The census figures on religion for England and Wales have been described as “challenging but not discouraging,” by the Methodist General Secretary.
The Rev Dr Martyn Atkinson says that the Church is there to serve others and needs to think imaginatively about how it shows the Gospel in words and actions in a changing, plural society.
“These figures are a challenge to the Churches and reflect how British society has changed,” said the Methodist leader. “But we are not discouraged. We are excited to be Christians in part of an increasingly diverse, multi-faith society and we believe that British society is enriched by this mix."
Dr Atkinson declared: “It has always been clear to Methodists that the Church exists not only for those who say they belong to it, but those who don’t. We rejoice when Churches are growing, but we also rejoice when we can share with others in transforming our world and our communities for good. The numbers of people that attend worship on Sundays and on special occasions like Christmas are important, but they only show a small part of the picture."
"Churches remain committed to making a difference to many more people’s lives through the wider activities of our communities, in church groups, fresh expressions, work in schools and places of community through volunteering, chaplaincies, being street pastors and good neighbours," he said.
The Methodist Church’s 7,471 activities engaging people and communities across Britain regularly reach more than 600,000 people, with elderly people, families and children under the age of thirteen as the primary beneficiaries, the Church says.
Over 1,000 Methodist ‘fresh expressions’ committed to new ways of being ‘church’ have emerged over the last few years, from coffee-shop chatter in Stafford to bread-making in Liverpool, from a children’s play-house in Yorkshire to sacred space on the Greenwich Peninsula.
“The Census results mean we need to think and act smarter in seeking to be good witnesses to Jesus Christ today, and many Methodists will relish that opportunity. We believe God continues to be at work in Britain and elsewhere,” said Dr Atkinson, “and we remain committed to working with God and being available to God for good.”