The number of Christians in England and Wales has dipped below half of the population for the first time in census history, according to government statistics released Tuesday.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that 46.2% of the English and Welsh population, or roughly 27.5 million people, labeled themselves as “Christian” in 2021, according to the Daily Telegraph.
The figure marks a precipitous 13.1 percentage-point decline from 2011, when 59.3%, or approximately 33.3 million people, adhered to the established religion of the U.K. In the 2001 census, nearly 72% of all respondents indicated they were Christians.
Though it still took the top spot among respondents when asked their religion, “Christian” was followed closely by those who adhered to “no religion,” which tallied at 37.2% or 22.2 million people, which is a sharp increase from 25.2% or 14.1 million people in 2011. Only 15% of respondents said they had no religion in 2001.
Every other religion grew in adherents, according to the census, with the number of Muslims rising from 4.9% to 6.5% of the population between 2011 and 2021, and the number of Hindus increasing from 1.5% to 1.7%.
Scotland and Northern Ireland, the other two countries of the United Kingdom, report their census data separately and were not included in the statistics.
Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, who serves as the second-ranking cleric in the Church of England, said the declining numbers of Christians were “not a great surprise,” according to the Daily Telegraph, but noted that Christianity remains “the largest movement on Earth” and “still throws down a challenge to us not only to trust that God will build his kingdom on Earth, but also to play our part in making Christ known.”
“We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian, but other surveys consistently show how the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by,” he said.
Andrew Copson, who serves as chief executive of the charity Humanists UK, noted that “the dramatic growth of the non-religious” had made the U.K. “almost certainly one of the least religious countries on Earth.”
“One of the most striking things about these results is how at odds the population is from the state itself,” he said. “No state in Europe has such a religious set-up as we do in terms of law and public policy, while at the same time having such a non-religious population.”
The Church of England is the nation’s established religion, with some bishops holding membership in the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament. The British monarch is required to swear an oath upon accession to “maintain and preserve the Protestant religion and Presbyterian church government” within Scotland.
Declining rates of Christianity in the U.K. mirror similar trends in the U.S. A report from Pew Research Center and the General Social Survey published in September found a surge of American adults leaving Christianity to become atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.”
The study predicted that if the number of Christians under 30 abandoning their faith accelerates beyond the current pace, adherents of the historically dominant religion in the U.S. could become a minority by 2045.
Reporting from Fox News.