"I pray daily for the death of the Church."
"The way things are going, the Church will probably be finished in 50 years time...."
These verbal bombshells — from a Surrey vicar and a Free Church leader — highlight the sorry state of Britain's churches and their total failure to lead the British people. This failure is reflected only too well in the latest statistics and polls.
The Central Board of Finance reveals only 4% of the public attend the Church of England. Roman Catholic attendance is similar. Free Churches draw a mere 2%. In short, over 90% of the British public never darken the door of a church. More startling, the latest Harris poll (May 1970) reveals only about half the people in Britain even believe in a literal God.
Disenchantment with organized religion is most apparent in the "now" generation. Seventy percent of the under-sixteens never attend church or Sunday school and another 15% go only occasionally. In the Church of England, confirmations dropped 20% in the last six years. Baptisms and church marriages follow the same downward spiral.
Small wonder one critic in The Timer Saturday Review recently stated: "Religion has so completely lost its hold on the imagination of our society that it is possible that more people in this pagan land turn for comfort to Jimmy Young [a popular British disc jockey] than to Jesus Christ."
Established religion fails to attract either parishioners or pastors. For the Church of England, most alarming is the rapid decline in candidates for ordination. Of over 10,000 parish clergymen only 27 are under thirty.
Shortage of clergy added to the alarming drops in baptisms, confirmation candidates, church marriages and, above all, in actual attendance, indicate organized religion's lack of relevance to the Briton of today.
In an effort to brake plummeting attendance figures and attract more youth, some ecclesiastics are inviting pop groups into church. But these gimmicks — which have even included use of ventriloquists — fail to counter the attraction of Bingo, the dance hall and TV. One Church of England vicar frankly admits cropping Sunday evening services to give the congregation time to get home for a popular TV series.
With such public disinterest in religion, it is no surprise many churches reach the real estate lists. The "converted" church building is an increasingly common sight. These durable edifices are being transformed into coffee bars, Gothic restaurants, toy shops, general-purpose warehouses (or hardware stores — see picture). Their "flocks" now dispersed, these grotesque epitaphs of a derelict religion multiply across the land, relics of a way that led nowhere.
God in heaven warns: "Woe be unto ... the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings... prophet and priest are profane" (Jer. 23:1, 2, 11).
But even if the churches were full, how well would they serve the people? The answer is given by the one area of British churchianity standing in sharp contrast to this picture of diminishing attendance. In Northern Ireland, cathedrals and chapels are crammed to bursting point. Yet strangely, this is the most explosive area in the whole United Kingdom, with increasing incidents of violence and destruction. A non-Christian reporter from the East recently stated, "In Northern Ireland you find the world's most devout Catholics and fanatic Protestants, yet the world's worst Christians!"
In Britain — empty churches. And where they're filled, violence, arson and destruction stalk the streets. God indicts the pastors of the land for their failure to feed the flock the truth of His Word.
What's the solution? God promises that He — and not we — will soon set up ministers who will give the people practical knowledge leading to peaceful, joyful, abundant living (Jer. 23:4).