Sunday, June 21, 2015

Will 2067 be the end of British Christianity?

Many bloggers last week posted a link to a provocative article in the Spectator by Damien Thompson (a Ph.D. sociologist who until last summer was an online editor for the Telegraph):
2067: the end of British Christianity
Projections aren't predictions. But there's no denying that churches are in deep trouble
Damien Thompson 13 June 2015

It’s often said that Britain’s church congregations are shrinking, but that doesn’t come close to expressing the scale of the disaster now facing Christianity in this country. Every ten years the census spells out the situation in detail: between 2001 and 2011 the number of Christians born in Britain fell by 5.3 million — about 10,000 a week. If that rate of decline continues, the mission of St Augustine to the English, together with that of the Irish saints to the Scots, will come to an end in 2067.

That is the year in which the Christians who have inherited the faith of their British ancestors will become statistically invisible. Parish churches everywhere will have been adapted for secular use, demolished or abandoned.

Our cathedral buildings will survive, but they won’t be true cathedrals because they will have no bishops. The Church of England is declining faster than other denominations; if it carries on shrinking at the rate suggested by the latest British Social Attitudes survey, Anglicanism will disappear from Britain in 2033. One day the last native-born Christian will die and that will be that.
I think a linear decline is not realistic — as with radioactivity (or rust), it will more likely be an exponential decay. Still, for Anglicans in North America, the news is daunting:
Anglicans in particular are abandoning their faith at a rate that (in more ways that one) defies belief. According to the British Social Attitudes surveys, their numbers fell from 40 per cent of the population in 1983 to 29 per cent in 2004 and 17 per cent last year.

Lord Carey of Clifton, a more formidable figure in retirement than he was in office, last month warned the C of E that it was ‘one generation away from extinction’. The new Social Attitudes figures support his conclusions.
Thompson offers a series of explanations, but they basically boil down to the psychological-social processes of secularization by the children of the Christian faithful:
You go away to university and suddenly almost nobody believes what you do, or did. Your siblings move to different towns, so you won’t see them in church any more. Your laptop plugs you into any social network that takes your fancy. Even if you’re born again as an evangelical Christian, life pushes you from one congregation to another. Many Evangelicals get bored and turn into nones.

The mainstream churches can’t cope with this explosion of choice. Also, as you may have noticed, they’re led by middle–managers who are frightened of their own shadows. They run up the white flag long before the enemy comes down from the hills.
This gives me new respect for the ACNA catechesis process. However — unlike the stated goal of evangelization — it seems crucial to use the catechism process not just on new converts, but on cradle Anglicans being confirmed as teenagers. If we don’t build and pass along a bullet-proof faith, there won’t be anyone left.

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