The results of the English and Welsh 2011 Census were released in London yesterday. They provide a startling picture of how much Britain has changed in just ten years since the last big census, and many people are panicking. Among them are leading Christians, alarmed by this fresh evidence of the massive decline of Christianity in their nation. I’m a Christian but I’ve got a confession to make: I find the results of the census very exciting. I don’t feel like panicking. I feel like celebrating.
The number of English and Welsh people who describe themselves as Christians has plummeted in the past ten years - from 72% of people to only 59% of people. That’s 4,000,000 Christians wiped out of the census books in just ten years, and it’s so shocking that one political commentator joked on ITV that it hasn’t been seen since the days when the Romans threw Christians to the lions.
At the same time, the number of English and Welsh people who say they have no religious affiliation whatsoever has soared from 15% of people to 25% of people. Something has happened in the past ten years to convince 7,000,000 people that worshipping God isn’t worthwhile. A quarter of the population don’t even pretend to honour God with the way they live their lives.
So I can understand why some Christian leaders are panicking, but I don’t in any way feel tempted to join them. If you are a Christian and alarmed by the results of the census, then neither should you. Because there are some other statistics which make it clear that God hasn’t finished with the UK. Not by a country mile. I have never been more excited about what God is about to do in England, because of what the census says.
My city, London, has changed beyond recognition in the past ten years. As a white British person, I have officially become a minority in my city. Only 45% of Londoners are now white British, compared to 58% ten years ago. Only 63% of Londoners were born in the UK, and a quarter of Londoners are not British nationals. London is an extreme version of the rest of the country, but don’t miss the trend here, wherever you live. England has become the most multiracial island on the surface of the Earth. In the words of this morning’s front-page headline in “The Sun”newspaper: “We are the world.”
So when people tell you that God has finished with the UK, don’t believe them. We follow the one who said to his Son Jesus, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:8). Jesus has done more than ask the Father for the nations of the world; he has laid down his life to purchase them with his blood (Revelation 5:9). The only reason he stalls the Second Coming is that he plans to bring in a full Gospel harvest of those he has purchased, and there is nowhere better for him to fulfil his prayers than in England - right here and right now.
Jesus wants to save Pakistanis but militant groups in Pakistan have vowed to do all they can to stop him. This census tells us that Jesus can save Pakistanis just as easily in Putney. He wants to save North Koreans but the communist government has banned the Bible. This census tells us that Jesus can save North Koreans just as easily in New Malden. He wants to save Saudis but the Islamic government has threatened to execute anyone who renounces Islam for the sake of Jesus. This census tells us that Jesus can save Saudis just as easily in Southall. The list could go on to include all 500+ people groups which are represented in London and across the rest of England and Wales, but you get the point. This census doesn’t tell us that God has given up on the UK; it tells us that there has never been more reason for him to sweep our island with revival in order to answer his Son’s prayer.
Yes, it also shows us that institutional Christendom is in massive decline in England, but frankly that is no bad thing. A lot of Christendom wasn’t Christian at all, and many of the trappings of our nation’s flirtation with nominal Christianity in the past actually conspired against true Gospel breakthrough. It was the kind of religion which Jesus had in mind when he said “You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to vomit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16).
The 2011 English and Welsh Census reveals that Jesus has vomited, and vomited good and proper. He has snuffed out what masqueraded as religion and has begun to create a fallow field into which Gospel seed can be planted anew. At the same time, he has brought the nations of the world to England in order that they may all share in this island’s next great revival. Instead of panicking, let’s get praying.
“Ask of me and I will make the the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”