Young people are deserting Christianity across Europe, according to a London Professor. Secularism is the prime beneficiary, according to a new report. However, Muslims are also increasing their numbers through fecundity and tenacity to their faith.
The findings come from Stephen Bullivant, professor of theology at St Mary’s University in Twickenham. Professor Bullivant analysed data for 16- to 29-year-olds from the European social survey 2014-16.
Europe’s young adults
The figures are published in a report, Europe’s Young Adults and Religion. The English Language pdf version is here. A report in the Guardian, with more accessible charts, is here.
Disturbingly, a majority of young people in a dozen countries do not follow any religion.
The survey found the Czech Republic is the least religious country in Europe among the young. 91% of the age group said they have no religious affiliation. Between 70% and 80% of young adults in Estonia, Sweden and the Netherlands also categorise themselves as non-religious.
The most religious country is Poland, where 17% of young adults define themselves as non-religious, followed by Lithuania with 25%.
UK Muslims set to overtake Anglicans
In the UK, only 7% of young adults identify as Anglican. That is fewer than the 10% who categorise themselves as Catholic. Young Muslims, at 6%, will soon overtake their peers in England’s established church.
Young Christians as a whole in the UK are around 22% of their age group. Russia, in the news recently, is doing better, with 41% Christians among the young. Russia also has a slightly larger percentage of young Muslims than the UK.
France has the largest percentage of Muslims in Europe, at around 10%. Only 25% of French young people identify as Christian. The vast majority of those are Roman Catholic, as are the Poles and Lithuanians.
Professor Bullivant said religion across Europe was “moribund”. “With some notable exceptions, young adults increasingly are not identifying with or practising religion.”
The trend was downward. “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years,” Prof Bullivant said.
But there were significant variations, he said. “Countries that are next door to one another, with similar cultural backgrounds and histories, have wildly different religious profiles.” The two most religious countries, Poland and Lithuania, and the two least religious, the Czech Republic and Estonia, are post-communist states.
Practice of religion
The trend of religious affiliation was repeated when young people were asked about religious practice. Only in Poland, Portugal and Ireland did more than 10% of young people say they attend services at least once a week.
In the UK attendance was 7%, in France 6% and in Russia 4%, despite many more young people identifying as Christian in the Russian Federation. Estonia was the lowest in attendance. Only 2% of young Estonians go to church at least once a week.
Prayer outside a regular service is more frequent. Fifty percent of young Poles pray weekly or more and 31% of Irish. The same proportion of young Irish 16-29’s say they never pray.
In the UK, 18% of young people pray weekly or more and 63% never. The figures for France are 14% and 65%, while in Russia 14% pray weekly or more and 46% never.
Christianity ‘washes straight off’ children
According to Professor Bullivant, many young Europeans “will have been baptised and then never darken the door of a church again. Cultural religious identities just aren’t being passed on from parents to children. ‘It just washes straight off them.’
Judges 2:10 And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel.
The figures for the UK were partly explained by high immigration. “One in five Catholics in the UK were not born in the UK.
Disturbingly, he adds that Islam is only going to expand at the expense of Christianity: “We know the Muslim birthrate is higher than the general population, and they have much higher [religious] retention rates.”
No religion ‘is default’
In another report, Professor Bullivant found almost half of Britons followed no religion. ‘Those who identify as ‘No religion’ … are 48.6% of the British adult population. This is roughly 24.3 million people’ he wrote in The No-Religion population of Britain.
“The new default setting is ‘no religion’, and the few who are religious see themselves as swimming against the tide,” he said. “In 20 or 30 years’ time, mainstream churches will be smaller, but the few people left will be highly committed.”
The importance of our families
Writing in the Catholic Herald, Professor Bullivant proposes a ‘new evangelism.’ However, he suggests: ‘We won’t live to see Europe’s Christian revival – but it will happen’.
Professor Bullivant goes on: ‘Arguably, the primary challenge of the new evangelisation – and the root cause of why it is needed in the first place – is keeping those we already have.’
He stresses the importance to Christianity of the family: ‘The research … points very strongly at how critical the formative years of childhood and young adulthood are for “setting up” a person’s adult religiosity. Unfortunately, that means that, in terms of broad societal trends (individual souls are a different matter, of course), “decline” is almost certain to continue for several years to come.’
He says that as the more practising older generations gradually die off, ‘the resolutely non-practising baby boomer generation “behind them” will certainly not be replacing them in our churches.’
Do the little things
The final words of Saint David were recorded as “Do the little things, the small things you’ve seen me doing.” This is essentially what Stephen Bullivant offers as an action plan and it has support from scripture:
Zech 4:10a For who hath despised the day of small things?
Little things indeed add up. Moreover, when we do the little things that only we can do, we can safely leave the miraculous to God.
However, there is no room for lethargy, or for leaving just a few of us ‘doing the little things.’ Stephen Bullivant is a young man, and a fairly new convert. He brings remembrance of the mind of a non-believer but not necessarily all wisdom. Nor do I, but as a first step, I offer the following. We should as a body at the very least be:
1 Stirring up our gifts, whatever they are.
2 Sharing our testimony with whoever will listen.
3 Vocally confronting our culture with a Jesus counter-culture.
3a That includes witnessing to those in power,
3b Writing letters to newspapers and social media.
4 Out evangelising in public (those who can), with preaching and/or leafleting.
5 Having ‘incarnation theology’ involvement as churches in the community.
6 Discipling new converts, not leaving them to their own devices.
7 Remembering the enthusiasm and power of the Apostles.
8 Having confidence in our faith and the Holy Bible,
9 Marketing our services and events using all media.
10 Exercising humility and unity, not seeing other churches as competition.
11 Praying always to the Lord of the Harvest not just to send labourers but also to reveal new things to do.
Please add other points through a comment below!