BRIN’s Christmas Crackers

Our jokes may be as bad, but hopefully our content is more informative than the average Christmas cracker’s! In this our last round-up of religious statistical news before Christmas, we feature eight stories which will hopefully be of interest to readers of this website. The whole BRIN team wishes you all an enjoyable festive season.

Global religious landscape

On 18 December 2012 the internationally respected Pew Research Center published The Global Religious Landscape: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010 as part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project. At the core of the document (pp. 45-50) is a table setting out the estimated religious composition of 232 countries and territories in 2010 broken down as percentages for eight groups: Christians, Muslims, religiously unaffiliated, Hindus, Buddhists, folk religionists, other religions, and Jews. This table has been compiled, in consultation with many experts, in accordance with a rigorous methodology (outlined on pp. 51-67) and utilizing the best available evidence for each country (pp. 68-80). The report can be read at:

Three of these countries and territories are the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, and the United Kingdom. The figures for the first two are derived from the World Religion Database. Those for the UK are described (on p. 80) as ‘estimates based on 2010 Office for National Statistics Annual Population Survey and 2001 Census for Northern Ireland, adjusted for missing data and to account for underrepresented religious groups’. Unfortunately, Pew’s UK data are superficially hard to square with the findings of the 2011 religious census of England and Wales, published on 11 December, not least in seemingly overestimating the number of Christians (which Pew reckons to amount to 71.1% of the UK population) and somewhat underestimating the religiously unaffiliated (at 21.3%). Conrad Hackett, one of the two primary researchers behind the report (the other being Brian Grim) has kindly offered to share with BRIN readers some possible explanations for the apparent discrepancy between Pew’s calculations and the census. His post will appear on the BRIN site in due course.  

Membership of religious groups

Hard on the heels of the release of the 2011 religious census results for England and Wales comes the publication (on 18 December 2012) of a very large opinion poll which collected information about another facet of religious identity. It was commissioned by Lord Michael Ashcroft (international businessman, author, and philanthropist) as part of his regular series of polls on political issues, this one focused on the United Kingdom Independence Party. The survey was conducted online between 9 and 19 November 2012 among a sample of 20,066 Britons aged 18 and over. The religion question asked was rather different to that in the census: ‘To which of the following religious groups do you consider yourself to be a member of?’ The concept of membership was not defined. This formulation is more analogous to, but certainly not identical with, the ‘belonging’ question in the annual British Social Attitudes Surveys.

In reply, 55% of Ashcroft’s interviewees said Christian, 6% non-Christian, and 36% none, with 2% refusals. The most substantial demographic variations were by age and voting intention. The proportion of Christians was lowest (36%) among the 18-24s and rose steadily throughout the age cohorts to stand at 73% with the over-65s. For those saying they were members of no religious groups, the trend was in the opposite direction, starting high at 50% for the 18-24s and falling to reach 22% of the over-65s. Conservatives were 14% more likely to be Christians than Labour voters and 15% more than Liberal Democrats; and they were 11% less likely than the other two main parties to have no religion. For more details, see table 88 of the data tables at:

Religion census in Wales

The Welsh Government published a statistical bulletin on 17 December 2012 setting out first results from the 2011 census for ethnicity, national identity, and religion for Wales. For those particularly interested in Welsh data, this summarizes in two simple tables the Welsh religious affiliation figures included in the Excel spreadsheets released for the whole of England and Wales on 11 December. Table 5 compares the religion results for 2011 with those in 2001 for the whole of Wales. The principal changes were the fall in the number of professing Christians, from 71.9% to 57.6%, and the increase in the proportion of those stating no religion, from 18.5% to 32.1%. Non-Christians were comparatively thin on the ground, only 2.7% (even if ‘any other religion’ is included), albeit Muslims rose from 0.7% to 1.5% of the Welsh population. Table 6 provides breakdowns for 2011 at local authority level. To read more, go to:

Andrew Brown on the census

From Andrew Brown’s weekly review of the press in Church Times, 14 December 2012, p. 24: ‘The Guardian had on its website a couple of really interesting little graphs showing the correlations between income and religious allegiance by local authority … “Nones” showed a fairly flat distribution across income areas. That strengthens the idea that they are now a kind of default state. Other religions, even Islam, showed up as growing more common with increasing prosperity. I think, though, that this is skewed by the fact that Bangladeshi immigrants were very suspicious of the religious question on the Census. But two groups really stood out. The poorest local authorities were also those likely to report high levels of Christian identification – which is hardly the pattern you would expect from church statistics. Buddhism shows just as clear a pattern as it grows, but in the opposite direction.’

