The Future of Faith

With only 1 in 4 British youth between 18 and 25 saying they believe in God, what is the future of faith in the UK?

The polling organisation, YouGov, released some new data on the state of religious beliefs amongst young people in the UK last month. For those who are are people of faith, it makes for some sobering reading. Only a quarter of young people say they believe in God—though a further 19 percent do express belief in some sort of ‘higher power’. Close to 40 percent explicitly say they believe in neither God nor any higher power though, with an additional 18 percent saying that they don’t know.

Whilst the story of church decline in the UK is well known, the explicit data on the state of belief amongst the next generation is very revealing. And it raises lots of questions for the church as it continues to wrestle with its seeming ever-increasing irrelevance.

How should churches respond to the apparent rejection of both God and church by so many youth? Based on the trajectory of declining faith and church attendance, what should the church of the future look like? Clearly, on a macro-level, what the church in the UK is currently doing is not enough. There are (of course) many active and indeed growing churches but, though encouraging, these are not coming close to bucking the overall trend.

Several years ago, futurist Alex McManus said:

“The Western world has lost its faith in the shadow of church steeples”.

Which begs the question: Where will it find it again? Will it find it again?

Another area surveyed by the YouGov poll was sources of influence upon young people’s lives. A mere 12 percent expressed any kind of influence by religious leaders. It’s not surprising, but further highlights the challenge facing the churches who are determined to see people keep coming to faith.

Insanity

All of that brings us to the subject of…insanity. Here’s how Albert Einstein defined it:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Which raises an important question: how many church leaders in the UK are insane?

My intent here is not to beat up on the church. I hope to simply shed some light on reality. And here’s the truth. Despite some superfical changes (e.g. replacing the organ with a band, scrapping the King James Bible for the NIV, having coffee and doughnuts in the middle of the service), most churches are no different from how they’ve always been.

How many churches are essentially doing the same thing over and over again while hoping people will suddenly start coming back to their services?

It strikes me that, if the church is going to be a relevant force for good, helping people find faith and connect to God, it is going to have to fundamentally change. Trying to be a bit cooler or more hip is not going to cut it. It may be part of it, but it’s not enough. The church must explore on a deeper level than ever before what true, deep change might look like. Superficial change has been tried and found wanting. Surely figures like these from YouGov are enough to wake the church up to the truth it needs to go further?


Challenges Ahead

There are clearly numerous challenges for the church—many already here, others on the horizon. This post is an introduction to a series of articles that will explore several of the most critical challenges facing the church. These include*:

  • Sexuality: The church needs to form a coherent, inclusive, generous, hopeful message on sexuality.
  • Trust: The church needs to rebuild trust with people who have become cynical and sceptical of religion, church and particularly religious leaders.
  • Temple: The church needs to break free from the practice of church that implies God dwells in buildings rather than people.
  • Love: The church needs to be known by love. When people think of followers of Christ, the first word that needs to come to mind is love.
  • Creativity: The church needs to become the premier place where people discover who they are and how they can develop and unleash their talents and creativity for good in the world.
  • Technology: The church needs to be fully engaged with the technological developments in our world, embracing and guarding as is appropriate.
  • Atheism: The church needs to know how best to graciously yet boldly respond to the increasing influence of aggressive atheists, determined to rid the world of faith and religion.
  • Fundamentalism: The church needs to face up to the challenges of fundamentalist religion, showing a better way.
  • State: The church needs to be clear about what its relationship with the state should be—particularly in the light of growing secularism.
  • Culture: The church needs to wrestle afresh with what it means practically for the church to be in the world, but not of it.
  • Media: The church needs to give serious thought to how it comes across in the media. The media is all about hype and extremes and we all too often give it to them on a plate.
  • Credibility: The church needs to ensure it is not laughed and scoffed at on the basis of unnecessary ignorance. Science is not perfect or complete, but if we hold onto beliefs that science has categorically proved false, the church will rightly be ignored.
  • Mystical: The church needs to fully embrace the mystical dimensions of faith and connection with God. Whilst embracing what science has revealed, the church mustn’t shy away from that which science cannot reveal.

*This list is a work in progress.

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