Challenge and opportunity: a response to the Census

02 February 2023

The younger you are, the less likely you are to be a Christian. According to the latest release of Census data, the average age of someone who identified as Christian was 51. Ten years ago it was 45. The average age of the general population is 40, and of a person who ticked ‘no religion,’ 32. The Christian population has aged in the last decade, with more and more younger people unaffiliated with any religious faith.

John Finney has traced the history of churchgoing in the UK.[1] After World War II, it became more and more common for parents to send their children to church, but not to attend themselves. When those children grew up, many of them did not attend church or send their own children. And when their children grew up, they were unlikely to attend church or to send their children. A large and growing proportion of people living in the UK have never been to church, and may know very little about the Christian faith, if anything.

This is both a huge challenge and a great opportunity. It’s a challenge, because church congregations are getting older and don’t see the next generation – or the one after that – taking their place in the church, and that’s frightening. But there’s hope too: most people don’t stay away from church because they’re anti-Christian, but because they don’t know anything about or have any experience of Christianity, and therefore don’t see its relevance for their lives.[2] So let’s show them.

Churches long to see children and young people attend, and that’s great. But let’s ask ourselves two questions. Firstly: what opportunities might we offer young families to connect with God that are shaped by their needs? How might we share faith – not in the ways that are most comfortable for us, but in ways that are most accessible for younger people?

Secondly: what’s our motivation? If we’re anxiously trying to attract some families to our Sunday morning worship because we see them as the church of the future, it’ll be stressful and we won’t honour them as the precious children of God they are right now. But if we are willing to do things differently – not because we want anything from them, but because we love them – it’ll be pure joy. What small steps could you take this month to connect with children, young people and families in your local community? For information, resources and training opportunities, check out The Well Learning Hub.


[1] John Finney, The Four Generations: Finding the Right Model for Mission (Cambridge: Grove Books, 2008).

[2] See The Nones report for an analysis of the beliefs of people who don’t go to church.