Census 2021: There is room for all people in God’s story

01 December 2022

Last year, for the first time, less than 50% of people living in the UK described themselves as Christian in the Census. Fewer and fewer people are affiliating themselves with the Christian faith and, as a result, the Church does not have the influence it once had. We already knew this. What an opportunity, at the start of Advent, to connect with the good news ourselves and to offer that good news to our friends and neighbours.

One of the books often recommended to teams in the Transformational Leadership Learning Community is Good to Great by Jim Collins. In a chapter entitled: ‘Confront The Brutal Facts (Yet Never Lose Faith)’, Collins quotes Admiral Jim Stockdale: “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”[1] The 2021 Census gives us facts that must be confronted, even welcomed. We need to understand a person’s story and worldview before we can presume to offer good news that might connect with them. These facts give us information which is useful – but they are not the whole story.

When asked ‘What is your religion?’ in 2021, 46.2% of people ticked ‘Christian’ and 37.2% ‘no religion’. Our society is much less religious than it once was. But having no religion is not the same as having no beliefs, as Prof. Linda Woodhead has pointed out.[2] And it is not the same as having no morals.[3] It is often said that people are ‘spiritual but not religious.’  The website www.christianity.org.uk, which was set up by Churches Together in England, has received nearly 150,000 visits so far this year from people in the UK enquiring about Christianity, many of whom got to the site via a Google search about the Christian faith. There was a big spike in numbers of visits when Queen Elizabeth II died, and the page about her faith was the top most visited page this year. Another surge in numbers is expected at Christmas. People are still spiritually curious, even if that curiosity does not translate into church attendance.

At the start of the pandemic, 250,000 people signed up for the NHS Volunteer Responders service in less than 24 hours, with a further 500,000 signups by the end of the following day.[4] There may be fewer people who would call themselves a Christian or attend a church, but people still want to help others, to be part of something greater and to make the world a better place. The Growing Good report, published in November 2020, recommends that churches actively recruit people in their communities who are unaffiliated with Christianity as volunteers in their social action programmes. This not only enables positive relationships to be nurtured, but can be a way in to Christian discipleship for people who come to know God through practising justice. People still want to serve others and work to improve the world God loves, even if they would not profess faith in God for themselves.

As part of the Strategy for Evangelism and Growth, God For All, every Methodist district is currently engaged in discerning and planning for a New Place for New People: a new expression of Christian community designed with people who didn’t tick ‘Christian’ on the Census in mind. And this is just the start: we hope and expect that, inspired by the Holy Spirit, New Places for New People will begin in every Methodist circuit, particularly amongst people on the economic margins of society. But this isn’t just something for districts and circuits to do. Each church and each individual can listen for, speak of, and live out good news themselves.

The Methodist Church’s Christmas campaign, #ThereIsRoom, affirms that there is a place in the world and in God’s story for every single beloved person, including people of every religious affiliation and those of no religious affiliation, too. Part of the Christmas story focuses on the wise men, who were most likely Zoroastrian astrologers. They certainly weren’t followers of Yahweh, and yet God wrote a message in the stars that they not only understood, but responded to, setting out on a very long journey to worship the Christ child.

As you prepare to share the good news of Jesus this Advent and Christmas, as an individual follower of Jesus and as a church, consider the following:

  • If you haven’t already, check out methodist.org.uk/ThereIsRoomResources to see a range of free digital and print resources to use during Advent and Christmas;
  • Get some copies of the ‘Christmas story fold-out leaflet’ printed; then put each one in a goody bag with some Fairtrade chocolate and an invitation to an event in January or February, and hand the bags out at your most popular carol service or Christmas event;
  • Ask your friendliest members to welcome people at the door at your Christmas services and show them to a seat;
  • Have a look at thereisroom.co.uk, a website created with people who ticked ‘no religion’ in mind; share it on your social media accounts, along with a sentence about what your faith means to you;
  • Pray that God would show you where the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of the people around you: people who are made in the image of God, whichever box they ticked.


[1] Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap… and others don’t (London: Random House, 2001), pp. 83-87.

[2] See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-63792408.

[3] https://humanists.uk/2022/11/29/non-religious-surge-37-tick-no-religion-in-2021-census-uk-among-least-religious-countries-in-the-world/.

[4] https://www.england.nhs.uk/2020/03/250000-nhs-volunteers/#:~:text=Less%20than%2024%20hours%20later,and%20become%20our%20best%20selves.%E2%80%9D.