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Empty churches do not represent decline in Christians, says study

Thu 24 Mar 2016
By Hannah Tooley

The Christian community in the UK could be larger than previously thought, according to new research by the Church of Scotland. 

Rhetoric surrounding declining church attendance is not being reflected by a lack of people identifying as being religious, according to a new book.

The book, The Invisible Church, has suggested that increasingly often Christians are using less formal avenues to access their faith - like the internet.

760,000 people attend weekly CofE services
59% of English and Welsh people call themselves Christian (2011 census)
10% of Britons say religion is 'very important' to them (YouGov poll 2014)

Around two thirds of those who no longer attend church said that they still had a strong personal faith.

The Church of Scotland said that these findings challenge the assumption that declining church attendance means a decline in Christianity.

Author, Dr Stephen Aisthorpe, said it represents Christianity "in transition, rather than in decline."

1,300 Scottish Christians who did not go to church were surveyed and the research showed that the majority of them had found alternative ways to worship.

Dr Stephen Aisthorpe told The Independent: "I discovered the number of people who attend church services are the tip of the iceberg of the total Christian community."

He continued: "Changes in wider society and in the practices of Christian people mean attendance at Sunday morning worship can no longer be seen as a reliable indicator of the health and scale of Christian faith.

"There is a decline in Christian faith in Britain, but it is considerably smaller than previously assumed."

REX/Design Pics Inc


A number of Christians interviewed expressed that they felt that traditional church services were out-of-touch with society.

The study showed that people thought taking instruction from one person on how to live your life was "incongruous" in today's world.

Others said they no longer wanted to attend due to the formal nature of church services, with some people saying even having to wear a suit was overly formal.

According to The Independent Church of England figures published earlier in 2016 showed attendance has gone down by 12% in the last ten years.

But research in 2001 said there is around 112 million 'churchless Christians' in the world.

Moderator of the General Assembly of The Church of Scotland, Rt Revd Dr Angus Morrison welcomed the findings in the book.

He said: "As a Church we have to take heed of these findings, something we are already doing by investing money and resources in our pioneer ministry programme, which is bringing our Church into the wider community."

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