Religious Census 2011 – Initial Responses

Herewith an initial trawl of statements by interested parties about the results from the religion question in the 2011 census of population of England and Wales. All the statements were published on 11 or 12 December 2012. No claim is made that this is a comprehensive list.

Church of England (Arun Arora)

‘These results confirm that we remain a faithful nation. England remains a country where the majority of the nation actively identifies the role that faith plays in their life. Clearly we welcome the fact that Christianity remains the most populous faith in England – with six in ten people identifying themselves as Christian. When all faiths are taken together, people of faith account for two-thirds of the nation … Obviously the fall in those choosing to identify themselves as Christians is a challenge. We need to look closely at the fuller figures published next year and to reflect on what these tell us. One of the reasons may well be fewer people identifying as “Cultural Christians” i.e. those who have no active involvement with churches and who may previously have identified as Christian for cultural or historical reasons. They indicate a changing pattern of religious life in which traditional or inherited identities are less taken for granted than they used to be. The work of the Church of England is not limited to those who declare Christian affiliation. As a Church we continue to serve people of all faiths and none …’

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

‘The overall decrease in the number of self-identifying Christians is consistent with recent social attitude and social value surveys. While this is a challenge, the fact that six out of 10 people in England and Wales self-identify as Christians is not discouraging. Christianity is no longer a religion of culture but a religion of decision and commitment. People are making a positive choice in self-identifying as Christians. While precise figures are difficult to determine, polling shows that the Catholic population has remained consistent at 9% of the total population for many years … Catholics play a full part in the country’s social and cultural mix, serving the common good.’

Methodist Church of Great Britain (Martyn Atkins)

‘These figures are a challenge to the Churches and reflect how British society has changed. But we are not discouraged. We are excited to be Christians in part of an increasingly diverse, multi-faith society and we believe that British society is enriched by this mix. It has always been clear to Methodists that the Church exists not only for those who say they belong to it, but those who don’t. We rejoice when Churches are growing, but we also rejoice when we can share with others in transforming our world and our communities for good. The numbers of people that attend worship on Sundays and on special occasions like Christmas are important, but they only show a small part of the picture. Churches remain committed to making a difference to many more people’s lives through the wider activities of our communities, in church groups, fresh expressions, work in schools and places of community through volunteering, chaplaincies, being street pastors and good neighbours … The Census results mean we need to think and act smarter in seeking to be good witnesses to Jesus Christ today, and many Methodists will relish that opportunity.’

Evangelical Alliance (Steve Clifford)

‘The UK retains a strong Christian heritage, according to the release of figures from the 2011 census … There’s no real surprise in these figures, they reflect what we are seeing across the country. Being a Christian is increasingly understood as following Jesus and not just wearing a cultural or historic label. For a lot of people who do not identify as religious, it is probably more taking off a label that doesn’t fit than embracing a particular anti-religious agenda. As evangelical Christians we are presented with a fantastic opportunity. The gospel prospers in a context where faith is alive and freely chosen; we should take the results of the census as an opportunity to get to know the people the numbers represent.’

Fresh Expressions (Norman Ivison)

‘The newly published statistics show what many have been saying for some time. The church in England and Wales needs to find new ways of engaging those who no longer have, or never had any interest in the Christian faith. The reality is that inherited church life is still attractive to many people but not to everyone. New forms of church are developing throughout the UK, alongside parish and other traditional structures, which are increasingly helping those who have never been to church to discover the Christian faith for themselves. The Census statistics demonstrate that real alternatives need to be offered for those who find conventional church inaccessible for all sorts of reasons.’

Bible Society (Ben Whithall)

‘With Christmas coming up, now seems like a good time to think about labels. Research numbers we’ve been seeing recently – including the religion statistics from the latest census – suggest that when it comes to “religion”, the labels we have aren’t very helpful … It quickly becomes clear that religious identity and activity – and certainly what’s going on in people’s heads or hearts behind either – don’t fall into easy or binary categories in our society today. This idea of straightforward segregation between “religious” and “the rest/normality” in life looks increasingly ridiculous … as does the setting up of diametrically-opposed “Christian” and “non-Christian” sides. In practice, the lines seem very blurred for most people. So can we please rescue the Bible from falling into splendid isolation in a small glass case labelled “in case of spiritual emergency”’.

Ekklesia (Simon Barrow)

‘The new census data from England and Wales confirms what we have been saying for some time. Britain is increasingly becoming a mixed society in terms of culture, identity and belief. The key issue for people of all religions and none in plural settings is to learn to develop their own values and practices in a way that recognises difference and seeks to make a beneficial contribution to society through good example rather than compulsion.’

