Of all the findings from our YouGov for Westminster Faith Debates surveys, these two graphs tell the most powerful story about the Church of England’s decline. They need to be viewed together:
Graph 1: Religious affiliation by age
Graph 2: Strength of belief by age
Within living memory, most people in England used to think of themselves as ‘Church of England.’ It was the default position. Graph 1 shows this is no longer the case. It is still true for people aged 70+ (the pre-boomer generation, born before 1946). But with each successive generation there is relentless disaffiliation – and the number saying they have “no religion” grows. It’s interesting to note that affiliation to the Roman Catholic Church has not declined in the same way, partly due to migration, and that affiliation to other religions is also pretty steady despite a lot of churn within that category.
But Graph 2 shows that people haven’t simply stopped believing in God. The proportion of atheists has only increased a little during the same period. There is some growth in the middle categories – people who say they don’t know if there is a God (agnostic), and that there probably is no God. But the proportions who believe in God with certainty or who think there is probably a God are still large – even amongst young people.
So the Church of England has been losing people faster than God.
Linda is Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University. She researches religion around the world, and is particularly interested in charting rapid religious change since the 1980s. She was Director of the £12m AHRC/ESRC Religion and Society Programme (2007 to 2013) which commissioned 75 separate projects. Her most recent books are Everyday Lived Islam in Europe (ed) and A Sociology of Religious Emotion. Together with Charles Clarke, she founded and organises the Westminster Faith Debates.