How immigration continues to strengthen Britain’s faith communities

How immigration continues to strengthen Britain’s faith communities

The rapid decline of Christianity in Britain is slowing thanks to immigration, new figures reveal. Migration from Eastern Europe and parts of Africa is steadying church attendance figures.

Peter Brierley, who is behind the research, told Christian Today: “This alleviation is due to two major changes over the last few years – the large number of new black and other immigrant churches which have been started, and the increasing success of new gatherings often called ‘Fresh Expressions’.”

Fresh Expressions encourage communities to express their faith outside of formal church structures and denominations – it can take place in pubs, cafes or sports clubs.

Brierley surveyed nearly 300 denominations nationwide last year when compiling attendance figures. The expected decline in church membership may not be evident until 2025 (five years later than original estimates).

Immigration has helped others create new churches, “The Black Majority Churches explosion has been significant, especially in Greater London where of the 700 new churches which began between 2005 and 2012, at least 400 were BMCs,” Brierley said.

Data from the last census reveals that the number of Christians born outside the UK increased by 1.2 million (the figure is now 3.6 million), which included migrants from Poland and Nigeria.

Four in five people (80 per cent) who were born in the twelve EU accession countries (10 of which are from Eastern Europe), self-identified as Christian. In London, the boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea are home to the highest number of ‘Other White’ Christians (33 per cent).

Other faiths benefit

A little of half of Muslims (53 per cent) were born outside the UK. A figure that has nearly doubled in a decade, a similar growth figure also follows British-born Muslims.

Hindus and Buddhists are the most likely faith groups to be born outside the UK. But that pattern remains unchanged since 2001. For Sikhs in Britain, 56.6 per cent were born in the UK. Whilst in Jewish communities, a vast majority were British-born, 18.9 per cent were born outside Britain.

Almost every person who selected no religion in the survey was British-born (93 per cent). Yet, atheists are not immune from retaining spiritual beliefs. In 2012, the Christian think tank Theos, noted that 23 per cent of atheists surveyed believed in the human soul, 15 per cent in life after death, and a slightly reduced figure believed in reincarnation.

Yet, the census is not a true reflection of faith, as the question is voluntary, as 7 per cent chose not to answer. Self-identification is not a measure of religiosity. A lack of belief in the traditional structures of religion does not mean individuals cannot hold spiritual beliefs.

Immigration benefits Britain economically, helps plug shortfalls in the NHS, and helps strengthen the patchwork of our various faith communities. A shared faith might help individuals find more common ground than previously thought.