Britain needs to discover a sense of purpose and direction for the 21st century - especially in the aftermath of the Brexit decision to leave the EU. The sense of nationhood and core identity diminished after the British Empire ended. The Christian tradition once formed the foundation of society, but today minority religions, especially Islam, also receive significant attention and government support. Astrology, New Age, the occult, and old-world paganism (Druid/Wicca) are all slowly becoming more popular, but none as fast as spirituality and religion are declining.The “freedoms” of the 1960s had disastrous social consequences, and Britain has alarming levels of alcohol and drug abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, prostitution, gambling addiction, and personal debt. In almost every century of the last 800 years, revival came to Britain at least once. The last was in 1859-1869. Many Christians pray for another great spiritual awakening.
A national awakening is needed. There has been one in virtually every century of the last 800 years - the last was in 1859-69. The steep decline of organized Christianity in the UK is almost unparalleled in Europe - especially among Methodists, Anglicans, United Reformed, Brethren and other Protestant denominations. Pray that Christians might grow passionate for God's honour, burdened to pray for revival and free from deadening negativism and materialism that pervade the churches.
Christianity is increasingly marginalized by a hostile media and public mood. Christian morality and belief in the uniqueness of Jesus are labelled "intolerant". Government regulations make it increasingly difficult to minister in the public arena. Many believe serious persecution is not far off. Pray that believers may recognize and address the decline of Christianity in the public sphere. Pray that they may recover confidence in the gospel and boldness and passion to share it - lovingly and unapologetically - with the majority who have little concept of its content.
The Church of England is deeply mired in crisis. It is the "mother" Church for the world's 81.6 million Anglicans. Anglicanism, the umbrella under which Anglo-Catholics, liberals and evangelicals uncomfortably co-exist, lacks unity and even basic fellowship over some fundamental theological issues. Fragmentation is evident over issues such as ordination of women and homosexuals, endorsement of same-sex unions, ecumenism and disestablishment. Globally, the rapid growth of non-Western evangelicals within the Church of England (particularly in the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans) and the continued decline of the predominantly Western liberal wing further set these two ends of the Anglican spectrum resolutely against each other. Nationally, the Church lies trapped between being socially marginalized and being resented for its position of privilege as the state religion. Evangelicalism is a growing force and gaining centre stage in the Church of England. It accounts for 34% of UK's Anglicans and 50% of the UK's evangelicals, but less than 10% of all Anglicans regularly attend services. The charismatic movement also contributes to extensive renewal within the Church. Pray that Church leadership might regain a prophetic role and speak, in unity and with clear biblical authority, to a nation that is morally and spiritually adrift.
There are signs of hope - water these tender plants with prayer:
- Traumatic social change and the devastating consequences of family breakdown, drifting identity, violence and fear for the future bring a new openness to consider spiritual solutions.
- Renewal movements. Many pastors and congregations experienced charismatic renewal between the 1960s and 1990s, giving rise to a new family of churches. The New Churches grew fast and became significant spiritual forces in the nation and enlivened worship across the denominational spectrum. Their growth has since slowed. Nationwide, these changes have been stimulated by major transdenominational gatherings such as Spring Harvest, Soul Survivor, Greenbelt, New Wine and New Word Alive. But even these events are increasingly compartmentalized by sub-culture and theological persuasion.
- New younger-generation movements are emerging with new approaches - culturally appropriate worship styles, prayer movements and outreach efforts. Notable groups - including 24-7Prayer, The Message Trust, Soul Survivor, Tribal Generation, NGM and many others - are springing up in different parts of the country.
- The Alpha Course and Christianity Explored have spread across the country to nearly every denomination and around the world as hugely effective outreach programmes. These user-friendly introductory courses explain Christianity in a relaxed and informal environment. About 8,450 congregations used the Alpha Courses in 2008, with over 2.5 million individuals having completed one in the UK alone.
- Evangelical generosity. Studies have shown that evangelical churchgoers give nine times as much to charity as do average Britons, even in the midst of the financial crisis.
Effective discipling of young people. Sunday school is a fading institution, and viable alternative models are lacking, even as "Millennials" demonstrate low commitment levels as a generational trait. Meanwhile, millions of children and youth are virtually untouched by the gospel; because of Christians' failure to adequately reach out and minister to young people, much of an entire generation is lost to the Church. Half of evangelical congregations have no specific children's ministry; the rate is probably even less for non-evangelical churches. Unsurprisingly, churches with vibrant youth/children's programmes tend to be growing churches.
