For the first time in census history, the average age of people who identify as a Christian in England and Wales is over 50.
New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveals the median age of people who describe themselves as “Christian” in 2021 was 51, an increase from 45 in the 2011 census.
Those who identified as “Christian” had the oldest average age out of the main religions in the country, with Muslims having the youngest average age of 27.
Danny Webster, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance told Premier he thinks the way people label themselves has a lot to do with the way the figures have panned out.
“My suspicion is that what we're seeing is people no longer do it by default… ‘I'm British, I was christened. I went to a Church Of England School. I'm a Christian’. Whereas now people who say they're a Christian, it reflects their beliefs, it reflects their practice.
“And actually, what we've seen in other surveys that we've done over the past few years is that stays pretty constant. You're talking about nine or ten per cent of people that attend church at least once a month. You're talking six or seven per cent who are practicing Christians who read the Bible regularly, who pray, and that number hasn't really changed in the last eight or ten years”.
The new figures show that out of the 27.5 million people who said they’re Christian in 2021, 29 per cent were aged 65 years and over, which is up from 22.3 per cent in 2011.
The report states that “changing age structure, people relocating for work or education, and differences in the way individuals chose to self-identify” between censuses could all be contributing factors to the changes.
Meanwhile, the ONS figures showed that most young people in England and Wales (22.2 million) say they have “no religion”. A mere 8.8 per cent were aged 65 years and over.
Andy Hawthorne, CEO of youth outreach charity The Message Trust, said he was shocked and doesn’t see it reflected in his surroundings.
“It’s not my experience,” he said. “If you come to The Message Trust, we have 200 staff and thousands of volunteers, and I’m the old fellow of the organisation, and the average age of our staff is 27. They're the most fired up, passionate group of missionaries you could ever meet. So God still working”.
However, Hawthorne did admit that the Church needs to seriously prioritise getting the gospel to youth.
“The Church needs to wake up and make mission and outreach to young people a priority,” he said.
“The Church just needs to shift its resources and make them our focus. It’s what Jesus did. When he decided he was going to change the world, he found a youth group, who were a bunch of young lads, his disciples.
“We need to wake up to the potential of young people, put our resources, put our finances, pray like mad, get out into the schools, mission to young people, and relevantly communicate the gospel. The gospel works, we're seeing it work for young people. We just need God's people to make that an absolute focus and priority in my opinion.”
Dr Stephen Hance, the Church of England’s national lead on evangelism, told The Telegraph that he doesn’t underestimate the need to reach young people.
“We know that younger people today are less likely to have been brought up in the Christian faith than in the past. But while they may be less familiar with its message that doesn’t mean they are less open to faith,” he said.
“The church, both locally and nationally, is exploring ways of connecting with Generation-Z through traditional means and new forms of communication.”
The ONS stats come after the census results last year revealed that the proportion of people in England and Wales calling themselves Christian dropped below half for the first time.
Just 46.2 per cent of people consider themselves to be part of the Christian faith. In 2011, the figure was 59.3 per cent.
Listen to Premier's interview with Danny Webster here:
Listen to Premier's interview with Andy Hawthorne here: