Church attendance in Britain is declining so fast that the number of regular churchgoers will be fewer than those attending mosques within a generation, research published today suggests.
The fall - from the four million people who attend church at least once a month today - means that the Church of England, Catholicism and other denominations will become financially unviable. A lack of funds from the collection plate to support the Christian infrastructure, including church upkeep and ministers' pay and pensions, will force church closures as ageing congregations die.
In contrast, the number of actively religious Muslims will have increased from about one million today to 1.96 million in 2035.
According to Religious Trends, a comprehensive statistical analysis of religious practice in Britain, published by Christian Research, even Hindus will come close to outnumbering churchgoers within a generation. The forecast to 2050 shows churchgoing in Britain declining to 899,000 while the active Hindu population, now at nearly 400,000, will have more than doubled to 855,000. By 2050 there will be 2,660,000 active Muslims in Britain - nearly three times the number of Sunday churchgoers.
The report makes it clear that Christianity is becoming a minority religion. It also reflects the changing nature of religious practice worldwide and will further aid the stated aim of the Prince of Wales who, on his Coronation, hopes to become Defender of Faith rather than Defender of the Faith.
Only in the large, evangelical churches of the Baptist and independent denominations is there resistance to the trend, but many of these churches also show some decline.
By 2050 there will be just 3,600 churchgoing Methodists left in Britain, Christian Research predicts. Anglicans will be down to 87,800, Catholics to 101,700, Presbyterians to 4,400, Baptists to 123,000 and independents to 168,000.
The national breakdown shows similar declines across England, Wales and Scotland. Churchgoing across all denominations in England will fall from about 3 million today to about 700,000 in 2050. In Wales it will tumble from 200,000 to 42,000 and in Scotland, from 550,000 to 140,000. The figures take into account the recent boost to Catholicism from the number of Polish immigrants to Britain, particularly in Scotland.
(Excerps from: Gledhill, , The Time of London, News Corporation/Murdoch, May 8, 2008)