Christianity in Britain : Part 6

The Christianity in Britain is changing and if you look at the census result for 2001 and 2011 you will notice that in 2001 71.7% declared they were Christian and in 2011 just  59.3%. Hardly 1 in 12 people regularly attend church.  The church has less influence on society and culture today than at almost any other time in the last millennium. School are also spending less and less time teaching about Christianity and assemblies are become more and more about values rather than God and who he is.

David Hay and Katie Hunt in August 2000 researched, looked at people who were not regular church goers and ask them to share in detail their view about spiritual experiences. Criterions for the research were people who had no contact with the religious institution and yet considered themselves to be either spiritual or religious. They looked to greater detail at 50 people and choose to share information about 3 conversations that they had.

Beyond the Fringe is a report by Revd. Yvonne Richmond’s looking at spiritualty in people outside the church. Here are some of the comments people made about church.

I think there are certain flaws with the established Church in that it is patriarchal and is built on rites and rituals. It has so much dogma that I think the established Church could be tried in a court of justice and found guilty of killing off spiritually. (Female, empty nester).

If you go back to how people use power I think there has been corruption within the Church and through the media it has been well highlighted…I think the top of the Church are corrupt. (Male, young family).

People perceived 6 problems with the church

1 The church was dull and anodyne.

2 people perceived it as being unfriendly to the consumer.

3 People believe that the church was often hypocritical.

4 People felt alienated and nervous was they had attended.

5 People experience of inflexibility ad absolutism had driver them away from the church.

6 Many so the church as unnecessary.

Written by Sarah Hibbard – A Member of Hope Church



Christianity in Britain : Part 5

 The Church and Churchgoers

3 groups of people who do not attend church

Believing- not belonging

Most over 40, have quite a good knowledge of Christian belief and doctrine, but for various reasons has ceased going to church. There spirituality was conventionally Christian.

Not believing – not belonging

Here, people had generally been brought up with quite a lot of contact with the Christian institution. Their experience of it had been negative and they were generally quite hostile towards it. Nevertheless they had an easily recognisable spirituality, sometimes of considerable depth.

People Untouched by the church

This group of people appeared to have no significant contact, with the religious institutions, and yet had a vivid spirituality. In some ways this group was the most interesting since its members had often constructed a personal theology drawn from a variety of source.

What non-Christians think of The Bible.

There seemed to be no connection between most people’s personal beliefs or understanding of God and the Bible. Where people did care to respond to questions about it, at best it seemed that the Bible was full of ‘nice stories’. At worst it was impossible to understand. For many it was viewed in the same light as Shakespeare part of our cultural heritage, but hardly relevant to daily life.

View of Church building

The Church building was typically seen as sacred space open to all, and not the sole property of churchgoers. Individuals spoke of going into empty churches ad appreciating the atmosphere. Somehow there was a different quality to the atmosphere in a church than in other, secular buildings, as the following quotations illustrate.

Now as I’ve said, I’m not particularly religious. I don’t go to church. But the feeling of calmness inside there (Ripon Cathedral) and the felling of humbleness if you like, you know, is, it was amazing… It was a strange, strange feeling. To say that, um , I don’t really feel particularly religious, it was, it was a calming, calming atmosphere. (Graham).

Um and I like going into churches, from an aesthetic, you know, I think they’re great places, um and they have weight and silence and um, you know, tranquillity and beauty, and can find you know solace. (Matthew).

They’ve got a stained glass window straight in front of the altar. And I don’t know what it was, but when I walked out of there I felt a hundred percent better. Just being there. I don’t know, I can’t explain it. I haven’t got the words to explain it, but I can definitely say I felt a hundred percent as I walked out after the events.

Churches are not always view so positively.


Christmas was the one occasion in the year when several of the people to whom we spoke admitted to having attended church. Christingle services were particularly popular with families.  Many people mentioned enjoying singing hymns and carols.

Occasional Offices

People experiences were strongly contrasting, either extremely positive or extremely negative and embarrassing, depending on the reception they obtained from the clergy. They also sometimes felt they were being asked to jump through hoops just to keep the clergy happy. However, if parishes were welcoming, then people spoke warmly of their experiences.

Embarrassment and lack of openness to the outside.

People don’t know how to behave in church, what to do.  How to take part and how to say no if they do not want to take part in something.

