London Churchgoing and Other News

Christianity dominates the latest BRIN post, including the revelation that the Church in London is growing overall in terms of attendance at services, news which will give heart to church growth advocates. However, we also find space for a rare national survey of attitudes of the Sikh community.

London Church Census

Church attendance in Greater London grew by 16% between 2005 and 2012, from 620,000 to 720,000, representing 9% of the capital’s population at the latter date, and thereby bucking the downward trend in most national religious indicators. The number of places of worship in London also rose during these seven years, by 17% from 4,100 to 4,800. Growth was especially to be found among black majority and immigrant churches, which together accounted for 27% of all Christian places of worship in London in 2012 and 24% of churchgoers. Black people were far more likely to attend services than whites (19% against 8%), and in Inner London 48% of worshippers were black.

This reliance upon ethnicity and migration also explains other facts revealed by the census, such as that 14% of all churches use a language other than English or that 52% of attenders are in evangelical churches (reflecting the evangelical proclivities of black Christians). By contrast, many traditional, smaller places of worship (with congregations under 200) are still contracting; they represent 50% of churches but just 22% of churchgoers. Overall, Anglicans are declining and Catholics only just growing. Moreover, the net increase of 100,000 worshippers from 2005 to 2012 disproportionately comprised women (82%), although the female majority in congregations as a whole was much lower (56%). The mean age of attenders was 41 years, ranging from 33 in the Pentecostal and New Churches to 56 for the Methodist and United Reformed Churches.

These are among the initial findings from the London Church Census, undertaken by Brierley Consultancy on 14 October 2012 (an ‘average Sunday’) and sponsored by the London City Mission. They are contained in Peter Brierley, London’s Churches Are Growing! What the London Church Census Reveals (Tonbridge: ADBC Publishers, 2013, 16pp.) and in Brierley’s article in FutureFirst, No. 27, June 2013, pp. 1, 4. Copies of both publications are available (for a charge) from the author by emailing A full report on the census will be published as a book in October and more detailed tables will appear in the second volume of UK Church Statistics, due in 2014. Meanwhile, comparative churchgoing data for Greater London in 1979, 1989, 1998, and 2005 are available in the various reports by the Bible Society, MARC Europe, and Christian Research on the English church censuses conducted in those years.

Evangelical church life

Life in the Church?, published on 4 June 2013, is the latest quarterly report from the Evangelical Alliance’s 21st Century Evangelicals research project, conducted online among a self-selecting panel of evangelical churchgoers in the UK. Respondents to this latest survey, undertaken in February 2013, numbered 1,864, of whom 53% were men and 47% women. They comprised 1,207 existing and 657 new panellists. The Evangelical Alliance describes them as an ‘opportunity sample’ and is careful to avoid any claims that it is ‘statistically representative’, noting, in particular, the serious under-representation of older women, the concentration of respondents in London and the southern half of England, and the disproportionate number of church leaders (34%). The summary report is at:

while full data can be requested from

In the available space, we can only pick out a few of the more interesting (to BRIN) results:

  • 89% of panellists attended church weekly (including 20% who worshipped twice each Sunday), with 51% also taking part in prayer groups; among other common involvements for non-leaders were: leading worship/reading scripture or prayers in services (37%), leading a home group or Bible study (34%), taking part in church-linked social action (32%), and working with children or young people (31%)
  • 61% of evangelicals said their church had lots of children attending, 59% that it was predominantly middle class, 47% that it included people from most socio-ethnic groups in the community, 47% that it was good at helping disabled persons, 41% that it had a large number of committed young people attending, 37% that it had more women than men, and 26% that it was predominantly elderly
  • Respondents were generally satisfied with their experience of church life, 68% describing themselves as very happy with it, and 76% feeling that they were growing spiritually as part of their church and sensing the presence of God when it met; on the other hand, 16% believed there were too many cliques in their church, 15% had often thought about leaving for another place of worship, and 9% reported a lot of conflict and discontent in their church
  • Church leaders overwhelmingly received positive endorsement from their congregations in terms of their leadership style and commitment; however, 13% considered that their leader was too controlling and domineering, while 7% acknowledged a difficult relationship with their leader
  • 80% of panellists agreed that women should be allowed to preach or teach during public worship and 73% to hold senior leadership positions in the church, yet only 16% of current sole church leaders were female and 36% of leaders in a team
  • 71% of evangelicals expected their own church to grow over the next twenty years (13% dramatically and 58% somewhat), albeit just 47% currently were; but only 41% expected the wider UK Church to grow (against 45% anticipating a decrease, 29% dramatically and 16% somewhat)

