The British Church in 2050

There will be far fewer people who identify themselves as Christian and who attend any form of corporate worship. The next 35 years will see a rapid increase in the number of congregations who will close their doors and an increase in the number of church buildings which are put up for sale.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to write a short series of blog posts on the state of Christianity worldwide in the year 2050. I write as someone who has travelled widely and who is a keen student of church history; beyond that I don’t claim to any authority or expertise in futurology. Please feel free to disagree completely with my predictions, which may well be completely inaccurate. The first post in this series concerns the church in the UK and by extension, the rest of the Western world.

The Environment for the Church in 2050

The hostility to religious faith that we experience today will continue to grow. While the church won’t be actively persecuted by the state, many of the privileges that we take for granted today will have been stripped away. “Promotion of religion” will no longer be accepted as a charitable objective and many churches and Christian charities will no longer benefit from gift-aid or other tax-exempt donation schemes. A general revamp of the House of Lords will see the bishops removed from the legislature. Collaborations between officialdom and religion in the form of faith-based schools and hospital chaplaincies will no longer exist. There will still be some inoffensive vestiges of religious expressions at some official functions, but these will be multi-faith and not specifically Christian.

The Church in 2050

There will be far fewer people who identify themselves as Christian and who attend any form of corporate worship. The next 35 years will see a rapid increase in the number of congregations who will close their doors and an increase in the number of church buildings which are put up for sale.

Broadly speaking, Christianity will split into two wings. There will be the publicly acceptable church which offers no real challenge to the prevailing culture, but which provides a dose of ‘spirituality’ for those that want it. Evangelical protestants and Roman Catholics will offer a form of Christianity which confronts the spirit of the age and as a result they will be considered as socially unacceptable by the majority of people. The Anglican church will attempt to straddle the two broad tendencies in the Church, but may find itself unable to do so and will face a major schism.

The decline in church numbers will place many Christian institutions at risk. It will simply not be possible for the current number of christian charities, seminaries, colleges and mission agencies (I’ll have more to say about mission agencies in a later post) to continue. Training for Christian ministry will shift from an expensive and inflexible residential based model to more informal models such as those offered by Porterbrook and St. Mellitus.

Declining numbers and increasingly onerous legislation will mean that many congregations will not be able to afford their own building. Equally, it will no longer be possible to use official buildings such as schools for religious meetings. Most cities will have one or two large churches, but the majority of Christians will meet in small groups based in homes.

The one exception to these trends will be found in the Asian and African diaspora churches. However, limits on immigration into the UK will cut off the supply of first generation people while second and third generation settlers will turn their backs on the church. By 2050, the diaspora churches will be in decline, but not as precipitately as the traditional British churches.

The situation will be broadly similar in Continental Europe, North America and Australasia.

I admit that this is a bleak picture and I hope that I’ve got it all wrong. However, this should not be taken to suggest that I have a lack of faith in God or in the future of the Church. The Western world represents a small percentage of the world’s population and later posts will indicate that I see a bright future for the church as a whole. Some people might want to argue that God would not allow the church to decline like this, but he has done so in the past (look at North Africa) and I don’t see why we should be considered immune.

What are your thoughts – comments below!

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8 replies on “The British Church in 2050”

So you think that the immigrant church will remain just that and not have a significant impact on the culture in general? That is the opposite of the hope or speculation of stuff me that the immigrant church might create a renewal of the church in Europe. Any comment?

I don’t see the immigrant churches having much impact on wider British society at the moment, though they are the only part of the church that is growing significantly. There are a number of ethnic Brits who now attend African majority churches, but I this seems to be the exception, rather than the norm.

Interesting reading, Eddie. However, I would like to see your opinion about the likely development of how the UK Church impacts on the ills and troubles in today’s society. The separating of Church and State is, in fact, not necessarily something to be concerned about. The separation of Church and Community most certainly is! There seems to be an increasing divide between the State and the People, and if the Church is associated with the former rather than the latter, it will have less and less relevance to those most in need of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no problem with separating church and state. I’m one of those anabaptist types who believe that the church should never have got entangled with the state in the first place. However, the loss of gift-aid and a ban on religious organisations using official buildings (which is already creeping in, in some places) would have a significant practical impact on the church.

Sadly, if anything I think you are too optimistic. The withdrawal of tax and other privileges won’t last much longer. I suspect that by 2050 Christian pastors and evangelists may face imprisonment over such issues as gay marriage, church posts being open only to Christians and things like that. Unless the Lord blesses us with revival.

Thanks for insight into the current trends within the British church and society and where this is likely to lead us.

A few thoughts spring to mind.

1. “… Roman Catholics will offer a form of Christianity which confronts the spirit of the age” is a very surprising statement to me. Could it be that this seems true of the Catholic church in some parts of the world, including the UK (where it isn’t the majority religion)? Of course, there are many sincere Christians among the Catholics; but as an institution, it has walked in compromise and apostasy for centuries, particularly in its establishment of mediators other than Jesus between God and man (Mary, the saints, the pope). Under the rule of the prince of this world, it has made God’s word subject to its own traditions and hierarchies.
Why is Catholic Europe now barren (much more than the UK)? How could the Catholic church resist the spirit of the age, if it isn’t in submission to the Spirit of God? I think it’s only a matter of time before the Catholic church’s “traditional” position on moral issues gives way to more “forward-thinking” ideas (is this an example? ).

2. I think the church’s response to antisemitism is a key factor to bear in mind as you examine polarisation of Christianity into a culturally acceptable church and a controversially uncompromising church. Irrational and demonic in its origin, lost humanity’s age-old hatred toward God’s chosen people (Pharaoh, Haman, crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, Nazis …) is building up again under the political guise of anti-zionism. The vision of the woman and the dragon (Revelation 12) tells us what this is leading up to: a specific period of persecution of the people of Israel coming from Satan himself, and followed by persecution of the church. The climax of all this is prophesied in Zechariah 12 to 14: the whole world united in an assault on Jerusalem, and the return of the Lord to the Mount of Olives.
In light of the centrality of these events in biblical prophecy, I think the fact that portions of the church buy in to the Father of lies’ discourse concerning Israel as propagated by world media particularly concerning and spiritually significant.

3. You say you see a bright future for the church as a whole – but doesn’t Matthew 24:12-13 suggest widespread falling away from the faith during the time preceding the Lord’s return? And doesn’t Matthew 24:14, along with the progress of Bible translation throughout the world, among so many other factors, suggest that His return is imminent (whatever that means – in any case, more imminent than when verse 14 was nowhere near being accomplished)?

Thanks for your comments Samuel.Just a quick response.

1. I don’t agree with much Catholic teaching, but I do believe that under the influence of Latin American and third world leaders the Catholic church will continue to offer a narrative which challenges the spirit of the age. Whether that challenge is all that it should be is a different question.

2. Regarding your eschatological questions, let’s just say that I take a very different reading of the future of Israel and the nature of Jesus discourse in Matthew 24 than you do.

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