Is Christianity in Recession?

On Friday, 2nd May, Dr Richmond and Daniel Rollins, from a Catholic and Protestant perspective respectively, discussed whether or not Christianity is in decline in the UK and globally.

Dr Richmond:
I am optimistic that the Roman Catholic Church and Christianity as a whole are not in decline. Although there have been worrying developments in recent years and the Church itself has faced crises, I believe that it will come through. I am proud to be part of an international Church and to take part in Mass weekly with people of different nationalities and viewpoints, all trying to discover the best way to live.
No church is perfect, including the Roman Catholic Church. The most obvious example is the sexual abuse of children by priests and a likely cover-up by the Vatican, as well as its slowness to say ‘sorry’ explicitly. At times, the Vatican has appeared arrogant and power-hungry, more concerned with its reputation than the truth.

Failed papacy: Benedict XVI
Another contentious issue is the continuing ban on artificial forms of contraception in the modern age, which many Catholics do not agree with. 
In western Europe, the influence of the Church is lessening and numbers of people attending Mass are falling. Recruitment and retention of priests, particularly in countries such as Spain and Ireland, is in a state of crisis right now, one frequently identified reason being the celibacy rule, which I believe will change in the next twenty or thirty years. Abandoning the mandatory celibacy will lead not only to more priests joining the Church but to a healthier attitude to sexuality.

The condemnation of homosexuality, in an age when gay marriage is increasing, is also a source of tension.The Roman Catholic Church's reluctance to adapt itself to this issue and to moral dilemmas such as euthanasia or abortion are problematic.
It is certainly a difficult and challenging to be a Roman Catholic in 2014!

However, I am, as I said at the beginning, optimistic about the future - which, from a Roman Catholic perspective, is global and international. In 1900, there were roughly 266 million Catholics. This rose to just over 1 billion by 2000. In 2010, there were approx 1.97 billion. Numbers are steady at 17.5% of the world’s population.
In Latin America, the number of professing Catholics has dropped in recent decades. There are approx. half a billion Catholics. Pentecostalism has been influential in this decline. In Africa, the growth in Catholicism is evident and outstrips general population growth: in 1900, there were approx. 2 million Catholics whereas in 2012 there are approx. 200 million. In Asia, numbers are on the rise. E.g., in China numbers have risen to 15 million (out of 25 million Christians) out of 25 million Christians (there were 1 million Christians in 1970).

In 2008, roughly 918,000 Catholics in the UK attended Mass weekly whereas 30 years ago about 1 million attended mass weekly. This is a drop of 8.2%. But more Catholics attend mass than any other religious denomination and more attend mass than go to football matches. However, there is a struggle to get many Westerners to see the relevance of a Christian faith - and perhaps a Catholic faith even more so!

Hope for the future: Francis I
The ‘Francis’ effect: There are real signs of reform: under Francis I, the papacy will become more democratic than autocratic.  As Francis himself has said: “Excessive centralisation, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life”; I think that it is significant that he rarely calls himself ‘Pope’ but refers to himself as ‘Bishop of Rome’. He leads a simple life, living in two rooms in a guest-house in Vatican city. He is much more open than his predecessors to suggestions from others: I, too, must think of the conversion of the papacy…it is my duty, as Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions from the faithful about how we, as a church, can be more Christ-like”.

Daniel Rollins:

I am full of hope for Christianity. The future is "happy clappy".
Most people assume that religious belief is in decline, but, in fact, Christianity is growing almost three times as fast as atheism and agnosticism combined! The main areas of Protestant growth are South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and China, where expansion is characteristically Pentecostal or Charismatic.

Although traditional churches such as the Anglican, Methodist and URC (and Catholic church) are in decline, new and mainly ‘evangelical’ churches and denominations are growing faster, so, while census data suggests fewer people call themselves ‘Christian’, more people are going to church! In m own church in Cowplain, attendance has almost doubled, from 150 to 271 people within the last twelve months.

In the UK, there has been particularly rapid growth of Black Majority Churches (BMC), primarily West African and Afro-Caribbean; for example, there are now around 161 churches on the Old Kent Road, almost all African Pentecostal, with young congregations.  

Within the wider evangelical movement, there is currently an emphasis on church planting (an entrepreneurial approach to building up each new church within a community) and ‘fresh expressions’ (avoiding old buildings and using locations such as cafes that are more modern and interactive).

Attendance at Cowplain Evangelical Church has doubled in 12 months
Evangelicals really care about what they believe so are usually the most vibrant and active communities even if they have traditional worship. While general church attendance is in decline evangelicalism seems to run against this trend, with particularly evident growth in the Charismatic/ Pentecostal churches. Thus, even as polls show the number of people referring to themselves as Christian in decline, church attendance in the UK is on the rise.
Members of the audience asked questions following the presentations by Dr Richmond and Daniel Rollins.

Mrs Carter: Have particular church leaders been emerging to influence the rise of the evangelical movement?
Daniel: Nicky Gumbel of the Alpha movement has been a particularly influential church leader.

Mrs Morgan (to Dan): As someone who cares about Christianity, should you not care about Pentecostalism mixing with tribal beliefs in parts of Africa, resulting in some cases in child murder and other horrific actions?
Daniel: Such horrific events result from a lack of structure or guidance in some churches and this is something that leaders of the Pentecostal movement are working to address, training church leaders to help prevent members of their congregations adopting extreme beliefs or doctrines.
Reverend Burtt: This is not a new phenomenon. Wherever the Church goes into a new culture, it has to go through a process until the level of education in that culture rises; there were similar issues relating to cargo cults of the Pacific Islands.

Freya Derby: Is it ethical for children to go to church when they are too young to understand whether or not the belief they are hearing are true and too young to make their own decisions about what to believe.
Dr Richmond: The Roman Catholic Church allows each child to make the decision whether to believe or not, but are doing children a service by teaching them what believe to be the true faith.
Louisa Dassow: But are you not affecting their own choice by sending them to a specific church so early in life.
Daniel: I teach Sunday School, at my church, to children aged from 7 to 11, and I believe that I am doing something valuable. I would point out that plenty of friends of mine who went to the same church as me when they were younger have since left the church - they were certainly not indoctrinated and my decision to be a Christian is very much my own.






  1. Dr Richmond: The Roman Catholic Church allows each child to make the decision whether to believe or not, but are doing children a service by teaching them what believe to be the true faith.
    -I am sorry but this is simply not true. The Catholic Church baptise babies before they can say their first word. During baptism, the priest says to the parents that they must PROMISE to bring up their child in the 'true' faith. There is little choice for children. Also, 'doing them a service' is a completely inaccurate statement, try telling the poor children who were victims of sexual abuse by catholic priests that they have been 'done a service'. Also, that you refer to it as the 'true faith' is a matter of opinion and I find it quite arrogant really... it also implies that you understand they are not 'free to chose' as you claimed in the sentence before that.


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