New research confirms what we have known for a long-time: Europe is a post-Christian continent and post-religious too. As the focus of the study is on 16-29 year olds Stephen Bullivant, a professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University in London and author of the report is probably correct when he says, “Christianity as a default, as a norm, is gone, and probably gone for good – or at least for the next 100 years.”
The research supports what has been my theory (based on anecdotes from conversations) about faith in Sweden that:
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.”
I’m going to draw out some facts and compare Sweden with the UK (the first is my home and the second the land of my birth).
Sweden: 75% none; 18% Christian; 7% other
UK: 70% none; 22% Christian; 8% other
FREQUENCY OF ATTENDANCE (excluding special occasions)
Sweden: 45% never; 51% less than once a week; 4% once a week
UK: 59% never; 34% less than once a week; 7% once a week
FREQUENCY OF PRAYER (outside of religious services)
Sweden: 70% never; 20% less than once a week; 10% once a week
UK: 63% never; 19% less than once a week; 18% once a week
So while the figures are not encouraging in either nation, Swedish young people are less Christian, believe less, attend less and pray less than their counterparts in the UK.
Now there is the question of what to do and it seems obvious that the picture would change markedly if there was a shift in just one category: 18% self-identify as Christian but only 4% regularly attend (22% & 7% in the UK). A shift in this category would make a lot of difference to the future.
However no one should be content with that, instead we need bold and imaginative thinkers who are willing to take action on several fronts. We need to work out how to speak and engage with the 75% of nones, challenge the 14% of nominal Christians and do that with an army from the 4%.
The new default setting is ‘no religion’, and the few who are religious see themselves as swimming against the tide. In 20 or 30 years’ time, mainstream churches will be smaller, but the few people left will be highly committed.
It’s going to require guerrilla tactics with a bold, committed and determined long-term approach.