Interviewer: Lucy Vernall
(Project Director, Ideas Lab)
Intro VO: Welcome to
the Ideas Lab Predictor Podcast from the University of Birmingham. In each
edition we hear from an expert in a different field, who gives us insider
information on key trends, upcoming events, and what they think the near future
Lucy: Today we’re with Dr
Andrew Davies who is Senior Lecturer in Intercultural Theology and
Pentecostal Studies. Welcome, Andrew.
Andrew: Hi Lucy.
Lucy: Could you translate
that for me? What is it that you do?
sure. Intercultural Theology is really
the branch of Christian theology that looks at the relationship of theology and
culture, so it looks at how religion and issues of faith are expressed in
different cultures and also how culture and cultural issues impact religion in
today’s world. Then as for Pentecostal
Studies, the Pentecostal movement is a kind of renewalist, revivalist movement
within Christianity that started about a hundred years ago and really has been
one of the reasons for the dramatic change in the nature of Christianity in the
world in the last century or so.
Lucy: And we’re going to talk about the changing
face of Christianity in the UK and we’re wrong to think that religion is
something that’s fading away, that’s less important now than it used to be. In
fact your work shows that that’s not true.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. They told us kind of fifty, sixty
years ago that probably by the end of the last century we’d see the end of
religion as a dominant force in society and if anything, exactly the opposite
happened. Instead of becoming more
secular, the nature of faith, the nature of spirituality in the UK has
certainly changed but it’s certainly not got any less important. It’s almost as if it’s moved into all kinds
of different areas and taken us in different directions but it’s still vitally
Lucy: And what’s happening in Britain is of course
affected by what’s happening around the world and there's big changes in global
Christianity as well.
Andrew: Yeah, about a century ago you’d be talking about
80% of the world’s Christian population being based in Europe. Now it’s kind of
less than half that, we’re talking around about 40%, so the whole kind of locus
of World Christianity has moved southwards really so most Christians today are
probably going to be based in Asia or Africa or Latin America; very strongly
Christian continents all of those three.
Lucy: And a massive
upsurge in China
Andrew: China’s fascinating because despite the fact that
Christianity’s officially not recognised and not accepted by the State there,
still around about 10,000 people a day the statistics tell us are choosing to
convert to Christianity. So a very interesting situation there.
Lucy: Alongside that,
possibly surprising, a rise in the persecution of Christians around the world.
Andrew: Yeah, again all the figures tell us that there were
more Christians martyred for their faith in the last thirty years or so than in
the whole of the rest of human history. So it's not that society’s got more
tolerant of faith but rather much the opposite.
Lucy: So what’s happening
in the UK specifically?
Andrew: Well the story that some people would have you
believe is that church attendances is plummeting, that the Church is going to
disappear within a few decades if we’re not very careful. Actually that probably was the story of ten
years ago but the latest figures are quite interesting because they do reflect
something of a levelling off of those decline in church attendance. So there
are wings of the Christian Church in the UK that are actually growing quite
rapidly. What has happened is that the kind of nominal traditions of Christianity
have tended to lose members quite dramatically and you’re almost left now with
a hard core if you like, so Evangelicalism and Pentecostalism for instance have
grown quite dramatically, something like an 8% increase nationwide in terms of
people attending Evangelical churches with other traditions within that growing
even more rapidly than that.
Lucy: So it’s the
wishy-washy, C of E, turn up now and again people that have died away.
Andrew: Yeah, I
think they’ve almost come to the conclusion that if nobody expects them to go
to church for social reasons well why should they bother doing it? But people
for whom Christianity is a vitally important part of their life, for instance
something like 9 out of 10 evangelical Christians would say that their faith is
the predominant factor in the decisions that they make in life and the choices
they make. So they’re really pretty committed to it and it's an important thing
for them to be a Christian, compared to round about 1 in 2 non-evangelical
Lucy: The dropping off
has been among the not-so-bothered but what areas are the ones that are growing
the most rapidly?
Andrew: If I had to
pick one tradition that really is exploding in terms of growth it certainly
would be the black majority churches, especially the Pentecostal black majority
churches. They’re increasing around about 14 or 15% a year on average, which is
a dramatic growth. I mean that’s happening worldwide as well so independent
churches throughout the world are kind of increasing in numbers and increasing
in adherence quite dramatically but the biggest church in the UK as far as
we’re aware is Kingsway International Christian Centre in London which is less
than twenty years old. It started off with a couple of hundred people and now
has comfortably over 15,000 meeting every week. Largely West African but around
about fifty different nations represented in that church. So there are a lot of churches that really
are getting into kind of global mega-church levels now and really starting to
be quite substantial churches.
