David Couchman
David Couchman is the Director of Focus and the producer of the 'God: new evidence,' 'God and the Big Bang,' 'After Life?' and 'Jesus Myths' video series. More...

Digital Evangelism blog

The State of Faith - What do people today believe?

Soul of Britain, with Michael Buerk, 4th June 2000

Soul of Britain, written and presented by Michael Buerk was broadcast in nine episodes in June & July 2000. This BBC TV series explored what people in Britain today really believe. What is their attitude to moral issues? What do they think about Christianity? The BBC commissioned the largest ever survey of beliefs and attitudes for this series.

The first episode of 'Soul of Britain', called 'The State of Faith', looked at what's happening to our religious beliefs. It is particularly relevant to Facing the Challenge session two (on key trends), session five (on people's attitude to spirituality), and appendix A (on implications for the Church) Based on the survey commissioned for the program, here are the major trends it identified: trends:

(1) A sharp decline in church attendance

In 1937, 78% of us were members of a Christian denomination. Today, only 42% of us are.

45% of us never go to Church, and many who do go, go less frequently.

The reasons identified for this decline in organized religion include:

  • increased travel
  • increased immigration
  • increased availability of information

All these things challenge our traditional beliefs. So today only 9% of us are confident that our own religious tradition is the best path to God, while 32% of us think that all religions are equally valid.

Another reason for the decline in Church attendance is that there has been a loss of trust in institutions generally - the police, the government, education, doctors - and Churches. People today are not so willing just to accept authoritative statements in an uncritical way.

(2) A loss of confidence in traditional Christian beliefs

Only 26% of us now believe in a personal God

On the other hand, 69% of us think we have a soul, and 25% of us believe in reincarnation

62% of us do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God.

Less than a quarter of us believe that the Bible is the unique Word of God.

We live in a consumer society, where people choose what they buy. The also expect to choose what they believe. People are picking and choosing which parts of the Christian faith they believe in, and combining these with beliefs from other sources, for example Hinduism or Buddhism.

(3) A continued place for religious rituals

Use of the Church's rituals has fallen more slowly than church attendance.

People still choose to go to Church for christenings, weddings and funerals - to mark the key moments in their lives. For example, 69% of us think a church wedding is important. (However, this has fallen by 10% in ten years).

Perhaps here is an opportunity to ask people why they attach value to being christened, or married, or buried in Church, when they do not really believe in the message the Church teaches?

(4) An increased commitment among the church-going minority

As the numbers attending church fall, the commitment of those who do attend appears to be increasing.

15% of us are committed churchgoers

In particular, there has been a rise in 'Bible-centered' churches - evangelical, charismatic, and Pentecostal churches.

(5) A rise in new forms of spirituality

Only about 8% of us call ourselves atheists, and this figure has stayed consistent.

In 1990, 54% of us called ourselves 'religious'. Today, that figure has fallen to 27%, while 31% now prefer to call ourselves 'spiritual.'

New forms of spirituality are springing up in the 'middle ground' between those who continue to be committed and those who reject organized religion.

The New Age movement:

  • centered on personal growth and healing
  • recognize the 'god within'
  • often ecologically conscious

40% of us have used some kind of complementary medicine.

22% of us have explored some kind of meditation.

Many people have had some kind of 'religious' or 'spiritual' experience, for example having contact with someone who has recently died (often a parent). 29% say they have felt a sacred presence in nature.

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