Students in higher education are exposed to great pressures. A largely godless, consumeristic and hedonistic younger generation is being formed by the secular system. Less than 2% of students are actively involved in church. Pray especially for a life of consistent and loving witness by Christian students; they are the ones best equipped to reach their own peers. Pray for:
- The Christian Union groups among students, especially the more than two million in colleges and universities. Their growth and diversity are encouraging, the main ones being Agapé (Cru), Navigators, Fusion and UCCF(IFES). The oldest and most widespread is the work of UCCF, with over 10,000 students involved in Christian Unions. Pray for mature, stable leadership and for effective support and advice from the 70 full-time workers and more than 60 volunteers. Pray also for solutions to the increasing challenge of maintaining a witness on campuses, which are ever more biased against Christianity.
- Overseas students. There are about 400,000 international students in the UK - 80,000 from China alone - plus many thousands in English-language schools. Outreach to them is varied but too limited, and many return home without hearing the gospel. Friends International, UCCF(IFES), Navigators, COCM and others have ministry to them.
Britain's contribution to world evangelization and the Protestant missions movement in the last 220 years is unique, but interest is waning as the Church weakens. Fewer than one in six Protestant churches has missionaries serving on the field. Widespread misconceptions are that the job is largely completed or that efforts should be concentrated on Britain's needs.
Specific ethnic minority groups that need intercession:
- South Asians, the largest minority grouping, number over three million. They are too commonly ghettoized into ethnic enclaves. Growing numbers are coming to Christ from the Hindu and Sikh communities, but few from among Muslims; about 4% of all South Asians are Christian. The greatest needs are among the Kashmiri/Mirpuri Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Punjabi, Gujarati and Pathan communities.
- Caribbean and African peoples - 17% of the population are church-going, a rate triple the national average. There are over 200 denominations; these churches were previously somewhat isolated from the evangelical mainstream, but multi-cultural churches are increasing. Competition for worshippers, however, can be an unhealthy factor in the way some of these churches relate. The needs for prayer are significant; poverty and undereducation are far higher for these peoples than for the general population. Half the families from a black or mixed background are single-parent families. The 100,000 Somalis are one of the UK's (and the world's) least-evangelized groups; thus far, little is being done to reach them.
- Middle Eastern and North African peoples. Outreach is largely localized and sporadic. Many wealthy Arabs come to the UK as tourists, businessmen or students; some have come to faith. There are several Christian fellowships for Arabs and a few for Turks, Kurds and Iranians. The latter are quite responsive to the gospel (Elam Ministries, Interserve). Yemenis, Moroccans and Algerians are more recent arrivals and are largely unreached.
- The Chinese, approaching 500,000 in number, came from Hong Kong and Vietnam in the past, but today most come from Mainland China as students and for business. Many thousands are trafficked or enter illegally into the country; most of these are subject to cruel working conditions. Chinese Overseas Christian Mission (COCM) has successful church planting and student ministries, as do OMF and OM. There are over 100 Chinese churches, and about 5% of Chinese are Christian.
- The Jewish community is slowly eroding due to secularism (80% have no religious commitment to Judaism) and assimilation (through cultural and marital dilution). The proportion of strict Orthodox Jews is increasing due to higher birth rates. Many of the Jewish followers of Jesus, between 3,500 and 6,000, integrate into Gentile churches, though there are also possibly 20 fellowships of Messianic Jews. Pray for Church's Ministry Among Jewish People, Messianic Testimony, Christian Witness to Israel and the newer ministries, Jews for Jesus and Chosen People Ministries. Such ministries face opposition from the increasingly influential and strict Orthodox Jews, from liberal Christians and from an anti-proselytizing society in general.
Muslims now number two million and possibly more, with a high growth rate due to immigration and births. Those of Pakistani origin are the largest group; Bangladesh, India, the Middle East, Somalia and North Africa also contribute large numbers. Large-scale illegal immigration, Islamic terrorism, little effort to assimilate into British society and rapidly growing influence of strident militant Islam all create a wary and even fearful majority. These, coupled with harsh anti-terrorism measures, drive alienated Muslims into more radical forms of Islam, creating a vicious circle. The number of mosques has increased nearly five-fold in 20 years; hard-line Islamic sects control half of these. Muslims see the conversion of England to Islam as a key strategy for winning the West. London is now a hub for Islam, especially for extremist organizations. Pray for the breakdown of cultural and social barriers on both sides and for opportunities to share the gospel.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.