Evangelical church snapshot – what did Christian discipleship in Britain look like in 2012?


Living the Christian life

Last year the Langham Partnership conducted a comprehensive survey concerning UK discipleship in evangelical church life.

The results of the research have been published in a booklet entitled Living the Christian Life: Becoming Like Jesus. Three collections of data were made. The first was a survey of entire congregations across all services in seven evangelical churches in England, three Anglican, one Baptist and three Independent. Secondly, questionnaires were filled in by those answering advertisements in Christian newspapers and magazines. Thirdly, a cross-denominational survey of evangelical ministers was undertaken via a postal form. Altogether 1,999 people took part in the survey.

There were 12 major findings from the research which we briefly highlight here. They are as follows.

Teaching

When respondents were asked, ‘Which aspect of church life has been most instrumental in helping you grow in your faith?’ 58% said the teaching in the church services. Teaching proved useful in growing in faith, standing up for the faith, answering questions about Christianity and witnessing to others. 85% of churchgoers said that the teaching was the second most important thing that they appreciated in church life. The first was the fellowship.

Other ways of learning

While teaching was important, respondents explained that it was not the only way they learned. 65% said that house-groups were also important for growing in the faith. 20% said that recommended books, DVDs and CDs were helpful. 18% had been helped by special training sessions. 34% said that they thought that house-groups were the most important way of growing.

Depth

People were asked if they thought their faith had grown in the past year. 84% said it had and 24% said that it had grown a lot. What were the key factors that caused the difference? 53% said that seeing answers to prayer had really helped their faith. 52% cited personal study and prayer. Around 20% highlighted one-to-one mentoring. Seeing answers to prayer was more important for older folk. One-to-one direction was more important for younger people. These did not vary much with denomination or gender.

The Bible

The Bible was found to influence people’s attitudes in areas such as their family, material possessions, the disadvantaged and work. 90% of Christians said they read their Bible to learn more about God and 85% to seek guidance and inspiration. It was also used by 64% to find comfort in times of illness or crisis. However, it was found that the Bible is not influencing younger people in churches as much as it does older people.

Christ-likeness

Christ-likeness proved a difficult term to define for many people. They felt Christ-like people were: a) like Jesus in his relationships to others — selfless and caring, etc. (51%); b) like Jesus in his commitment to God (27%); c) like Jesus as he glowed with the Spirit (22%). 52% said we become more like Jesus by being transformed by the Spirit, 28% by growing in holiness, 10% by becoming a stronger disciple, and 10% by becoming more mature.

When asked who were the most Christ-like people, respondents were aware of the top two being John Stott and Billy Graham.

How long?

Just 2% of the people had been Christians for under three years. 76% had been Christians for over 20 years. This is worrying and tends to reflect a lack of priority or lack of success in evangelism. On average Christians had been attending their churches for 13 years. 39% of current attenders had always attended their present church, which means that 61% had moved churches at some time. This suggests that what often passes as ‘church growth’ is in reality simply Christians on the move.

Priorities

The survey listed six key functions of church life and asked respondents to say which had the highest priority in their opinion and which ought to have the highest priority. The six key functions were worship, prayer, discipleship, evangelism, community and service.

The results showed that worship is currently seen as the top priority in the church’s life, followed by prayer and discipleship. Evangelism is currently seen as fourth in the pecking order. Perhaps this helps to explain why so small a proportion of church congregations consist of recent Christians. Only 65% of Christians agreed with the statement: ‘The church should give highest priority to evangelistic preaching of the gospel’.

Doctrines

The survey set out 12 fairly low key statements about the content of the Christian faith. At least 94% of respondents were in agreement with all of them.

There were, however, two statements which were not agreed so wholeheartedly by respondents. Over 12% of lay people and 3% of clergy thought that all religions lead to the same God eventually. Nearly 15% of lay people and 6% of clergy thought that God is too loving to let anyone go to hell.

Church culture

Survey participants were asked to rate how far their church reflected Christ-likeness. The over-riding culture of evangelical churches was thought to be one of kindness, followed by faith, gentleness and joyfulness. Ministers thought that patience and self-control were least evident in their churches. Lay people agreed, but also added unity and forgiveness as least evident.

Prayer

71% of lay people and 89% of ministers pray every day. 62% of couples pray together and 44% of these do so frequently. In households with children, 42% prayed with them frequently.

Planting

The data for this came only via the ministers’ postal responses. A question was asked about the number of churches per church planted over the last five years. 81% had planted no church in that time. 14% had planted one church. 5% had planted more than two.

Ministers were asked about their experience of planting churches. 41% made positive comments and 17% negative comments.

Behaviour

Christians strongly agreed that becoming more Christ-like will make us more distinct from those around us and that the gospel message is undermined when Christians do not behave like the Jesus they proclaim. They also agreed that if a Christian does not grow in Christ-likeness there is something lacking in his or her walk with God.

It also became clear from the survey that the church has far more married people among its congregations than the general population and far less single people. Churches also have far fewer cohabiting people and single parents than in the general population, where together they account for a fifth of all households. Across the UK only 5% of households have any connection with a church.

This article is a synopsis from Living The Christian Life: Becoming like Jesus, part of the 9-a-day campaign, and is published by the Langham Partnership. The research was carried out by the Brierley Consultancy (http://www.brierleyconsultancy.com).

(This article was first published in the March 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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