Theos (Nick Spencer)

 ‘It’s important to recognise what the Census doesn’t measure – what people believe or what they practice – and what it does measure – how they identify themselves with regard to a religion … Just because someone calls themselves a Christian, it doesn’t mean they faithfully live by Christian creeds and practices. We all know that. But the same is true for the non-religious. A recent study by Theos/ComRes into the non-religious, Post-Religious Britain? The Faith of the Faithless, shows how wrong it is to imagine that someone who calls themselves non-religious, or even an atheist, has no spiritual beliefs … The non-religious category is as messy as the religious one, with non-religious people believing in things and behaving in ways that are not particularly non-religious. What this all means is that if it is increasingly hard to sustain the claim that Britain is still a Christian country, it is even harder to claim it is an atheistic or secular one. What we are becoming is ever more religiously plural: ever more people believe, behave and belong in different ways to their neighbours when it comes to religion and spirituality.’

Institute for Jewish Policy Research

‘2011 UK Census data released on 11 December 2012 by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a Jewish population of 263,376 in England and Wales. This represents a small increase of 1.3% since 2001, and suggests the UK Jewish population has remained largely static over the past ten years. However, more detailed analysis of the data reveal significant changes at the local and regional levels, with clear indications of population growth and decline in particular areas.  These provide critical insights into developments in the British Jewish community.’ A four-page paper, ‘2011 Census Results (England and Wales): Initial Insights about the UK Jewish Population’, written by David Graham and Jonathan Boyd of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and Daniel Vulkan of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, is available at:

Muslim Council of Britain (Farooq Murad)

‘Welcoming the Census 2011 results, the Muslim Council of Britain commented that the growth in number points to the fact that Muslims play a significant part in the increasing diversity of Britain. The population of Muslims in England and Wales is now 2.71 million, of a total of 56.1 million – around 4.8% of the population. The Muslim presence across the length and breadth of the land, from inner London (almost half a million) to the Isles of Scilly (around half a dozen) is a matter of fact. Comparison with the 2001 Census indicates that the populations of all minority faith communities have increased – for example the Hindu and Buddhist communities rose by 48% and 70% respectively. This is a reflection not just of demographic profile – the BME communities’ lower age profile means they have young families – but also ONS’s greater success in disseminating the Census message within hard-to-reach communities … In a time of brutal and drastic public sector cuts, policy makers will now be in a position to target scarce public resources more effectively to the most needy districts and wards – this applies particularly to the provision of childcare facilities to help working mothers and youth services … The voluntary religion question was answered by 92.8% of the population, validating the MCB’s campaign when first lobbying for its inclusion that Britain is not shy about faith.’

British Humanist Association (Andrew Copson)

‘Census results just published show a plunge in the number of people ticking “Christian” in England and Wales from 72% in 2001 to 59% in 2011 and an increase in the number of people ticking to say they have no religion from 15% in 2001 to 25% in 2011. This represents a 67% relative rise in the number saying “no religion”. In addition, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has calculated that if the change in Christianity showed between 2001 and 2011 continues at a linear rate, then Christians would be recorded as in the minority by the Census question from September 2018 … This is a really significant cultural shift. In spite of a biased question that positively encourages religious responses, to see such an increase in the non-religious and such a decrease in those reporting themselves as Christian is astounding. Of course these figures still exaggerate the number of Christians overall – the number of believing, practicing Christians is much lower than this and the number of those leading their lives with no reference to religion much higher. Religious practice, identity, belonging and belief are all in decline in this country, and non-religious identities are on the rise. It is time that public policy caught up with this mass turning away from religious identities and stopped privileging religious bodies with ever increasing numbers of state-funded religious schools and other faith-based initiatives. They are decreasingly relevant to British life and identity and governments should catch up and accept that fact.’

National Secular Society (Terry Sanderson)

‘Findings from the 2011 census for England and Wales have revealed the number of people who say they are Christian has dropped dramatically from 72% to 59%. The figures published today by the Office for National Statistics also show the number of people who say they have no religion has risen from 15% to 25% … Such an enormous reversal in the space of ten years is an indication of the huge upheaval there has been in religious attitudes in Britain. It should serve as a warning to the churches that their increasingly conservative attitudes are not playing well with the public at large. It also calls into question the continued establishment of the Church of England whose claims to speak for the whole nation are now very hard to take seriously … It will certainly give the churches a great deal of food for thought, and should tell the Government that although it might “do God” as Baroness Warsi claims, a huge proportion of the population do not. This should be reflected in policy-making.’

The Guardian (Jonathan Freedland)

‘God – or at least the church – is struggling in this country. Ten years ago 72% identified as Christians; now it’s just 59%. The panicmongers on the reactionary right will compare that to the rise in the number of British Muslims to 2.7m – from 3% of the total population in 2001 to 5% now – and warn that Christianity will one day be outstripped by Islam. But the biggest challenge to Christian influence in our national life is not Islam, but rather the 25% who declared themselves to be of “no religion” at all, up from 15% in 2001. Non-believers now form the second biggest denomination … It confirms our place as perhaps the most godless country, the least “churched”, in the industrialised world, setting us apart from the US, obviously, but also from much of continental Europe.’


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2 Responses to Religious Census 2011 – Initial Responses

  1. Pingback: UK Census 2011 religious statistics released today #census2011 | eChurch Blog

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