Pope Benedict XVI endured protests and warned of "aggressive secularism" on his September visit to the United Kingdom. But a survey released shortly before his arrival suggests Britain's long-term slide away from church has bottomed out.
The British number-crunching group Christian Research declared an end to a decades-old attendance decline in the Church of England and the Catholic Church, and a slight uptick among Baptists.
This was surprising news to those who figured Christianity was still dying in Britain, where only about 7 percent of people regularly attend worship, and where atheist groups bought billboards to tell the passing pope, "Two million Scots are good without God."
Christians cautiously welcomed the survey. "It's not a massive upswing by any means," said Michael Hudson of Christian Research. "But it did look as if the decline had come to an end."
The numbers showed Church of England attendance holding fairly steady since 2001 at just under 1.2 million. Catholic attendance leveled off in 2005 at a little more than 900,000, while Baptist Union attendance increased modestly since 2002 to nearly 154,000.
The findings contradicted recent forecasts. Retired Christian Research director Peter Brierley earlier this year projected further decline, including an alarming drop-off among young adults.
"He may well prove to be right, but in the short term there's a pickup we thought might encourage the churches," Hudson said.
It encouraged Dennis Pethers, a Baptist evangelist who has been trying to get Britons interested in Christ since 1993. Pethers, who heads Viz-A-Viz Ministries, said the numbers reflect churches getting more involved in people's lives, and people getting involved in nontraditional Christian venues such as ...