At the end of 2022, the latest census results came out showing for the first time that under half of people in Wales identified as Christian – at 43.6% lower than any other part of the UK. Some of the most non-religious areas anywhere in the British Isles are now to be found in the South Wales valleys, with areas like Caerphilly and Blaenau Gwent the least religious places of all in either Wales or England.
We all know that the percentage of practising Christians has been substantially lower than this for many decades, but even so there is a sea change here within our culture and context that we need to recognise. No longer is it the case that most people know what chapel they belong to but simply don’t attend; for most people in Wales it is nearer the mark to say that have very little idea why the chapels even exist, and even less concept of what it would mean to follow Jesus Christ.
There has been healthy, if vigorous debate among Christians as to whether this change should be embraced as a good thing for the church or whether it is a loss to be lamented. There is surely a lot of wisdom in both perspectives. The one thing that will not, however, happen is a return to the old days. God is now clearly calling us as churches to follow him and to witness to him in a different landscape to the one most of us grew up in.
A major part of this recognition – and our challenge as churches – is how we disciple and form the younger generations to follow Jesus in a post-Christian society. We know that fewer and fewer children and young people in Wales have any connection with church or Jesus as they grow up, with Scripture Union putting the proportion with no connection at 95%.
There is also a widespread recognition that the difficulties in running Sunday schools and kids’ clubs have only increased over the past few years, not least since the pandemic, and that many churches find it difficult to maintain what they were used to doing. At the same time, the Baptist Union of Wales has invested in new programmes for young people over recent years in the form of Action Teams and internships – and like churches advertising for ministers and youth/children’s workers, we have found that the pool of potential candidates seems to be getting smaller.
In light of this and for the sake both of Christian witness and ministry in our country in the coming decade, it seems that investing to support our churches in children and youth work is now a key strategic move for BUW. For us to see a new generation of Christian leaders in Wales we need to start further back. If our churches are to see these new leaders emerging we need to look carefully at how we can support churches in their outreach and work with children and young people – which is our intention over coming months. We know this work isn’t easy, so please pray for us and do remember to pray for those children and young people who are in our churches as well as the great many who are not. The future may well be post-Christian; but that doesn’t mean it can’t contain a vibrant Christian witness to all generations!