News articles

In addition to the posts on this site, a number of other websites and publications have reported and reflected on the National Ministry Survey:

“The ‘church’ that doesn’t go to church”

When the the UK General Public were surveyed – excluding Active Protestants – it was found the 37% of the remaining adult population identify as ‘Christian’ despite not regularly attending (i.e. at least once a month) a Protestant church. Of these, as the following chart shows, the large majority rarely if ever attend a church of any description.

Savanta-ComRes data

Levels of evangelism are quite high and stable

UK practicing/active Christians are involved in perhaps a surprisingly large amount of evangelism and when the figures from the Barna / Talking Jesus research (2015) are compared with the National Ministry Survey (2021), we find that these levels are pretty stable.

Q: When, if at all, was the last time you talked about your relationship with Jesus Christ with someone who was not a Christian?

Remarkably, the 2021 NMS found 36% of Active Protestants who attend church once a week (AP*) had spoken to a non-Christian about Jesus in the last week, even higher than the 2015 figure. Even among the wider group of Active Protestants, a quarter had had an evangelistic conversation in the last week.

Grouped categories

Over half of practicing/active Christians reported a conversation with a non-Christian about Jesus in the last month. Around a quarter to a third have had evangelistic conversations less recently. The figure of those who can’t remember having such a conversation is remarkably stable at 11%.

Methodology:

A number of the questions in the 2021 Savanta NMS survey were chosen to closely follow the questions used by Barna in their 2015 survey which formed part of the Talking Jesus research project. However, comparisons of surveys are always problematic and must come with methodological caveats.

  • 2015 Barna/Talking Jesus defined ‘Practicing Christians’ as those UK adults who identify as Christian, of any denomination, who read the Bible, pray and attend church at least once a month.
  • 2021 Savanta/National Ministry Survey defined ‘Active Protestants’ as those UK adults who identify as Christian, excluding Catholic and Orthodox believers, who attend church at least once a month.

So the Barna 2015 definition is slightly wider (including non-Protestants) but also slightly tighter (requiring personal Bible reading and prayer at least once a month in addition to church-going). Direct and definitive comparison is clearly impossible. However, to enable some correction for the different definitions, we have also looked at the 2021 NMS results for a tighter group: Active Protestants who attend church at least once a week. These most regular church-goers could be argued to more closely correspond to the Barna definition of ‘Practicing Christians.’

In the comparison charts above:
PC = Practicing Christians (n=1621)
AP = Active Protestants (n=3020)
AP* = Active Protestants who attend church at least once per week (n=1611)

Conversion or Conversation?

One of the most intriguing results from the National Ministry Survey was the apparent contradiction between a majority of the general public disapproving of ‘people trying to covert others to their faith’ and thinking that ‘everyone should leave everyone else alone’ (73%) and high numbers of the general public feeling comfortable about having a conversation with a friend about Jesus (54%).

Wariness of attempts to convert

Disapproval of ‘conversion’ was held strongly not only by non-religious (atheist/agnostic) general public (79%) but also by those identifying as ‘Christian’ though not regularly attending a Protestant church (73%). (However there was much higher acceptance of conversion among some other religious groups.)

This social context means there is a basis to the fears of 50% of Active Protestants that they will ‘cause offence when talking to non-Christians about Jesus’. There is some evidence that this fear has increased in the last 6 years.

Openness to conversation

However, as the chart above shows, when it comes to a conversation about Jesus, comfort levels among the general public are quite high. In every category except talking to strangers, more are comfortable than uncomfortable. When the question is talking about religion more generally the figures are even higher:

McCrindle presentation, Savanta data

What is going on here?

Part of the explanation may be two social norms operating in British society:

  • Norm #1 Seeking to convert other people to your view is not ok.
  • Norm #2 Having a conversation about views is ok.

People are generally comfortable where the encounter is understood to be a ‘conversation’ – a low-pressure, open, balanced, sharing of views – but may well become uncomfortable if they sense the communication is becoming a ‘conversion attempt’ where one party has an agenda to ‘recruit’ for their cause (a relatively commonly reported concern).

