New research, made possible by the generosity of a Co-Mission patron and conducted in collaboration with networks across the UK, has shone a fresh light on our mission context. Digging into the National Ministry Survey data brings out some particular challenges and huge opportunities in London.
- The school years are key. 43% of active Protestants say they became a Christian aged 5-17. 43% of those who used to identify as Christian but don’t any longer, say they stopped aged 11-17. The importance of Christian parents and of church youth work is very clear.
- Scientism is a major defeater belief. By far the most common reason people gave for walking away from the Christian faith, given in almost half of cases (48%), was, “I found that science better answered my questions.” In contrast, “I found that another religion better answered my questions” accounted for only 5% of responses. Debunking the ‘science versus religion’ myth as the myth it is and giving a voice to those who can tell the true and better story of the Creator of science is going to be important.
Interestingly, two other reasons for walking away from a Christian identity that were far more significant in London than nationally were, “A lifestyle choice or romantic relationship led me away from the church” (33% cf. 6% nationally) and “I felt alienated by Church scandals and hypocrisy” (28% cf. 19% nationally). So science is not the only issue. There are strong pull and push factors on an emotional-relational level.
- There is more openness to evangelism than we might think. 59% of non-Christian Londoners said they would feel comfortable having a conversation with a friend who walked to talk to them about Jesus (cf. 54% nationally). Almost half (46%) were comfortable with such a conversation with a work colleague or neighbour (cf. less than 40% nationally). Even with strangers, a 1 in 3 said they’d be comfortable with someone talking with them about Jesus.
Similarly, there are high levels of openness to considering an invitation to church or an evangelistic course. Over half the general public say they would feel ‘very comfortable’ or ‘comfortable’ attending a Christmas or Easter church service. Even for a ‘normal Sunday church service’ at a Protestant/Evangelical church, almost half (45% UK, 48% London) said they’d feel comfortable attending. 38% of Londoners would feel comfortable meeting up with a Christian 1-to-1 to read and discuss the Bible together (much higher than the national result of 25%) and 37% would be open to attending a course explaining Christianity (cf. 30% nationally).
- There is more evangelism going on than we might think. The reality check is that almost two-thirds (65%) of non-Christian Londoners can’t remember a conversation with a Christian about their faith in the last 10 years (not as bad as the national picture (71%) but still over 5 million people unengaged). But the positive side is that active Protestants are sharing their faith. Two-thirds of London Christians have talked about their relationship with Jesus with a non-Christian in the last month, 39% in the last week! (cf. 55% and 25% nationally.)
- There is a more positive reception to evangelism than we might think. When active Protestants in London were asked to reflect on the last conversation they’d had with a non-Christian about Jesus, 77% said they felt it had a positive effect on that person’s opinion of Jesus and only 3% felt it had a negative effect. 18% said the person had become a Christian, largely as a result of the conversation. When looked at from the other side – i.e. when the general public (who’ve had a conversation in the last 10 years) were asked to reflect on that conversation – 58% (in London) said they “felt more positive about Jesus Christ” as a result, with only 14% more negative (this dataset were clearly still not active Protestants yet though). When those who are currently active Protestants were asked how they came to faith, a conversation with a Christian friend/colleague or reading the Bible with a Christian, was “important” for at least 1 in 5.
- Online is an important doorway. 19% of active Protestants in London mentioned “watching church services online” as an important factor in their decision to become a Christian (cf. 10% nationally). This is particularly striking as the majority of active Protestants became Christians as children, some years before the recent rise in church streaming meaning those mentioning watching services online must be a large proportion of those who became Christians recently.
When the general public who had expressed some degree of comfort with at least one sort of church event were then asked whether online access would increase their likelihood of attending a range of church meetings, there were clear gains, particularly in London and particularly for a course explaining Christianity (62% would be more likely to attend, 12% less), small group Bible study (56% more likely, 18% less) and 1-to-1 Bible reading (52% more likely, 14% less). Even for a normal church service in London, 46% said they’d be more likely to attend online versus 21% for whom that would be less attractive.
While we want to keep emphasising the huge importance of gathering together physically and inviting people along to meet our friends and hear the Word proclaimed and eat and drink together, there does nonetheless seem that for a significant proportion of people, offering something online might be a great first step.
For the full report, videos, analysis, the statistical bases and background to the research visit nationalministrysurvey.org.