Church of England 'one generation away from extinction' after dramatic loss of followers

Church of England in decline, whilst Islam is the fastest growing religion in the UK, new poll shows.

Siobhan Fenton
Monday 01 June 2015 10:50 BST
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 The choir process through York Minster during a Eucharist Service attended by the Church of England Synod (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
The choir process through York Minster during a Eucharist Service attended by the Church of England Synod (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The Church of England has lost nearly two million followers in the last two years and is on the brink of "extinction", it has been warned.

The number of people in the UK who describe their beliefs as being Church of England or Anglican dropped from 21 per cent to 17 per cent between 2012 and 2014- a loss of around 1.7 million followers. The number of Anglicans in Britain is now thought to stand at around 8.6 million.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, has warned that unless urgent action is taken, the organisation is just “one generation away from extinction.”

The figures have been revealed as part of the NatCen’s British Social Attitudes Survey, the UK’s longest running poll of public opinion.

Over the same period, the poll found that the number of Muslims in Britain grew by close to a million making it the fastest growing religion in the UK. 4.7 per cent of Britons now describe themselves as Muslim, amounting to 2.4 million.

When asked about their religious belief, the survey found that the most common response was having no religion. 49 per cent of people do not describe themselves has having any belief.

Peter Brierley, a former Government statistician who advises religious groups, said of the new figures: “It is very serious for the Church of England and they know it.”

“The problem is that it has a lot of elderly members, but when they die off there aren’t enough younger people to replace them.”

Naomi Jones, Head of Social Attitudes at NatCen, said of the figures: “The proportion of people saying that they are Anglican has fallen quite dramatically in the last ten years, coinciding with a rise in people saying they are not religious.”

"Another explanation could be that in the past religion played a more prominent role in people's identity. We know from recent NatCen research that people are less likely than in previous years to see being Christian as an important component of being British. Therefore, fewer British people may feel that the Church of England is an important part of their identity nowadays."

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