10/03/2011 05:58 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2011

Christian Identity In U.K. Outpaces Church Attendance

By Al Webb
Religion News Service

LONDON (RNS) A major new survey by Britain's national statistics bureau shows that despite growing immigration and competition from other faiths, nearly seven in 10 Britons still describe themselves as Christian.

That doesn't mean, however, that U.K. Christians actually attend church. In a nation of 60 million people, weekly attendance at Church of England parishes had slumped to 1.14 million as recently as 2008.

Nevertheless, the new study by the Office for National Statistics showed 69 percent of men and women in Britain professed to be Christian, even if they never or rarely saw the inside of a church.

The survey showed that 4.4 percent of respondents identified themselves as Muslim; 1.3 percent as Hindu; 0.7 percent as Sikh; 0.4 percent as Buddhist, 0.4 percent as Jewish and 1.1 percent as followers of other religions.

The ONS said its Integrated Household Survey queried 420,000 people and was assembled from five other polls that asked the same "core questions" over the space of a year.

Those numbers rarely seem to translate into filling pews. A 2007 survey of 7,000 Britons by the Christian charity Tearfund found that only one in seven went to church each month, and only one in 10 did so once a month.

An earlier church census, in 2005, put regular churchgoing at 3.16 million, still barely 6.3 percent of Britain's population.

Nonetheless, the Christian Institute research organization saw some reason for hope in the new figures; spokesman Simon Calvert said "people want to identify themselves as Christian."