According to a new study, British teenagers are coming to Christ in droves, and many are inspired by the majesty of church buildings like historic cathedrals. Indeed, the numbers of teenagers identifying themselves as practicing Christians was so large that the study was not released until six months later, to confirm the numbers were accurate.
“There was disbelief among the team because it was so high,” Jimmy Dale, the Church of England’s national youth evangelism officer, told Britain’s The Telegraph. “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.”
The study, commissioned by Hope Revolution Partnership and carried out by ComRes, found that a surprisingly high number of Britons between 11 and 18 years old are Christians. One in five (21 percent) between the ages of 11 and 18 describe themselves as active followers of Jesus, and one in six (13 percent) said they were practicing Christians who attend church.
These numbers would be depressing in the United States, but they represent a huge upswing from a decade ago. In 2006, church statistician Dr. Peter Brierley reported that church attendance among teens was half the current figure, with only 6 percent of 11-14-year-olds attending church, and a mere 5 percent of those 15-18 also worshiping regularly.
Indeed, according to The Telegraph, the research was carried out in December but it was not released until June because analysts considered such a high figure literally unbelievable. Another study recently released by Youth for Christ showed similar results, so researchers finally accepted the good news.
Perhaps even more fascinating than the surge in teens coming to Christ was the reasons they gave for this decision. In the survey, 20 percent said reading the Bible had been important, 17 percent described a religious school as pivotal to their faith, 14 percent pointed to a spiritual experience, and 13 percent said they decided to believe in Jesus after visiting a church or a cathedral.
The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to Christians about their faith, according to the study.
“Things which we would class as old hat methods are some of the more effective ways,” Dale explained. “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.”
The great cathedrals have long been called “sermons in stone,” and they were built to convey the grandeur of God. As Boston College professor Peter Kreeft wrote, “the cathedrals, miraculous ‘sermons in stone’ … made rock and glass seem to take wing and fly like angels.”
Kreeft noted that some of the world’s greatest paintings and statues were made for churches, and some of its finest music composed for Masses. “For what happens within that sacred time and place is the most beautiful work of art ever conceived: God’s work of redeeming man from eternal darkness into heavenly light by enduring that hellish darkness in mans place on the Cross,” the Catholic professor argued.
Cathedrals built around the story of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection were intended to preach the gospel in their very architecture. It seems in Britain, at least a few of them have achieved that glorious purpose.
Officials in the Church of England emphasized that these findings showcased the importance of keeping churches and cathedrals accessible to the public.
“This shows the power of church buildings — they are powerful for all sorts of reasons,” John Inge, bishop of Worcester, told The Telegraph. “They give a sense of stability, and also the sense that the Christian faith has inspired people to build these extraordinary buildings.”
Nine of Britain’s 42 cathedrals charge for entry, but some financial pressures might change that. During the Manchester bombing last month, Birmingham Cathedral temporarily closed, as it put in place increased security measures. Inge is leading a campaign to persuade parishes to keep churches open.
Interestingly, evidence suggests churches that lock their doors might be more likely to be vandalized, since intruders sense they are less likely to be disturbed.
“I’m passionate about church buildings staying open,” Inge declared. “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.”
The Church of England has received a small resurgence in recent years, as the number of worshipers rose from a low of 16.3 percent in 2009 to 17.1 percent in 2015, The Telegraph reported in May. This might be connected to a rise in nationalism which preceded the Brexit vote last year.
“People see Christianity as an expression of Englishness. There has been more rhetoric around Britain being a Christian nation,” Stephen Bullivant, professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, told The Telegraph. “I suspect a larger proportion of people who say they are Anglican tend to be patriotic.”
Since 1983, self-described Anglicans have dropped from 40 percent of the population to 17 percent in 2015. The number of nonreligious people reached a peak of 50.6 percent in 2009, and fell to 48.6 percent in 2015.
Interestingly, a ComRes survey in December found that only 54 percent of Britons 11-18 describe Jesus as a “real person who actually lived,” with 27 percent calling Him a “mythical or fictional character” and 19 percent saying they don’t know. Only 37 percent said they believed Jesus rose from the dead, while 40 percent said they did not believe it happened, and 23 percent said they did not know.
Despite the overall trend against religion in Britain for the past thirty years, the uptick in teenage practicing Christians is good news, and believers should take notice that church buildings do serve an important part in proclaiming the gospel. While Christians need to be careful not to worship art and creation more than the Creator, there is a place for soaring architecture in the ministry of the gospel.