Demography of Churchgoing and Other News


Demography of churchgoing

Fresh insights into the demographic composition of British churchgoers, with particular reference to the number and position of single people, are provided in a series of three reports which have been published since the beginning of the year, and are available to download via the links at:

The reports, prepared under the direction of David Pullinger, are: 

  • The Eyes of the Perceiver: The Numbers and Issues of Single People in Churches. Published on 17 January 2015, this is based on online fieldwork by Christian Research among a self-selecting (and disproportionately male and Protestant) panel of 1,401 adult churchgoers and church leaders in July 2014, funded by Network Christians, and analysed by Single Christians. It revealed that church leaders have a better grasp than churchgoers of the entire spectrum of situations in which people find themselves single, embracing the never married, the previously married, the separated, and others experiencing singleness on a day-to-day basis. There was more consensus about the major issues facing single people, with loneliness at the top. 
  • Men Practising Christian Worship. Published on 28 January 2015, this is based on online fieldwork by YouGov among 7,212 Britons aged 16 and over on 23-26 September 2014, funded by Christian Vision for Men and Single Christians, and analysed by Single Christians. Respondents were asked whether they considered themselves to be practising Christians, how often they attended places of worship, and the age at which they had first got married. With our usual caveat about aspirational answers, the research revealed that 31% claimed to be practising Christians, with 19% saying they worshipped at least once a year and 10% at least once a month. Self-identifying churchgoers were disproportionately female, elderly, married, and middle class, unpartnered men (regardless of social grade) being especially underrepresented in congregations. 
  • The Numbers of Single Adults Practising Christian Worship. Published on 5 February 2015, this is based on the same YouGov survey as the preceding report and includes several of the same slides. As one might expect, the marital status of church attenders is the principal focus. Partnered people were found to be more likely than the unpartnered to say they were practising Christians and to report they went to a place of worship. The unpartnered comprised 40% of the population but 32% of regular (more than once a month) churchgoers. Whereas 12% of married persons claimed to be regular attenders, the same was true of only 7% of the never married. No strong evidence was found that regularly practising Christians married at a younger age than the non-practising. An accompanying press release highlighted the plight of a surplus of middle class unpartnered women in churches who would have to face life without the prospect of being able to marry somebody who shared their Christian beliefs. 

In terms of systematically analysed sample surveys, the YouGov research is perhaps the largest-scale study of the demographics of church attendance since Tearfund’s Churchgoing in the UK (2007). However, because of the well-proven tendency of respondents to over-claim their religious practice, sample surveys are probably a less reliable source of data in this area than censuses of church attendance, the last England-wide one being taken in 2005.  

The depth of analysis of the YouGov data by marital status is particularly interesting, but the picture which is revealed is doubtless not a recent phenomenon. In the case of Methodism, for instance, my own historical research has suggested that it was ‘a relative haven for the married and once-married’. For further details, see Clive Field, ‘Demography and the Decline of British Methodism: I. Nuptiality’, Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, Vol. 58, No. 4, February 2012, pp. 175-89.  

Religious sensibilities

Many Britons disagree with the protection of religious sensibilities, according to the results of a couple of questions included in a module about liberalism which YouGov put, on behalf of Prospect magazine, to an online sample of 1,630 Britons on 1-2 February 2015. Data tables were released on 19 February and are at:

One question, obviously framed in the light of last month’s Islamist attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, in retaliation for that newspaper’s publication of satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, asked whether the law which limits racist speech should be extended to protect religions from deliberately offensive speeches, articles, and cartoons. The majority (53%) of the British public thought not, including 62% of men and 65% of UKIP voters. Around one-third (32%) wished to see religions protected in this way, while 15% were undecided. 

The other question was a throw-back to the legal case, which ended up in the Supreme Court, involving a Christian couple who owned a B&B who had refused (on religious grounds) the use of a double room by a homosexual couple. YouGov panellists were asked in general terms whether people with strong religious views who provided B&B accommodation should have the right to turn away same-sex couples. Exactly 50% believed they should not have such a right, among them just under two-thirds of Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters and of those aged 25-39. About two-fifths (39%) backed the B&B owners’ position, including 51% of Conservative and 61% of UKIP voters and 58% of over-60s. The remaining 11% expressed no opinion.    


