UK Religious Trends to 2020

Some fascinating (but necessarily speculative) insights into ten key current religious, demographic and other changes in the UK and their potential impact upon the Churches are contained in a new publication by Peter Brierley, head of Brierley Consultancy.

Entitled Major UK Religious Trends, 2010 to 2020, the 80-page paper is a companion to the same author’s Global Religious Trends, 2010 to 2020, which we covered on BRIN last year – see http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=61

The report is designed to facilitate strategy formation and leadership development in the Churches, to ensure that their forward thinking and planning are fully grounded in the facts and reasonable assumptions.

Brierley is a statistician with 43 years’ experience of Christian evaluation, research and publishing, including lengthy spells as European Director of MARC Europe and Executive Director of Christian Research.

In his new paper he draws extensively on the empirical data which he collected in these roles, especially in undertaking church censuses and preparing successive editions of Religious Trends, to arrive at informed projections about the state of UK religion in 2020.

Brierley also utilizes the research which he has been conducting for a new book on Church Statistics, 2005-2015, to be released by ADBC Publishers (Brierley Consultancy’s new imprint) later this year.

This last-named publication is billed as giving data across all 340 denominations in the UK and will thus stand in the tradition of Religious Trends, a title that might be said to have moved off in a somewhat different direction in its new online manifestation from Christian Research (see http://www.brin.ac.uk/news/?p=815).

The continuing eclipse of the Judeo-Christian heritage and the decline of institutional Christianity, with some pockets of trend-bucking (such as Pentecostals and larger Anglican places of worship), is the overarching (albeit nuanced) theme which unifies Brierley’s projections to 2020 in Major UK Religious Trends.

This story-line is neatly summarized in figure 6.5 on page 53, which compares the religious structure of Great Britain (rather than the UK) in 2010 and 2020.

By the latter date the Christian and non-Christian communities are estimated to balance at 50% each (with 41% professing no religion and 9% – although 12% is cited elsewhere – being of non-Christian faiths).

Among the 50% of professing Christians in 2020, just 4% will be regular churchgoers (highest in Scotland and lowest in Wales) and 46% irregular churchgoers or non-attenders. Weekday services will account for half of these worshippers.

Church membership is anticipated by Brierley to be 6% (or 7% elsewhere), the majority of it nominal.

These decreases in religious practice and affiliation are further accentuated when set against the background of a modest rise in religious provision, reflected in the forecast growth in the number of UK clergy from 36,630 in 2010 to 38,800 in 2020 and of places of worship from 50,700 to 51,900.

Figure 6.5 is complemented by table 1.12 on pages 18-19 which lists 22 quantitative and qualitative attributes of what the UK Christian scene might look like in 2020.

Brierley’s forecasts about church attendance contrast with the more cautiously optimistic reading of the contemporary situation promulgated by Christian Research since last September. Christian Research is hoping to organize a new UK-wide census of churchgoing and Christian activities this year, utilizing online data capture.

As with much of his previous work, Brierley seems to be on surest ground when writing about Trinitarian Christian denominations. Non-Trinitarian Churches and, more particularly, non-Christian faiths may be thought a little beyond his professional experience and perhaps even comfort zone.

Certainly, some of the statistics relating to non-Christian faiths, and Islam in particular, could be questioned. For example, Brierley’s estimate of Muslims has been scaled back to reflect the fact that (in his view) only half are ‘active members’, whereas the Citizenship Surveys demonstrate that four-fifths of Muslims claim to practice their religion.   

Major UK Religious Trends costs £15.00 inclusive of postage and can be ordered from Dr Peter Brierley, The Old Post Office, 1 Thorpe Avenue, Tonbridge, Kent, TN10 4PW. Cheques should be made payable to Peter Brierley.


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