A Wind of Change at Pentecost?

With church membership declining across the denominations, one could be forgiven for thinking there was no hope for Christianity in the face of Britain's increasingly phlegmatic view of religion.

Across the country's major denominations, church leaders have sat nervously as report after report has emerged predicting Christianity's imminent death in the Western world.

The past few decades have undoubtedly been some of the hardest for Christianity, with fewer and fewer Britons going to church. That trend is more alarming given that interest in spirituality appears to be growing - whether it is in astrology, yoga, New Age thinking or native religions - yet people are still not looking to the church to satisfy that interest.

If Britons are searching deeper to find their spiritual side, why is Christianity struggling to take advantage and capitalise on this intriguing trend? Why is Christianity seemingly going in the opposite direction? After all, Christianity is built upon the belief that man is a spiritual being. If people are searching to find spiritual awareness, why are they not coming to the churches?

There is a very apparent retreat from faith in Britain, a trend which is picking up speed with alarming consequences. Between 1979 and 2005, half of all Christians stopped going to church on a Sunday. In addition, between 1998 and 2005, half a million people stopped going to church on Sunday, according to the UK Church Census two years ago.

In the twenty years between 1980 and 2000 the Church of England suffered a 27 per cent decline in church membership. The Roman Catholic Church suffered an even more drastic decline in mass attendance. Methodists, Baptists and other denominations tell a similar story.

The future looks even bleaker when we consider the statistics released by the Christian Research group, revealing that 29 per cent of churchgoers are 65 or over, compared with 16 per cent of the British population. Decline will only further erode the church if it fails to attract younger believers to replace aging congregants.

So is it all doom and gloom on the horizon for Christianity in Britain?

Looking at the raw statistics it is easy to lose hope. But look beyond the surface and we are able to see a very distinct glimmer of light within the faithful in Britain.

As more than 20,000 Christians gather in East London on Pentecost Sunday 2007 for The Global Day of Prayer, there has never been such an important time for London's Christians to stand united in the fight against the decline in faith.

Even though in Britain as a whole, statistics show that Christianity seems to be in decline, those figures are not reflected in the capital. There are more people going to church in London now than there were nine years ago, Dr Peter Brierley Executive Director of Christian Research says in a recent report.

He explains that in 1998, around 618,000 people attended church in London on an average Sunday. But by 2005 that number had grown to 623,000.

While church attendance only increased in one other county in the whole of England during that period (rural Herefordshire), in London a surprising 18 out of 33 boroughs experienced church growth between 1998 and 2005.

The figures suggest there is hope in the heart of the nation.

Pentecostal and Evangelical Churches in particular have shown significant growth over the past decade, with Pentecostal Christians now estimated to outnumber Methodist churchgoers at services in England and Wales.

Out of more than 4,100 churches in London, Pentecostals account for about 25 per cent of these - with only the Anglican Church holding more than this in the capital.

Probably the most surprising statistic to emerge is that nearly 60 per cent of all churchgoers in their twenties across England attend churches in London.

"I couldn't believe that figure myself, and had to check it again," Dr Brierley said.

The responsibility placed on the shoulders of London's churches is immense. Looking at the figures, the significance of The Global Day of Prayer is potentially huge.

So what do the churches need to be praying for as they unite together at Pentecost?

Earlier in the month as the Baptist Union of Great Britain explored ways to overcome the shadow of decline in its churches during its annual Assembly, an emphatic call was made for a "spiritual revival".

This certainly is what hundreds of key church leaders should be praying for on Pentecost - not just for London, but for the entire nation.

For a spiritual revival to happen, the churches must take a fresh look at their services, fellowships, buildings and youth work and find more ways to involve and engage the congregations.

The BUGB General Secretary, Rev Jonathan Edwards, said he was encouraged by the findings of the recent Tearfund study which found that 32 per cent of respondents - or more than 2.3 million people - would be interested in going to church if a friend or family member invited them.

"We would be foolish to think that decline is inevitable!" was the rallying cry.

The churches across the capital have a responsibility to be an inspiration to the nation, and if there is to be a spiritual revival in Britain, then surely the place for it to happen is in the capital city. The time for it to begin is now - Pentecost 2007.

Just as persecution against the early church in the book of Acts became the catalyst that spread the Gospel over the whole earth, so again in today's era, as Edwards suggests, the secularisation of our nation and the decline of the churches need to sharpen our way of thinking and be used as a tool for positive change.

Today, more than 20,000 Christians will unite together to pray in London. In a city of 7.6 million where more than 300 languages are spoken, that may feel like a drop in the ocean. Are 20,000 passionate souls enough to stir a revival in the capital, let alone the entire nation?


But, probably more significantly, will each individual gathered at Upton Park accept that through the prayer of 'Your Kingdom Come, Your Will Be Done', God's answer invariably will need to begin with an individual spiritual revival?

If this individual revival can occur 20,000 times over, the future of Christianity in Britain is very much brighter than some may have us believe, and the winds of a spiritual revival may well fill the whole of London.

"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting."
- Acts 2:1-2