Humanists UK are launching their every decade campaign for people to tick on the Census that they are not religious. The argument is that people tick to say they are Christian or whatever because they associate it with a cultural identity or their parents.
The recognition that one is not born a Christian and cannot claim salvation on the basis of a national identity is music to this evangelical non-conformist’s ear. I’m happy to endorse such a campaign if it leads to greater transparency. It helps for honesty in conversation and it helps churches to plan and prepare for outreach if the data is more accurate. Mind you, I believe that in many communities the census data is out of date even by the time it is publicly available. If you want to get to know a neighbourhood, you can’t beat the “boots on the ground” approach of knocking doors!
However, there is one risk with the assumptions behind the humanists campaign. It is something that both secular atheists and ardent evangelicals can miss. We might not prefer it to be so, but it remains the case that there are a lot of people who are not church goers, whose belief in God is similar to how David Cameron once described his faith(“like Magic FM in the Chilterns , it comes and goes”) and so are therefore not humanists or atheists. The fact that their grandparents prayed and went to church has affected them some way. They do find comfort in the fact that the Queen talks about God on particular occasions, they are likely to use a #prayfor … hashtag and welcome the fact that others are praying for them. They don’t go to church but still want the church to be there. They don’t have much to do with God but still have a sense that he might be there. They may have a little bit of faith but it is faint and it’s messy faith.
As a pastor who got out and about in our neighbourhood, I’ve met lots of people who fall into such a category and indeed I suspect that a lot of people fell into tht category who dound it helpful to dip into online church provision just as their parents and grandparents listened to Thought For the Day or watched Songs of Praise.
Humanists should not be too presumptuous that because those people are not claimable by the Church of England that it’s in the bag for secular atheism. But also we as Christians need to be paying attention to such people in our evangelism and church planting strategies.