Membership of Groups

6% of adult Britons claim to belong to a ‘church group or bible study’, according to a YouGov poll released today, and conducted online among a sample of 2,451 adult Britons on 16 and 17 June 2011 on behalf of The Sunday Times. The full results are available at:

http://today.yougov.co.uk/sites/today.yougov.co.uk/files/yg-archives-pol-st-results-17-190611.pdf

Respondents were asked whether they were members of twenty groups or organizations, including the three main political parties. 51% said they belonged to none of them. Trade unions and gyms topped the list (at 12% each), followed by the National Trust (10%), with church groups in fourth position, just ahead of football clubs (5%).

Membership of church groups never reached double figures among any demographic sub-group. The highest (9%) was in Scotland, with public sector employees and current Liberal Democrat voters on 8%, and the 18-24s, over-60s and non-manual workers on 7% each. The smallest numbers were found among the 25-39s (3%), manual workers (4%) and private sector workers (4%).

The meaning of membership was not defined in the question, and ‘church group or bible study’ implies a Christian basis. Also, this type of enquiry tends to encourage exaggeration, with people replying aspirationally. For example, 10% of adults claiming membership of the National Trust points to the organization having 4.7 million members, whereas the reality (in the last National Trust annual report) is exactly a million less.

At the same time, claimed membership of church groups in this poll is lower than Peter Brierley’s estimates of church membership for 2010, 11% of the population aged 15 and over in the UK (9% in England and Wales and 18% in Scotland). However, his statistics incorporate mass attendance for Roman Catholics who have no concept of membership.

Brierley’s data have yet to be published in full. They will appear in his forthcoming book Church Statistics, which we will cover on BRIN when it is published. Meanwhile, there are previews of his figures in his articles in FutureFirst, No. 15, June 2011, pp. 1, 4 and Church of England Newspaper, 10 June 2011, p. 17.

The YouGov poll is naturally relevant within the context of the long-standing counter-assertion to the secularization thesis, that the undisputed decline in church membership and attendance simply mirrors a more general retreat from association and a privatization of society as a whole.


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