Sharing the gospel

Evangelism is the theme of the latest (and seventh) report in the Evangelical Alliance’s 21st Century Evangelicals series, commissioned in partnership with eight other Christian organizations who are members of the Alliance’s Research Club. The research utilizes an online panel of evangelicals (‘an opportunity sample of self-selecting volunteers’), which is possibly unrepresentative of evangelical churchgoers as a whole. For this latest study, conducted in August 2012, 1,242 panel members participated. The summary of the findings, 21st Century Evangelicals: A Snapshot of the Beliefs and Habits of Evangelical Christians in the UK, Winter 2012 – Confidently Sharing the Gospel? is available at:

The research demonstrates that evangelicals come to faith at an early stage of their life – 72% before they are 20 years old (28% by the age of 11 and 44% in their teens). Girls (32%) are more likely than boys (24%) to commit to Christ by the time they are 11. Growing up in a Christian family or church environment (54%) and the influence of Christian friends who shared their faith (43%) are the most common routes to faith, with nine other factors scoring between 6% and 37%. Evangelicals are very solid in their convictions, 97% agreeing that Jesus is the only way to God, and 94% that everyone needs to be born again to become a Christian and be saved.

Notwithstanding, evangelicals do not necessarily embrace practical evangelism. They often stay within their religious comfort zone, 74% saying that all or most of their family or household members are Christians and 51% the same about their circle of friends; 43% accept that they do not come into contact with many non-Christians. Many (39%) lack the motivation to share their faith, 48% feel too scared to do so, and 60% acknowledge that they have missed an opportunity to speak to others about God during the past four months. These are acknowledged to be generic weaknesses, 87% recognizing that most Christians want the confidence to give testimony to their faith, and 76% that Christians do not pray enough for revival.

Of course, there are barriers on the other side, too, with 74% declaring that none of their non-Christian contacts seem interested in talking about spiritual things. The major hindrances to the advancement of faith among non-Christians are perceived by evangelicals to be: secular alternatives to Sunday worship (89%), the Church’s unattractive public image (87%), the Church’s middle class ethos (73%), an aversion to joining any kind of organization (68%), the Church’s narrow views on sex (62%), the inability of Christians to give meaningful answers to the problem of suffering (61%), popular knowledge of science (59%), and the attacks of atheists such as Richard Dawkins (51%).

Singing the gospel

Knowledge of the lyrics of traditional Christmas carols improves with age, according to a survey of 1,000 adult Britons commissioned by the online casino RoxyPalace. Whereas nobody aged 18-27 and only one-eighth of all under-37s feel they can ‘confidently sing’ every word to a well-known carol, four-fifths of pensioners aged 68-77 can accurately manage the task. Overall, more than one in ten is forced to mime or hum along to carols. Others simply invent the words they do not know, or substitute those which best seem to fit, such as ‘the cattle are mooing’ in Away in a Manger. The fullest report of this light-hearted seasonal research which has appeared to date can be found in the Daily Telegraph for 20 December 2012 at:

Christmas cards without Christ

A mystery shopping survey carried out by Nielsen on behalf of the Bible Society on 3-7 December 2012 found that only 66 or 1.2% of 5,706 single and multipack Christmas card designs on sale in twelve shops in the Birmingham area (including branches of Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, and Morrison) depicted the nativity, with the total only rising to 2% even when all other religious designs were added in. Commenting on the results, Ann Holt from the Bible Society feared that ‘this means the nativity story will gradually slip from our consciousness’. The Society’s press release of 20 December is at:

Meanwhile, the Society has now made available online the full data tables from the nativity awareness survey undertaken by ICM Research on 6-10 December 2012, which we covered in our post of 17 December. The tables can be found at:

BRIN developments

BRIN has now opened a Twitter account: Brit Rel in Numbers @BritRelNumbers. A plugin has also been added to the BRIN website so that all new posts on the BRIN news pages will automatically broadcast a tweet to alert our followers on Twitter to fresh content. You can follow us at:

The annual update of the BRIN sources database has just taken place. Methodological and bibliographical details of 115 new sources have been added, 84 from 2012 and 31 from previous years. This brings the total of sources described in the database to 2,115, the earliest from 1603. Revisions have also been made to 31 existing entries, typically to incorporate new bibliographical references, while corrections have been made to the sample size count field (which is not visible to end users) for many sources keyed in 2010 in order to improve the accuracy of advanced searching by sample size, especially for large datasets. There are naturally many other search options available, so do try the database out for yourself, at:

It is guaranteed to cost you less than shopping online on Christmas Day or Boxing Day!


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2 Responses to BRIN’s Christmas Crackers

  1. Pingback: evangelicals do not necessarily embrace practical evangelism. | eChurch Blog

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