Anti-Semitism has never been out of the news since the Islamist outrages in Paris at the beginning of the year, and YouGov has taken the pulse of public opinion on the subject again in two recent online polls. In the first, of 1,548 adults on 16-17 February 2015, respondents were asked whether they agreed with the recent plea by the Israeli Prime Minister for European Jews to move to Israel, given the apparently rising tide of European anti-Semitism. Only 11% felt these Jews would be safer in Israel, 26% suggesting they would be safer in Europe, 42% equally safe in either place, and 21% expressing no view. Specifically in relation to the UK situation, 34% wanted the Government to initiate a major campaign to reassure British Jews they are safe and welcome in the country, while 41% considered there to be no need for this, the remaining 25% favouring neither option. The survey also probed attitudes to the recent emergence of Islamic State (IS) in Libya and to potential British involvement in air strikes against IS there, 59% being in favour. Data tables are at:

The second survey was undertaken for the Sunday Times among a sample of 1,568 Britons on 19-20 February 2015. Just 4% admitted to holding some personal views which were anti-Semitic, the range within demographic sub-groups being from 2% to 9%, while 89% denied doing so and 7% were unsure. However, 20% considered that anti-Semitism was very or fairly widespread in British society (64% regarding it as uncommon), and 19% that anti-Semitism had worsened in Britain during the past 20 years (as against 21% who detected an improvement in the situation and 40% no change). One person in 14 (7%) reported that they had often witnessed anti-Semitic behaviour on the part of others. Data tables are at:

Faith and politics

With the general election less than three months away, and with the recent briefings by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and the Church of England designed to inform the electorate about the issues at stake, any data about the political thinking and intentions of Christians is naturally of great interest. So, many BRIN readers will probably want to read the research reported by the Evangelical Alliance on 19 February 2015 in its Faith in Politics? This is the twelfth in a series of studies of 21st Century Evangelicals. An accompanying press release, incorporating a link to the report, can be found at:

A couple of caveats should be borne in mind. First, the research was undertaken as far back as August-September 2014, so it is unlikely to be a completely accurate guide to current attitudes. Second, the representative nature of the sample is even more in doubt than usual. The core sample derived from 1,356 members of the Evangelical Alliance’s self-selecting research panel, but their number was boosted by 1,006 participants recruited via social media, the latter disproportionately interested in and engaged in politics. This gave a total of 2,362 respondents, 12% of whom did not define themselves as evangelicals. The report itself is based on the 2,020 individuals who did regard themselves as evangelical. The findings, therefore, should be regarded as having more of an illustrative than statistical value. The report itself contains an appropriate note of caution about the limitations of the data. 

Among the statistics featured in the report are:

  • 86% of evangelicals are very or fairly interested in politics (compared with 42% of the population)
  • 76% say their political views and voting are influenced by their reading of the Bible (yet 57% have no idea what the Bible teaches about politics)
  • 92% think more Christians need to get involved in politics
  • 59% believe none of the main political parties supports Christian values
  • Just 32% deem it important for politicians to be Christian – integrity and conviction are seen as far more significant attributes
  • 94% are certain or likely to vote in the general election
  • 39% will not be voting for the same party as in the 2010 general election
  • 24% were still undecided, at the time of interview, how they will vote (23% supporting Labour, 21% Conservative, 8% LibDem, and 9% UKIP)
  • 71% regard policies ensuring religious liberty and freedom of expression as a very important determinant of their own vote
  • 39% will prioritize voting for a party best helping others in need
  • 32% consider poverty/inequality to be the single most important issue facing the UK (4% in the population at large)
  • 6% consider race/immigration to be the single most important issue (21% in the population)

Religious group membership

One-fifth (21%) of UK adults report being members of religious groups or church organizations, according to Veronique Siegler, Measuring National Well-Being: An Analysis of Social Capital in the UK, which was published by the Office for National Statistics on 29 January 2015. This is the same proportion as are members of trade unions and professional organizations but less than the 33% in membership of sports clubs. Overall, 52% of adults are in membership of some form of organization. Data derive from the 2011/12 wave of Understanding Society, the UK longitudinal household panel. Siegler’s report is at:

Travelling man

John Wesley (1703-91) is widely regarded as the principal founder of Methodism and an itinerant preacher on a grand scale. But just how far did he travel? In a recent issue of the Methodist Recorder (13 February 2015, p. 8) John Taylor has endeavoured to answer the question, based on an analysis he did some time ago of Wesley’s published journals from 1735 onwards. From this date until his death he calculates that Wesley travelled just over 250,000 miles, typically on horseback, broken down as follows: 
















Islands in British seas



On board ship
















British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

This entry was posted in church attendance, News from religious organisations, Official data, Religion and Politics, Religion and Social Capital, Survey news and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.