Where is the most Godless place in the UK?

Tim Thornborough | February 7th 2013

Parts of the Rhondda Valley in Wales have been declared the most Godless part of the nation that was once home to a remarkable revival and boasted thousands of churches and chapel.

The findings, gleaned from the 2011 Census, showed that five council wards in the area famous for its mining history, now have a majority of people who say they have no religion at all, according to a BBC news report.

In England, the "honour" goes to Norwich - a city noted for the number of churches within its city boundaries. Rumour has it that Norwich has a church for every week of the year, and a pub for every day of the year! Brighton comes second in the poll.

These figures come off the back of the census which showed that fewer people are defaulting to tick the "Christian" box on the census form where it asks for religious affiliation. This is the inevitable slow decline of nominal Christianity among a population that has long since stopped going to church, or even understanding the fundamentals of what Christian belief and living really means. And in many ways it is a good thing. Nominal Christianity which focuses on a certain set of moral qualities has always obscured and been opposed to the Gospel, which focuses on the Grace of God in Christ. The death of nominalism will make it much clearer what being a Christian really means.

Secularists delight to point to this as the latest evidence that Britain is a "post-Christian country", or that Christian believing is a dying, outmoded philosophy that is intellectually bankrupt. But thinking Christians have understood this for a long time. The passing of the gay marriage bill through the House of Commons earlier this week is just one more milepost on a road we have long been travelling down. It's a road that goes from a state which has some strong, although patchy, biblical foundations; to one without a discernible Christian ideology at its heart. There are certain to be more painful mileposts to come...

Future watchers predict that this trend will continue, with the numbers of nominal Christians declining significantly over time, even as church-going declines. The regional patterns that are predicted by Peter Brierley in his book God's Questions offer some interesting patterns for us to take note of. Decline in church going, he says, will be weakest in London and the South East - perhaps held up by the numbers of immigrants with a Christian faith coming to live in the area. Hardest hit will be the North of England, where he predicts church going will drop to 0.5% of the population within the next 20 years.

The decline of nominal Christianity will help to make the gospel clearer. It will also makes the size of our task clearer. For brief periods, during the great awakening, and then in times of local revival like those in Wales or the Isle of Lewis , we have seen times when genuine Christian believing has formed the consensus. But these moments have been exceptional, very rare, and punctuated by times of extreme social godlessness - worse even than we are experiencing today.

The answer to the large-scale decline of Christian belief and affiliation is not to be found in large-scale schemes to preserve the structural ghosts of Christian influence within the system. It is to be found in the small-scale but long-term witness of Christian disciples within the local community, and in the church-planting efforts that can bring the Gospel message in new and fresh ways to communities that have a famine of hearing the word of God.

So praise God for those who are still labouring in faithful gospel witnessess in the valleys, in Norwich, in Brighton and elsewhere. And praise God for brothers like Dai Hankey, who started a church plant in South Wales in an area like the one that headed this article. Praise God for the work of organisations like Acts 29 that is encouraging church planting in hard to reach areas. And praise God for the many strong church networks throughout the country that have embraced church planting as part of their mission strategy for the future.

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Tim Thornborough

Tim Thornborough is the founder and Publishing Director of The Good Book Company. He is series editor of Explore Bible-reading notes, and has contributed to many books published by the Good Book Company and others. He is married to Kathy and has three adult daughters.