Another big part of the explanation may be the relational factor. While many might philosophically disapprove of conversion and attempts to change someone’s views, when it comes to particular family, friends and colleagues this might be bracketed out [‘But I know you’re not like that’] and there may still be a fair degree of openness in those contexts of relational trust.

Evangelism training could be more regular and targeted to equip and embolden church members

It seems that the majority of active Protestants in the UK do not lack desire to talk to non-Christians about Jesus and are comfortable in doing so (64%); the blockages are more likely to be in the area of increasing fear of causing offence and a sense of being ill equipped to make the most of opportunities. Over half (56%) of active Protestants doubt their own competence in evangelism and believe others would do a better job.

[Colouring altered from original Savanta presentation]

These results suggest a felt need for capacity building (knowledge and ability) and particularly in the area of negotiating conversations in a context of possible offence. This is confirmed by the typical responses from church members found in the qualitative data from the NMS:

The confidence of Active Protestants may also be boosted by hearing that evangelism can be successful. Another typical request from church members found in the qualitative NMS data was:

“Give prime examples when they have spoken to non-Christians and how those examples turned out well.”

Q5B. What could your church do to make you feel more confident to speak to non-Christians about your faith?

In this regard, the survey data suggests that, from the perspective of the Active Protestant, 63% of evangelistic conversations had a positive impact and more than 1 in 10 seem to have led to the person actually becoming a Christian.

And from the perspective of the non-Christian, 67% felt comfortable with the conversation with more than twice as many feeling more positive towards the person and towards Jesus as a result of the conversation compared to the number who went away feeling more negative towards the person and towards Jesus.

Sharing such statistics, alongside real examples, may go some way in increasing confidence among Christians in sharing their faith.

In terms of the amount of church-based evangelism training going on, there are varying messages in the data, but even with the most positive figure available (41% of church leaders reporting that their church conducts structured evangelism training at least annually) some 59% of churches are conducting evangelism training less than once a year.

Stepping up the frequency of training and particularly a) addressing the issue of practical conversation skills while b) providing encouraging as well as realistic data, may be a helpful in building evangelistic capacity, sensitivity and confidence.

Increasing numbers of Christians feeling ill-equipped and inhibited in evangelism

The charts below suggest that levels of comfort and desire among Practicing/Active Christians in regard to talking to non-Christians about Jesus have remained quite high since the same statements were surveyed by Barna 6 years earlier as part of the Talking Jesus research project. Where there does seem to have been some reduction (at least 10 percentage points) is in the conviction that it is every Christian’s responsibility to evangelize. However, even here the percentage agreeing is still high.

It is in the following charts, responding to more negative statements, where more dramatic shifts seem to emerge.

In each of the charts above there is a significant swing. Interestingly the difference between AP and AP* (that is between Active Protestants attending church at least once a month and those attending church at least once a week) is very small. The big difference is between 2015 and 2021. While wanting to be cautious interpreting this data and admitting that we cannot make direct survey comparisons (see methodology below), it does appear that active Christians in the UK are less confident, more worried about causing offence, feel less equipped and more inhibited in talking to non-Christians about Jesus than they were 6 years ago.


Methodology:

A number of the questions in the 2021 Savanta NMS survey were chosen to closely follow the questions used by Barna in their 2015 survey which formed part of the Talking Jesus research project. However, comparisons of surveys are always problematic and must come with methodological caveats.

  • 2015 Barna/Talking Jesus defined ‘Practicing Christians’ as those UK adults who identify as Christian, of any denomination, who read the Bible, pray and attend church at least once a month.
  • 2021 Savanta/National Ministry Survey defined ‘Active Protestants’ as those UK adults who identify as Christian, excluding Catholic and Orthodox believers, who attend church at least once a month.

