SHAFAQNA – One in six young people are practising Christians, new figures show, as research suggests thousands convert after visiting church buildings.
The figures, show that more than one in five (21 per cent) people between the ages of 11 and 18 describe themselves as active followers of Jesus, and 13 per cent say they are practising Christians who attend church.
The study, commissioned by Christian youth organisation Hope Revolution Partnership and carried out by ComRes, suggested that levels of Christianity were much higher among young people than previously thought.
Research carried out by church statistician Dr Peter Brierley in 2006 suggested church attendance among teenagers was less than half of this, with 6 per cent of 11-14 year-olds and 5 per cent of 15-18 year-olds attending church.
Around 13 per cent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral, according to the figures.
The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to other Christians about their faith.
Jimmy Dale, the Church of England’s national youth evangelism officer, said his team had been “shocked” by the results.
The research was carried out in December but was not released until now because analysts thought such a high figure could not be accurate.
But another study recently released by Christian group Youth for Christ showed similar results, suggesting that a surprisingly high number of young people still describe themselves as Christian.
Mr Dale said: “There was disbelief among the team because it was so high.
“What is really exciting for us is that there is this warmth and openness that we are seeing among young people – they are really open to faith,” he said.
The study suggests that new methods invested in by the Church, such as youth groups and courses such as Youth Alpha, are less effective than prayer or visiting a church building in attracting children to the church.
One in five said reading the Bible had been important, 17 per cent said going to a religious school had had an impact and 14 per cent said a spiritual experience was behind their Christianity.
“Things which we would class as old hat methods are some of the more effective ways.
“It’s a real wake-up call for the church – we’ve got lots of young people who are coming into churches with school groups and that’s a really integral part of them becoming a Christian,” Mr Dale added.
Senior Church of England figures said the findings showed the importance of keeping churches and cathedrals accessible.
Only nine of Britain’s 42 cathedrals currently charge for entry, but there are concerns that more could be forced to do so because of financial pressures.
The impact of the heightened terror threat is also a concern for open churches. Last month Birmingham Cathedral closed temporarily following the bombing in Manchester in order to put in place increased security arrangements.
The Bishop of Worcester, John Inge, who is the lead bishop for churches and church buildings, said: “This shows the power of church buildings – they are powerful for all sorts of reasons.
“They give a sense of stability, and also the sense that the Christian faith has inspired people to build these extraordinary buildings,” he said.
He is leading a campaign to persuade parishes to keep churches open, instead of locking their doors.
There are around 16,000 Churches of England buildings which are still operational.
Evidence suggests that damage is more likely to come to churches which are locked as intruders feel they are less likely to be disturbed.
“I’m passionate about church buildings staying open. The cathedrals are the jewel in the crown but when thinking about all those young people, it’s just as likely to be one of the parish churches which they have been inspired by,” added Mr Inge.