Ipsos Mori research for Catholic development agency CAFOD in 2008 suggested there were five million Catholics in England and Wales, and around a million attending mass on a weekly basis.
The spokesperson continued: "Catholics play a full part in the country's social and cultural mix, serving the common good.
"In the words of Pope Benedict XVI at Westminster Cathedral during his visit in 2010, 'How much we need, in the Church and in society, witnesses of the beauty of holiness, witnesses of the splendour of truth, witnesses of the joy and freedom born of a relationship with Jesus Christ'."