Lucy: And these are
churches which take their faith very very seriously and have quite conservative
theological and social messages, aren’t they?
Andrew: And very
controversial for that in some sectors, for instance, so their attitude on
whether you should take medicine for instance if you’re sick has been in the
news fairly recently. Sometimes they have attitudes on homosexuality and sex
outside of marriage that are very very conservative and perhaps not in line
with the majority view in the country. So they’ve been very controversial and
of course as well have sometimes a very strong top down hierarchical approach
to leadership which has also been very controversial.
Lucy: And when you’ve got
15,000 members in a church like Kingsway that’s got to have a huge impact on
the community around you. These
mega-churches are…it’s a huge development isn’t it?
Andrew: Absolutely and a very big change when we’re used to
kind of a small village parish church that
kind of twenty or thirty people saunter into.
Lucy: It’s not really the
Vicar of Dibley, is it?
Andrew: Not really,
no! Kingsway in particular has had all kinds
of hassles with planning and things like that over trying to just find a
location where it can meet as one congregation. In fact pretty much every major
city in the UK has a church round about 1,000 to 1,500 strong and many of those
I know have been struggling to find locations.
City centre locations in particular obviously for a church of that size
would be quite challenging.
Lucy: Some of these
congregations don’t all meet in one central place, so they have several
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the classic example of
that perhaps is Kensington Temple in London which is a classic Pentecostal
church which originally met in a kind of old congregational church in
Kensington and could only accommodate 1,000 people or so there. They found that
the best way of growing their congregation was to plant daughter churches so
right throughout London they’ve got a network of probably fifty or sixty other
congregations that all belong to the same church basically and meet in their
own smaller halls at different times, as well as having now bought a new site
that can cope with four or five thousand on that one site. So the whole
approach to networking churches together is changing as well. That’s another
Lucy: There's always been
people who would call themselves atheists but it seems that alongside the rise
of some of the branches of Christianity, there’s also been a rise of very vocal
atheism in the UK.
Andrew: There’s certainly been something of a retrenchment
to the hard-line positions on both sides I think really and I think what’s new
about what sometimes called ‘new atheism’ really is the anger and the
vociferous nature of it really. The hostility
to religion has always been present but that seems to be being brought out more
and more prominently and directed against Christianity, which Christians aren’t
really used to. They’re used [to] historically to being in a position of power
and influence in this country and I think sometimes they’ve struggled to get
their head around the changing nature of society and being in a more multicultural
more inclusive society. If you ask your
typical Evangelical Christian they will certainly say that they are being
opposed and persecuted and having more difficulties thrown in their way and
thrown at them than they’re used to having. Whether that’s actually true is
another kind of whole set of issues really.
Lucy: So what’s next or where are these trends
Andrew: There are some people who would say that we’re
looking at fewer larger churches in the UK.
I think that is probably likely in some ways. I think some of the smaller churches will
certainly cluster together and form bigger congregations that will seek more
political influence and power. I think
we can certainly expect to see the kind of immigrant-led churches becoming more
and more prominent and that’s certainly happening already and it’s a tragedy
that we have such a thing as black majority churches; that’s a result of the
racism really with which immigrant communities were met when they first came to
this country. But those churches have
certainly got a lot of influence in World Christianity and in British Christianity
at the moment. I think we can expect to
see that continue. So I see a more
socially active church around the horizon. I see a more socially diverse church
but also a more committed church and that’s inevitably going to result in some
kind of conflict with political powers and atheism.
Lucy: Dr Andrew Davies,
thank you very much.
Andrew: Thank you.
Outro VO: This podcast
and others in the series are available on the Ideas Lab website: www.ideaslabuk.com. On the website,
you can find out how to e-mail us with comments, questions or suggestions for
future topics for the podcast. There's also information on the free support
Ideas Lab has to offer to TV and radio producers, new media producers and
journalists. The interviewer for the Ideas Lab Predictor Podcast was Lucy
Vernall, and the producer was Andy Tootell.