Reaching the 'Nones'
Equipping the Church for Mission
About the project
The task of evangelism is as much a necessity for the Church’s life as it has ever been, but it is an increasingly challenging one. The proportion of the English population expressing some affiliation to 'religion' is 48% and rapidly decreasing; and the ever-increasing diversity of world-views requires significant changes in how the Church expresses the good news of the gospel if it is to reach these (largely young) people.
This is a challenge beyond that of reaching those on the ‘fringe’ of the church – something the Church has some understanding of – but of engaging with those who would now classify themselves as having no religion at all (‘the nones’), where the Church is on much less familiar ground.
As things continue to change rapidly, especially since Covid, if the Church sticks with what it has always done, the risk is that it will simply become less and less effective in reaching the 29 million people in this demographic. The resources on this site exist to help equip the Church (and the Church of England, in particular) to become missionary disciples reaching out in mission so that those who might currently call themselves non-religious have the best chance to hear the good news.
Watch an introductory video about the project on our Videos page.
It’s time to get creative and to get focused on how we reach the nones, and this project is going to help us do both. Not only a resourceful website, but also a community of practice, my prayer is that it will inspire church leaders across the nation to engage with the increasing numbers of people who self-identify as ‘none’.
James Lawrence, Leadership Principal, CPAS
Who are the 'Nones'?
The UK is now widely recognised as a post-Christian society with over 52% identifying as a “none” - i.e. having no religious affiliation. (The word itself, usually pronounced ‘non,’ may not be the most imaginative, desirable or popular term for this group but it does have the advantage of being the official term, understood the world over by students of this demographic, and so we beg the forbearance of any who find it irksome.)
It is clear from the data and anecdotal evidence that despite significant evangelistic initiatives over recent decades and some very positive online engagement in 2020 and 2021, the Church of England hasn’t yet managed to capture the imagination of contemporary society.
Instead it is seen by many as an irrelevance. Publicly, it appears to be overly concerned by what happens in private bedrooms and not nearly concerned enough by abuse. Little is heard about the extraordinary ministry of community engagement and little is said about transformed lives - so it is perhaps hardly surprising that the perception is as it is.
This site will seek, through third party research (especially from the University of Kent ‘Understanding Unbelief’ project and the Bible Society), to engage with the views and opinions of the 52% who self-designate as ‘indifferent’ or ‘dismissive’ towards religion, and to examine how we as a Church are managing to understand and engage with them. This is vital research as the cohort in question has grown considerably over recent years and is projected to continue to grow in the coming years. A recent poll (November 2020) by YouGov reported in The Times in December 2020, suggested that religious and spiritual belief in Britain has declined overall during the pandemic, with the proportion of people citing faith in God or some kind of ‘higher power’ falling from 49% to 44% between Janunary and November 2020. The proportion of atheists and agnostics increased from 51% to 56% over the same period.
Since 70% of UK 16-29 year olds identified as nones about 5 years ago and with that trend continuing up the population, and older (more typically religiously identifying) people dying off, Prof Stephen Bullivant believes we could certainly be looking at 60-65% of the population choosing not to identify themselves with any faith by 2030. The danger is that the Church will be caught largely unawares.
The good news is that research from the ‘Understanding Unbelief’ project suggests that many of the ‘nones’, though not having time for the Church, have a strong sense of the supernatural and the spiritual which provides Christians with an obvious way in, should they wish to take it. All is not lost, but it does mean some significant work is required.
Meanwhile, the Church of England has an ongoing vision ‘to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ afresh in each generation to the people of England’. It also longs to be a Church that is ‘younger and more diverse’ which is exactly what the ‘nones’ are. Together this means that it is vital that reaching the ‘nones’ becomes a priority for the Church of England if it wants to live up to its bold vision. This project seeks to help that become a reality.
52% of people in England say they have no religion. Many come from families where there has been no religious practice for 3 generations or more. The Church of England needs fresh and effective ways to reach them, for our existing models don’t seem to work. This project is designed to inspire and resource that conversation. Nothing is more important.
The Revd Dr Stephen Hance, National Lead for Evangelism and Witness, Church of England
God, the One who loves all people
and longs for them to know you,
the One who amazes and inspires us;
draw to yourself all those who find themselves
dismissing, doubting or disbelieving you.
Delight them with your love,
astound them with your power,
heal them with your touch
and show us how,
in partnership with you,
we can be ambassadors of the gospel
and agents of reconciliation
for Jesus' sake.
If you happen to be reading this and have no religious affiliation, but would be interested in having a conversation about the Christian faith, either with us or by being put in touch with someone from a church near you, we’d love to help. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll aim to write straight back; or you might like to have a look at our 'For faith explorers' page, or the site christianity.org.uk which is well worth an explore. Let us know too if we've written anything that disturbed or annoyed you. We'd like to know and put that right.
If you’re reading this and you’d call yourself a Christian or a Christian leader, then we’d ask you to consider doing three things: First, to pray the Prayer above regularly. Second, why not read some of the articles on this site and watch some of the videos to find out more. Third, do write and let us know your thoughts on any of this and how you'd like to get more involved. Thank you.