The church seemed to be no place for the beginning and equally as serious, no place for the honest searcher. Many of the people spoken to were on a search for the truth.

Written by Sarah Hibbard – A Member of Hope Church


Christianity in Britain : Part 4

Other aspects of the spiritual search



People are very timid when it comes of talking about religion or spirituality.  Also most everyone has had a spiritual experience of some sort. It can be hard to find ways to get people to talk about it and overcome that fear of embarrassment.

The meaning of spiritual

The word spiritual is clearly not in ordinary currency or well understood. Commonly people thought spirituality referred to spiritualism.  Some people felt that they were not religious and therefore must be spiritual.

The Quest Mode

The way many conversations developed suggested that most people’s spiritually is in what Daniel Batson calls the ‘Quest Mode’ People sometimes said explicitly that they were on a journey following a route that was not clear or, as one person put it- it is like a foggy day.

The Christian God and the Generic God

Most people questions said they believed n God, this seemed to be a ‘generic’ God rather that the Trinitarian God of Christianity.

Something there

The commonest responses of all was they were uneasy saying anything positive about their spiritual experience, beyond the conviction that there is something there.

Self constructed theologies

Often people under 40 who have grown up isolated from direct contact with the religious instructions, construct a theology of their own, often using fragments of the Christian Meta- narrative that are available to them. They use terms like Universal Consciousness – a presence that connects everyone and everything in the universe. Also New Age teachings.


41% of the national sample, agreed with the view ‘There is too much suffering, poverty and injustice in the world for God to exist.’ It is often thought that the advent of the scientific attitude is the major stumbling block to religious faith. But the number of people concerned about theodicy was almost double the size of the group who felt that loss of belief was because of science has explained the mysteries of life.

In next week’s blog we will look at the 3 groups of people who do not attend church and what they believe about aspects of Christianity.

Written by Sarah Hibbard – A Member of Hope Church


Christianity in Britain : Part 3

Case study


  • Professional man
  • 40 years old
  • Divorced and only allowed to see his children at weekends
  • He went to Sunday school for a year at the age of 9.
  • Other knowledge of church is from the school system.

Matthew begins by saying there is no point in the ‘Why questions’ that he did not feel the need to know the answers to question such as why are we here? However he then spends the rest of the conversation attempting to articulate his worn search for meaning and belief.

There are 3 distinct influences in Matthew’s life; two critical incidents have impacted on him profoundly the death of a school friend from leukaemia at 18, and his marriage break up a few years earlier. These events made him realize that, as he says,

…this isn’t adding up to going any place, it’s just; again it’s such arbitrary chaotic tragedy and nonsense. Yeh, I think that’s when the whole, you know, meaninglessness of things um really started taking some sort of definite shape.

Matthew looked to the Christian tradition for some explanation of these tragedies, but found no solace. For him, the God portrayed by the Church is still the old man in the sky, an idea that to him is self-indulgent’, awfully sentimental and just wildly wrong. God does not intervene in his life or anyone-else’s he is at best an ‘absentee landlord’. This is not the kind of God that Matthew can believe in.

The 3rd influence of Matthew’s life is the Nagging instinct ‘that tells him that there must be more to life than mere existence. He says:

It’s just, you know, um it’s probably just a nagging instinct, that um whilst all the material evidence is telling me, this is ludicrous, you know, this is all complete chaos, nonsense, it’s arbitrary, you know we’re a rock in a vacuum just spinning through nothingness and , you know, um the consequence of impersonal comic forces, nothing beyond it. Um, whilst my sort of intellectual faculty can tell me that, there is this other, and I’m not going to use the word ‘soul’ but there’s this other bit of me which is just sort of going, hang on’, you know ‘What if pal? You know.

It is the ‘what if’ that keeps Matthew on his spiritual search. Matthew sees the attraction of belonging to a Church and even says somewhat wistfully.

I thinks they get a lot out of attending Church again, this is probably envy in me, you know, it’s you know, why don’t they invent one that I can go to?

Matthew vividly illustrates the struggle that many people have to believe and nurture this own spirituality without either the language or the legitimating framework of an institutional religion.

Matthew ends by saying that there is need is all of us to find out the about God and he will ask people who believe.

In next week’s blog we will look at other aspects of the spiritual search highlighted in the report.

Written by Sarah Hibbard – A Member of Hope Church