Christianity far from being extinct, new report reveals
The biggest research of its kind into perceptions of Jesus, Christianity and evangelism in the UK is released
Despite negative media portrayals, most people actually like the Christians they know, while the vast majority of the population still identify with the Christian faith.
Fifty-seven per cent of people in England call themselves Christians (though a fraction of those would be described as "practising") and one in five of those who don’t is open to finding out more about Jesus after hearing Christians talk to them about their faith.
These are some of the findings of a new study looking at perceptions of Jesus, Christianity and evangelism.
Church 'well connected'
Organised by ComRes and Barna Group, on behalf of HOPE, the Church of England and the Evangelical Alliance, the survey was conducted among 3,000 people living predominantly in England.
The coalition of church groups, supported by the majority of the mainstream denominations in the UK (including Baptists Together) commissioned the first-of-its-kind survey in the hope it will be a major catalyst for effective and focused evangelism in the years to come. It intends to track the data over the next 30 years.
The survey found that the majority of non-Christians know a Christian and think well of them: they are most likely to describe them as ‘friendly’, ‘caring’, ‘good-humoured’, ‘generous’ and ‘helpful’. And one in five non-Christians is open to finding out more about Jesus after hearing Christians talk to them about their faith.
However, just nine per cent of those Christians would be described as ‘practising’ – reporting regularly praying, reading the Bible and attending church at least monthly.
Dr Rachel Jordan, national adviser for mission and evangelism for the Church of England, said, 'The survey shows that the Church is well-connected throughout society. This connection is through the myriad of relationships that Christians have with the majority of the population in normal, everyday ways.
'What is more, people like their Christian friends and family members and they enjoy being with them. This is a different view of the Church and Christians to the one often portrayed in the media but this survey shows it is the one held by the majority of the population.
'Followers of Jesus are good friends and they are fun. It is here in these relationships that we have conversations about faith, in a place of trust and friendship, and 20 per cent of our friends and family members want to know more about our faith in Jesus.'
'Worrying lack of religious literacy'
The survey highlighted, however, a worrying lack of religious literacy among the general English population, raising calls for religious education in schools to be better supported.
Two out of every five people in England (39 per cent) do not know Jesus was a real person who actually lived. And under-35s were more likely (25 per cent) than older people to think Jesus was a fictional character.
In total, 22 per cent of people think Jesus was a mythical figure, while 17 per cent are unsure whether he was real or not.
Of those who consider Jesus to have been a real person who walked the earth, three out of five also believe in his resurrection from the dead, as documented in the New Testament. Overall, some 43 per cent of English adults believe in the resurrection, the survey found.
When asked to pick words to describe Jesus, non-Christians were most likely to say he was ‘spiritual’, ‘loving’ and ‘peaceful’.
Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, said, 'There is overwhelming evidence in the New Testament and independent, non-biblical sources indicating Jesus was a historical figure and any historian worth their weight will agree with this.
'That nearly 40 per cent of people in this country are unsure of this or think Jesus was a mythical character paints a worrying picture of our education system. While it’s great to see that non-Christians think positively of Jesus, it would be even better if they realised the significance of his life, death and resurrection for their own lives today.'
Dr James Carleton-Paget, senior lecturer in New Testament Studies at Cambridge University, said, 'The argument that Jesus never existed, which has had a number of advocates since the 19th century, was not one that the enemies of Christianity in the ancient world ever used.
'While technically, we shall never be able to prove that Jesus existed, the real difficulty with arguing that he did not lies in explaining how it was that the central character of the New Testament was dreamed up by those who became his followers.
'The tale of a crucified Jewish saviour, in spite of arguments to the contrary, is simply too unlikely, even outrageous a story, to have had its origins in no more than the frenzied imaginations of a group of ordinary Galilean Jews.'
Survey a 'game-changer'
Roy Crowne, executive director of HOPE, said, 'It is the first time that a study like this has been done. The results are a game-changer for churches wanting to share the good news of Jesus.
'Church leaders can often get discouraged by reports of declining numbers. But these results show that Christianity in Britain is diverse, full of life, and many people are passionate about sharing their faith. The research also shows there are some big challenges for churches to face if we are to see loads more people becoming Christians and joining the Church.'
Yemi Adedeji, associate director for HOPE and director of the Evangelical Alliance’s One People Commission, added, 'This invaluable research will give confidence to churches from across denominations, regions and ethnicities and the insight it provides will enable us to answer the questions people are asking of us, not the ones we think they are.'
For more information on the research, visit www.talkingjesus.org