Without minority growth, the church would be in a dire condition
Britain is fast becoming a country dominated by people who don’t affiliate with Christianity, the latest census figures reveal. Fewer than half (46%) of residents of England and Wales ticked the ‘Christian’ box in 2021, compared to 59% in 2011 and 72% in 2001. The raw number of Christians fell from 33.3 million to 27.5 million, a loss of nearly 6 million souls.
While the media has lumped Christian decline in with White British ethnic decline, the two are largely separate. In fact, ethnic minorities constitute a de-secularising force that is counteracting religious, including Christian, decline. Without minority growth, the church would be in an even more dire condition.
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Indeed, most parishioners in London, where Christianity is holding up best, are not White Brits. Consider the fact that in Brent — one of the two most ethnically diverse London boroughs, where White Britons form just 15% of the population — the number of Christians increased from 129,080 in 2011 to 131,914 in 2021. In Newham, the most diverse, Christianity also rose marginally, from 123,119 in 2011 to 123,746 in 2021. This rise is because of, not in spite of, ethnic change.
Let’s zoom out and look at this nationally. There are around 780,000 fewer White Britons in England and Wales than in 2011, a drop from 80.5% to 74.4% of the total population. This means the Christian share has dropped more than twice as fast as the White British share. This is similar to 2001-11, when the Christian proportion dropped 13 points while the White British fell 7 points, so the trend has been evident for at least two decades.
Meanwhile, the number of Muslims increased from 2.7 to 3.9 million, a rise from 4.9% to 6.5% of the population. Similar growth occurred among some other non-Christian groups. Global demography, as I have written elsewhere, reverses secularisation. Thus Britain’s immigration gateway cities, which are most exposed to global demographic winds, are the least secular.
The proportion of Christians is still higher among White Britons than among ethnic minorities, so there is some link between the majority’s ethnic and religious decline. However, statistical analysis, as shown in the graph below, confirms that the relationship between the fall in Christian affiliation and White British ethnicity in a borough is a relatively flat one, whereas the connection between White British decline and slower secularisation is very strong.
As this map of nonreligion reveals, London and other diverse cities, along with the North West, form light islands of faith in a blue sea of secularism, reflecting the fact that virtually all of the world’s population growth takes place in the highly religious global South, not the secular developed world.
Social change may be rapidly driving Britain towards non-religion, but ethnic change is gradually making the country more religious.