Periodic reports about Islam overtaking the Church of England in terms of the number of worshippers have been a feature of media life for much of the past decade.
The latest variant on the theme is to be found in yesterday’s Mail on Sunday, in an article by Jonathan Petre and Andrew Chapman. A version of this is online at:
The opening paragraph summarizes the story: ‘A historic Church of England diocese where Muslim worshippers outnumber Anglican churchgoers by two to one is set to be scrapped.’
The diocese concerned is Bradford, which – the article suggests – is being lined up by the Dioceses Commission for possible merger with the neighbouring Diocese of Ripon and Leeds (it was actually part of the Diocese of Ripon until separated out in 1919).
Neither the Diocese of Bradford nor the Commission was willing to comment on this mooted reorganization. But what of the other half of the equation, the suggestion that Friday mosque attendances have surpassed Anglican Sunday congregations?
The Bradford diocesan churchgoing statistic quoted is the Mail on Sunday is the usual Sunday attendance figure of 8,700 for 2008, taken from the latest edition of Church Statistics.
Other and more favourable figures for the Diocese of Bradford in that year are overlooked, one suspects deliberately. These are (in ascending order): average Sunday attendance of 10,200, electoral roll membership of 11,300, average weekly attendance of 12,200, Easter Day attendance of 13,800, and Christmas Day/Eve attendance of 26,100.
As for Muslims, a total population figure of about 80,000 for Bradford is cited, apparently put forward by Peter Brierley of Brierley Research. The basis for this estimate is not explained.
The 2001 census of the Bradford Unitary Authority identified 75,200 Muslims, representing 16% of all inhabitants at that date. However, if the Muslim community in Bradford has grown at the same rate as in the rest of the country since the census, the number of Muslims in the city must now be about 110,000, rather than 80,000.
The article goes on to say that ‘Government surveys have established that at least a quarter of Muslims are weekly mosque-goers’. Therefore, ‘on a conservative estimate 20,000 are regular worshippers, more than double the number of their Anglican counterparts.’
It is not clarified what these ‘Government surveys’ are. By far the largest such enquiry which includes religion, the Integrated Household Survey, is confined to religious affiliation and does not measure religious observance.
The question used in the Government’s Citizenship Survey asks whether respondents practice their religion, and 80% of Muslims in 2008-09 said that they did.
An as yet unpublished academic study of Muslims, conducted by Ipsos MORI in 2009 and made available by BRIN’s David Voas, records claimed weekly attendance at services as higher than one-quarter, 30% for the 18-34s and 50% for the over-35s. These claims may, of course, be exaggerated.
It is also far from certain whether the Mail on Sunday’s journalists are comparing like-with-like in spatial terms. The Diocese of Bradford is larger than the city, as regards both population (by 37% in 2001) and area, its 920 square miles taking in (as the article acknowledges) the western quarter of North Yorkshire and parts of East Lancashire, South-East Cumbria and Leeds.
Thus, while the general point made by the article still stands, that Anglicans are in relative retreat in a city which, in 2001, had the fourth highest proportion of Muslims anywhere in the country, it otherwise leaves a very great deal to be desired in respect of presentation and interpretation of the facts. These appear to have been sacrificed in the pursuit of a sensationalist headline.
The story is rerun in today’s Daily Express, in an article by Mark Reynolds, with the additional twist that, following projections in Christian Research’s Religious Trends, it is claimed that ‘even Hindus will soon come close to outnumbering churchgoers’. See: