Christian charity Tearfund has polled 7,000 people, actually not that big a number, and found that ‘1 in 10’ attend church weekly, and ‘1 in 7’ monthly. That actually struck me as quite a high figure. Two-thirds of those polled had not been to church in the last year, except for baptisms, weddings or funerals – the results put the UK among Europe’s four ‘least observant countries’.
Tearfund said 53% of people identified themselves as Christian, compared with almost three-quarters who had in the last census in 2001. But it said that its survey indicated that three million people who had stopped going to church, or who had never been in their lives, would consider attending “given the right invitation”. This could be a personal invite, the chance to accompany a relative or friend, or the offer of help during difficult personal circumstances, it said.
This is encouraging news – that both the term ‘Christian’ seems to be being abandoned by those who ten years ago would have used it to classify anyone white and British, and that still many are open to ‘considering church’. People draw graphs and pie charts and try to work out what ‘the church’ will look like in 10 years, but so what? The Bible teaches and shows that God is faithful and will keep his church from falling, and then on the last day the true church will be revealed as those who are saved by the name of Jesus Christ, for ‘there is salvation in no one else’ (Acts 4.12).
If, as many say, it becomes increasingly harder to proclaim his name, and remain on the right side of UK law, then surely many will leave gospel-believing churches, and yet, as has always been the case, people will hear the word of life and believe, for it is God who will gather his elect. As Joel spoke of our day, ‘it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’. Great hope, despite whatever trials and tribulations may – no, make that will – lie ahead.
Tearfund’s president, Elaine Storkey, told BBC Radio Five Live that a lot of people would be unsure what to expect if they did visit. “The church for a lot of people is a very strange place these days. They’re not familiar with what’s going on inside the building, with the form of service, with the way people gather, with what they say, how they pray. “So the first thing they have really got to wake up to is that there is this big cultural gap between churched and non-churched.” I’ve no doubt all of that is true. UK churches must seem incredibly weird to someone who hasn’t grown up in that environment. Paul was concerned for the non-believer in the church gathering in 1 Cor 14, and so should we be. We should be only boasting in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ; there is the foolishness.
More on the tearfund report here.