So the Barna 2015 definition is slightly wider (including non-Protestants) but also slightly tighter (requiring personal Bible reading and prayer at least once a month in addition to church-going). Direct and definitive comparison is clearly impossible. However, to enable some correction for the different definitions, we have also looked at the 2021 NMS results for a tighter group: Active Protestants who attend church at least once a week. These most regular church-goers could be argued to more closely correspond to the Barna definition of ‘Practicing Christians.’

In the comparison charts above:
PC = Practicing Christians (n=1621)
AP = Active Protestants (n=3020)
AP* = Active Protestants who attend church at least once per week (n=1611)

Executive summary: mission opportunities

1. Making the most of opportunities to share the faith

This research highlights that church leaders and churchgoers both believe evangelism and outreach are important, as evidenced by their actions. This is
an encouraging story as this shows there is a body of believers ready to take up opportunities presented. These opportunities are right in front of the church
as we learn from the general public that they are open to faith conversations, and even conversations about Jesus. In fact, despite some churchgoers who lack confidence in sharing their faith being worried about others not being interested or fearing they won’t be heard, it’s encouraging to see that the public do want to engage.

McCrindle
2. The need for a new apologetic

In an increasingly post-Christian context, it is important to understand common defeater beliefs such as ‘Religion causes wars’ and ‘No-one has the right to claim they have the truth’. It’s additionally important to appreciate reasons why people may be uncomfortable about a Christian sharing their faith with them such as a feeling that they are being recruited.

Savanta

It is also helpful to listen to those who have left the church, with almost half (45%) saying that science better answered their questions. Awareness of these could feed into preaching which better connects with these issues and training which equips church members to address these issues. Perhaps even more importantly, this research confirms the importance of relationships and the church itself as a powerful apologetic. Almost half the general public would be open to attending church. Over half of practicing Protestants (51%) attribute their becoming a Christian to attending church and the welcome, inclusivity and emotional support of the church community are most commonly cited as reasons why people continue as Christians.

3. Equipping the church for evangelism

There is also an opportunity to equip the church for evangelism. While two in five church leaders (41%) suggest their church runs evangelism training at least annually, just 16% of churchgoers believe their church has a training course. This shows there is a chance to provide further training to help support and give confidence to churchgoers as they reach out for faith conversations. In particular it, is noticeable that church attendees seem somewhat more positive towards and less scared about evangelism than church leaders think they are. One implication could be that church leaders are careful not to discourage church members by emphasising the terror and hardship of evangelism.

4. Equipping church leaders for evangelism

Overall church leaders are doing an excellent job of leading in evangelism. One opportunity for growth could be for the one in four church leaders surveyed who had not yet read a portion of the Bible with a non-Christian to have a go at that. Another potential area of growth could be with the 35% of leaders who cited ‘Evangelistic culture and strategy’ being an area of training need and the 46% who noted a need for more training in the area of ‘Reaching your cultural context’.

5. Online presents great opportunities

There seems to be a significant window of opportunity which has opened for evangelistic engagement – with a substantial proportion of non-Christians being more open to attending a small group or one-to-one Bible study or online course if it was online. This provides new opportunities for the future of the UK church to engage those outside the church in new and innovative ways.

6. Support church leaders in church planting and revitalisation

Church leaders commonly identified a training gap in the area of church planting readiness and in revitalisation. Furthermore, many church leaders believe there are barriers that hold them back from taking the steps to plant a church such as not having the right person to be the lead planter, not having enough people or being concerned about the impacts to the sending church and if it could weaken them. It will be important to address and even challenge some of these concerns to help enable future growth of the church. This could involve increasing the pipeline of potential church planters or looking at different funding models. The identified need for training in developing the next generation of leaders and generating a ministry training culture in the church may also be significant in providing a greater pool of potential planters and revitalisers.

7. Foster healthy church environments

The church leaders surveyed commonly noted division and disagreement as discouragements and identified ‘cultivating healthy church culture’ and ‘building healthy leadership teams and ministry teams’ as areas where more training would be appreciated. A focus on supporting leaders through these challenges such as division within their church, or disagreement between church leaders will likely help support them to flourish in their roles.

