Mark Fairweather Tall
Norwich… the most Godless city in the country?
Figures from the 2011 census have been released this week and Norwich has hit the headlines as being the most Godless city in England and Wales. Throughout the country the number of those stating they have no religion has risen from 15% in 2001 to 25% today. In Norwich, 42.5% of people ticked the ‘no religion’ box – well above the national average and hence the headlines. The national drop in those claiming to be Christians from 72% in 2001 to 59% in 2011 has led to reports of the sharp decline in Christianity and an increased march towards secularism. It can all sound like pretty bad news for those who are Christians and especially for those who live in Norwich.
My economics background might have contributed to this, but I have to confess to liking statistics. For me spotting trends and analysing data is fascinating but always something that should be treated with caution. Statistics do not tell the whole story and so beneath the headlines a different picture can emerge and I am not sure that the figures are as bad news as they might at first appear.
Firstly, for those of us who live in Norwich our experience of the vitality of the church might be quite different. I am part of a vibrant city centre church and I know there are a number of others in the vicinity who would also rightly be able to say that they are in a healthy position. Vibrant worship is accompanied by meaningful community involvement. A regular reading of the ‘Network Norwich’ website reveals a vast array of good news Christian stories, including new churches, new activities and exciting stories of God at work in the city. There are many Christian organisations impacting the city: Foodbank help to feed the local hungry; The Street Partnership seeks to provide a loving presence in the city during the night-life; The House of Genesis provides supportive accommodation for homeless single men and especially ex-offenders; The Magdalene Group reaches out to those who are involved in the vice trade; Hebron House works with women who are caught up in drug and alcohol addiction; and so the list could go on and on. To me that is a far cry from being a Godless city.
However, what the census figures do reveal is a changing understanding of Christianity in society. For many of those who attend church, their faith is about belief, decision and action – belief in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; decision to follow Jesus; with belief and decision leading to action in the way that life is lived. However, I suspect that not all who tick the ‘Christian’ box do so with these things in mind. For some Christianity can be about a sense of identity, culture and tradition. Certainly church attendance figures show that a large proportion of those who ‘tick the box’ are not church goers. Is it simply that the figures are showing that Christianity is becoming less about culture and identity? If so, then this can be seen as good news for those of us who believe Christianity is about something very different. It gives a much greater opportunity for the message that Christianity is really about belief, decision and commitment.
There is an opportunity for further encouragement in these figures. Even though there is a decrease in the number of people who identify themselves as Christian, it is still 59%. When it comes to sharing our faith, we can so easily be caught up in negative thinking that says, “others won’t be interested.” We don’t invite people to church because we don’t think they will want to come. We don’t share our faith because we don’t think people are open to what we believe and we will simply experience rejection. The census tells us that there may well be more people interested than we think – even in Norwich. The good news is that the opportunity is there. The question is whether we as individuals and as the church will take it?
The press may use the statistics to paint a dreary picture for Christians but there are those who are coming to life-changing faith in the God who lives amongst us today. Clearly there is no room for complacency but neither should we sink into despair. Rather we should work together to seek to make Jesus known as we live a life of faith amongst those who may have none.
Topic: Norwich… the most Godless city in the country?
Subject: well thats crap
Subject: Re: well thats crap