Sunday church attendance in the United Kingdom may drop to just 2 percent of the total population by 2040, according to a nationwide church survey published in late last month. The result has become a wake-up call to Christian leaders.
The survey was conducted by Christian Research, an independent Christian organization that researches on the U.K. Christian scene every two years. The latest report called The Future of the Church: Religious Trends 5 has tried for the first time to project the current figures up until 2040, according to the U.K.-based Telegraph newspaper.
As all U.K. churches have been suffering from drastic drop in service attendance over the last decade, the Christian Research predicts that at the present trend, church attendance will drop by two-thirds over the next 35 years, the Telegraph reported on Sept. 3.
The findings also warned that the lifestyle of Christians will be no longer distinctly different from the rest of the population by 2040, "except in small sect-like groups that have retreated from society," the Telegraph cited the report as saying.
In addition, aging congregation will be another problem among UK churches. According to the report of the Church Times UK on Sept. 8, researchers said there would be almost no one under the age of 20 attending church by 2040 while the great majority would be over 65. This prediction is based on a number of present trends, particularly the large drop-out of children aged between ten and 14 in the 1990s.
The change in denominational affiliation and interest among Christians in the next 35 years is worth noting. According to the Telegraph, the report indicates that all the main denominations, from the Church of England and the Roman Catholics to the Methodist and United Reformed Churches, are suffering from long-term decline as the figures show.
The report forecasts the total membership of all the denominations will fall from 9.4 percent of the population to under five percent by 2040, based on the present trend. The only groups to buck the trend are the non-white ethnic Churches, the report said.
On the other hand, The Church Times UK also cited the report as saying church traditions and denominational interests would be irrelevant by 2040, though evangelicals would dominate by 2020 (after a series of splits around 2010).
Dr Peter Brierley, the executive director of Christian Research, said to the Telegraph that the study should act as a "wake-up call" to church leaders. Dr Brierly has been collating figures related to church life in the UK for 40 year.
The director continued by stating, "I hope that these findings concentrate minds in what is becoming a real crisis. The story behind them is how few young people are being attracted to church."
In response to the alarming report from Christian Research, the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester who has been involved in previous Christian Research reports, fully acknowledged the crisis, the Telegraph reported.
"It is no good Church leaders acting like company managers trying to present the statistics in the most favorable light," he told the Telegraph. "The truth is stark. What these statistics need to do is to galvanize the Church into realizing that it must communicate the gospel where people are or we will not deserve to have a Church."
The Bishop commented that the Church expended too much time on tasks such as reforming Synodical government or the liturgy.
The Rev Derek Allen, head of the department for research and training in mission at Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) responded to the report through Sept. 8 Edition of the Baptist Times UK. He described the report as "a very helpful wake-up call," but said he was hopeful for the future.
"We are opening more churches than we are closing, and the new church plants are much more vigorous," Allan told the Baptist Times.
However, the department head added Baptists have a lot to learn from the huge growth of minority ethnic churches within the Union, as well as Baptist churches from around the world that are growing.
Heather Wraight of the Christian Research tends to look at the report in a relatively optimistic viewpoint. She has recognized the crisis faced by U.K. churches as a new opportunity, according to her conversation with the Church Times.
"We do have a window of opportunity now. We need at every level throughout all the churches to be working strategically to be turning these around," Wraight said.
She encouraged Christian leaders to look forward and plan ahead.
"We all know that present trends don't always continue, she told the Church Times. Sometimes they get worse, sometimes they get better, and sometimes the spirit of God intervenes. Sometimes factors in society change unexpectedly. But you can't plan on what may or may not happen: you can plan on the basis of what will happen if nothing changes."