Written by Sherry
Monday, 09 February 2009 20:18
The Holy Spirit is moving in London.
The national news continues to be grim: The British National Health Service estimated in 2006 that self-identified Christians have dropped from being a simply majority to being a minority in the UK since 1995. As of 2005, Christians make up 47.51% of the population and Brits who self-identify as having no religion are almost as large at 45.8%. Muslims make up 3.3 %, Hindus 1.4% and non-Christian believers altogether form 6% of the UK population.
Anglicans continue their nose-dive: from 29% to 22% in only 10 years. Catholics, interestingly, have held steady at 8% of the population with the influx of Catholic immigrants from eastern Europe. The only religious groups who are growing as a whole are non-denominational Christians (who, at 9.6% have more than doubled since 1995), Muslims (from 1.8% to 3.3% in 10 years) Hindus (from .6 to 1.4% in 10 years) and interestingly, Jews (from .3 to .5% in 10 year.
But the situation is quietly changing in London. And it is young adults who are responding.
While reviewing some materials for my book, I came across a blog post I had written a year ago about the impact of the Alpha course.
I've been tracking the spread of Alpha, which began in London, for years now. Approximately 13 million people around the world have attended Alpha courses over the past 15 years. 2.3 million of these participants are Brits.
Alpha is having a significant impact on European Catholics with the public support of many bishops. There is a specialized version of Alpha called "Alpha in a Catholic context" which has been offered in 58 countries. For example, the first French national Alpha initiative this last September saw 10,000 people attend introductory events in 400 congregations around the country. 2/3 of French parishes are said to be holding Alpha courses.
The usual caveat: There are significant theological problems with Alpha from a Catholic perspective, which I have written about at some length here, but they are preaching the basic kerygma to this generation. And the result is a revival of Christian practice and belief in one of the greatest cities in the world.
A bit of searching brought me to this Time article (December 21, 2008) about the role of Alpha in transforming London from the least observant part of the country twenty years ago into the second most church-going city in the UK. Time acknowledges that part of the change in the London scene has been caused by many devout immigrants from other countries. But the revival is also drawing in highly educated, well-heeled, successful English young adults. And the epicenter for these new Christians is Holy Trinity Brompton, the evangelical-charismatic mother ship of the Alpha course and now the largest Anglican congregation in the UK.
"The church's 4000-strong congregation has almost tripled in the past 15 years, and its average age is 27 years. While HTB does not keep records of these young converts' wealth, a look at its bulging collection hat offers some clue: the church raised over $7 million from donations last year alone (An average London parish, by contrast, can expect to raise around $150,000, according to data provided by the Anglican church). The church has become so popular that it recently began encouraging hundreds of its congregation to attend dying churches around London — as much to ease its own congestion than anything else."
And this is amusing and telling:
"Concerned about the influence of Holy Trinity Brompton on Britain's future ruling class, the British Humanist Association recently partnered with Richard Dawkins, secularist Oxford professor and author of The God Delusion, to raise funds for advertisements to counter the Alpha course's own advertising campaign, with posters on buses carrying an inscription with a similar font to the Alpha's posters: "There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life," they state. Within a few weeks, the fund raised $180,000 after setting a target of just $7000."
But Time sums up the situation this way:
"Judging by the success of the HTB, however, the humanists may be fighting a losing battle. Once considered a stalwart of rural England, the Anglican church has found new life in the largest of Britain's supposedly godless cities."
Of course, it isn't just the Anglicans who are doing some creative evangelization in London. There is the wonderfully creative, if threadbare, Catholic parish of St. Patrick's, Soho with its resident School of Evangelization for young adults, SOS prayer line and perpetual adoration, Masses in four languages, a Cenacolo community to support those caught up in the drug culture, a professional in-house fertility clinic, and a theological lecture series which draws crowds of young adults.
All the evidence indicates that the millennial generation - largely unchurched and uncatechized and post-modern to the bone - is more open to the gospel of Jesus Christ than their parents or grand-parents but only if we make a serious attempt to reach out to them and preach the good news.
Enough insider baseball already. Evangelism is our first and primary identity and mission. We need to discern the signs of our times which are no longer the 60's or 70's but 2009. The early 21st century. Where God is doing something new and wonderful that we will miss if we don't pay attention.