Conclusion

The future of UK ministry is bright with eager engagement in evangelism and interest in church planting. Filling training gaps and providing mentorship where required could be instrumental in strengthening leaders and building confidence in churches for evangelism and church planting.


Read the full National Ministry Survey.

Church leaders are seeking training in specific areas and many would appreciate mentoring and consultancy

The McCrindle researchers were surprised to see such clear results in regard to which training categories are judged to be already very well provided for and which categories seem to be requiring more provision. In particular, theological training and preaching training are well established and appreciated with 87% of church leaders feeling that there is sufficient provision.

In contrast, less than half church leaders surveyed felt that there is sufficient training provision for areas of cultural engagement, fund raising, readying a church to plant or revitalisation.

McCrindle

Two other areas that similarly 2 in 5 pastors felt needed more training provision were leadership skills and leadership development:

McCrindle

In addition to specific training content, there also seems to be a significant desire for:

  • 1-to-1 mentoring or coaching
  • consultancy where there is constructive ministry feedback
McCrindle

If all those who were interested in receiving mentoring and consultancy received it, this would represent a more than doubling of the numbers engaged.

For full details read the NMS report.

Many churches considering planting or revitalising but lacking lead planters

62% of church leaders reported that they are either preparing to send out a church plant (extremely/very likely in the next 5 years) or at least open to the prospect. A very similar proportion (63%) are either preparing to or open to the possibility of revitalising a church. Within these figures it looks like there is slightly more confidence in the plants going ahead than the revitalisations. And digging into this data further, there is somewhat higher confidence in both planting and revitalising among larger churches and in urban contexts.

The most common reason given as a blocker to church planting was lack of a lead planter. Interestingly, finances did not make the top 3 barriers. Even when looking just at smaller churches (less than 50 adults), where the finance issue is most acute, only 34% mentioned money as a factor holding them back as a church from planting.


All statistics and graphics in this post are taken from the McCrindle UK National Ministry Survey.

Mismatch between perceptions of church leaders and experience of church members

One significant insight drawn out by McCrindle in the NMS report, is the distance between the perceptions of church leaders – e.g. regarding the amount evangelism they think their congregation members are doing and the extent of church members’ fears) and the actual experience of church members – the amount of evangelism they report and the level of confidence they express.

[In this context, ‘Active Protestant’ = ‘church member’ = ‘congregation member’ = ‘active Christian’ = someone who attends a Protestant church at least once a month as surveyed by Savanta online Oct/Nov 2021]

The NMS reports: “A quarter of Protestant churchgoers (25%) have had a conversation with a non-Christian about their faith in Jesus in the past week, while a further 29% have had such a conversation in the past month. Two thirds (67%) said they feel ‘very confident’ or ‘confident’ talking about their faith with non-Christian family members while a similar proportion (64%) feel confident sharing their faith with non-Christian friends. More than half are confident in sharing their faith with non-Christian acquaintances (53%), neighbours (52%) and workmates/colleagues (52%). Just less than half (45%) are confident sharing their faith with strangers.”

Some of the motivations and fears expressed by active Christians in relation to evangelism may be as church leaders expected but some may be unexpected or at different levels to expected. It does seem that over the last 6 years there has been an increase in the number of Christians afraid to cause offence but it is still only a fear for around half of active Protestants [data]. And when those who do not feel confident talking to non-Christians about Jesus, only 19% specifically mentioned ‘being considered a bigot’ as a reason for that lack of confidence [see below].

Savanta

Another interesting mismatch is between the proportion of church leaders who say that their church provides evangelism training at least annually (41%) and the proportion of church members (active Protestants) who report that their church has organised evangelism training in the last 2 years (16%). This might in part be explained by the fact that the majority of the church leaders surveyed were evangelical / conservative evangelical while the active Protestants surveyed would have also included those not attending evangelical churches. However, when we checked the results by denomination we found that even selecting the highest performing denomination for each category, the scores are still well below what the church leaders survey reported. This suggests that there may be issues of communication and awareness.