Theology of occasional churchgoers

Christmastide seems increasingly to be the season for occasional churchgoers to appear in the pews, and the empirical theological dimensions of this in an Anglican context are explored in a new essay by David Walker (currently Bishop of Dudley but recently designated as the next Bishop of Manchester): ‘How Far is it to Bethlehem? Exploring the Ordinary Theology of Occasional Churchgoers’, Exploring Ordinary Theology: Everyday Christian Believing and the Church, edited by Jeff Astley and Leslie Francis (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), pp. 137-45.

Walker’s evidence derives from a survey of attenders at two evening carol services in Worcester cathedral in 2009 and one afternoon and one evening carol service in Lichfield cathedral in 2010. Questionnaires were completed by 1,151 attenders, of whom 460 were categorized as occasional churchgoers (attending less than six times a year). They included proportionately more men and younger people than are found among regular Anglican churchgoers. Besides demographics, the survey deployed Likert scales to measure attitudes to the carol service, the Christmas story, Christian belief, moral issues, and public religion.

A selection of findings appears below:

  • Motivations for attending the carol services included: the music (94%), to be reminded of the Christmas story (75%), to feel close to God (55%), to worship God (55%), and to find the true meaning of Christmas (52%)
  • There were strong preferences for carol services to be candlelit (78%), to contain traditional rather than modern hymns (76%), and to involve the congregation (75%), while 94% expected the service to be uplifting
  • Occasional churchgoers engaged more with the mystery than the history of the Christmas story, with assent to some key biblical components of Christmas commanding levels of belief of only around one-half, including 58% in the stable, 57% in the shepherds, 55% in the wise men, and 42% in the Virgin Birth
  • Although 67% considered themselves Christian and 63% wanted Christianity to have a special place in the country, just 13% believed Christianity to be the only true religion, and 53% argued that Christians should not try to convert people, preferring to put pluralism above dogma – the lowest scores for Christian belief were for statements about the literal truth of scripture

British Sikh Report

British Sikh Report, 2013: An Insight into the British Sikh Community was published on 6 June 2013 and is intended to be the first in a series of annual surveys, with the aspiration of becoming ‘the leading light in respect of statistics for the British Sikh community’. It has been put together by ‘an independent team of Sikh professionals from all walks of life in their twenties and thirties’, including academics, following consultation with a range of Sikh and non-Sikh partners.

The research derives from a self-selecting sample (recruited by snowballing techniques) of 662 Sikhs living in Britain who completed an online, English-language questionnaire. The nature of the methodology will mean that respondents may not necessarily be statistically representative of all British Sikhs. In particular, they appear to be disproportionately male (65%, compared with 51% of all Sikhs in England and Wales at the 2011 census) and with a somewhat lower median age than the norm.

The questions in the 2013 survey spanned eleven topic areas: interest in Sikh culture and heritage; representation of Sikhs in the media; identification with and importance of a caste; attendance at Gurdwara; perceptions of gender equality in the Sikh community; political engagement; identity, including nationality, ethnicity, and family; health and well-being; employment; experience of racism; and provision for older people. The report summarizes the findings in each area and concludes with a set of policy recommendations for each. It can be accessed at:

Some of the results challenge stereotypes held about Sikhs. For example, notwithstanding the egalitarian spirit of the Sikh faith, 46% of the interviewees felt that there was no true gender equality in the British Sikh community, with 43% of female Sikhs reporting that they had experienced gender discrimination. Likewise, it transpires that only a minority of Sikhs do not eat meat, 21% being vegetarians and 3% vegans. On the other hand, the Gurdwara remains central to Sikh life, with 71% claiming to visit one at least once a month (39% at least weekly, 32% at least monthly).

One of the most depressing findings is that 75% of Sikhs (79% of men, 66% of women) have experienced racism. Of those who have, 28% recalled an incident during the past six months and 53% one in the past eighteen months. Notwithstanding, 95% of Sikhs take pride in being British or living in Britain (45% to a great extent, 38% to a moderate extent, and 12% slightly).


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