Less than half of U.K. citizens identify as religious for the first time in the country’s history, according a new poll released Monday.
The poll, conducted in 2016 by the National Centre For Social Research (NCFSR), indicated that 53 percent of the 2,942 adults questioned did not adhere to any one religion. The new findings reflected the gradual decline in religious participation within the U.K. since the center’s first poll in 1983, when 31 percent of those questioned identified as non-religious, according to NCFSR’s press release. The trend away from religion featured most prominently among those aged 18 to 24 and has negatively affected the Church of England, or Anglican Church, most of all.
The Bishop of Liverpool Rev. Paul Bayes said that while the numbers were troubling, they did not sound the death knell of the church and, instead, should be taken as a challenge.
“Saying ‘no religion’ is not the same as a considered atheism. People see the point of faith when they see the difference faith makes,” Bayes told BBC. “We need to keep finding ways to show and tell those who say they have ‘no religion’ that faith – faith in the God who loves them still – can make that life-transforming difference for them and for the world.”
The elderly of the U.K. remain mostly devout, with 75 percent of those 75 and older identifying with particular religions. The stark contrast in faith trends between the elderly and the young portend a challenging future for all churches in the U.K., according to Roger Harding, Head of Public Attitudes at the National Centre for Social Research. Seventy-one percent of those aged 18 to 24 who participated in the poll identified as non-religious, showing an increase from the 62 percent who identified as non-religious the previous year.
“This increase follows the long-term trend of more and more of us not being religious,” Harding told NCFSR. “The differences by age are stark and with so many younger people not having a religion it’s hard to see this change abating any time soon. The falls in those belonging to the Church of England are the most notable, but these figures should cause all religious leaders to pause for thought.”
“We know from the British Social Attitudes survey that religious people are becoming more socially liberal on issues like same sex relationships and abortion. With falling numbers some faith leaders might wonder whether they should be doing more to take their congregation’s lead on adapting to how society is changing,” Harding added.
Some younger and middle aged U.K. citizens, like 26 year old Tamsin and 38 year old Mitsky, attend secular congregations to fill the void of community left by the absence of the church in their lives, according to BBC.
“I’m not religious at all,” Tamsin told BBC. “I like the fact that this is a way for community to come together, without having to be about religion.”
The steady decline of the church and the rise of new secular congregations raise daunting challenges for minsters in the U.K.
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