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Tonight: Is Britain Christian?

David Cameron believes Britain is a Christian country, but these days less than half of us describe ourselves as Christian, and only 5% of us go to church on a weekly basis.

In ‘Is Britain Christian?’ Tonight asks if the Prime Minister is right, and if it matters if he’s not? Should we accept that Christianity needs to take a back seat in a modern secular society, or will some communities lose more than bricks and mortar?

Britain’s history, laws and traditions are rooted in Christianity. The Queen is head of the Church of England - a tradition that dates back to the Tudors. Some of our greatest art, literature and music is inspired by Christianity. But these days, less than half of us describe ourselves as Christian.

This has left some of those who continue to hold very strong beliefs feeling marginalised. British Airways employee Nadia Eweida and nurse Shirley Chaplin have both fought in the European Courts for the right to display crucifix necklaces as part of their uniform.

Nadia Eweida Credit: ITV / Tonight

But devout Christians are now very much in the minority. Professor Linda Woodhead, a sociologist at Lancaster University and expert in religion says,

"We’re transitioning from being a Christian country, to being one where the majority identity is not a Christian one.”

– Professor Linda Woodhead - Sociologist at Lancaster University

However, there is one area of society which retains a strong Christian identity: a third of schools in Britain are faith-based, and for the vast majority of those, the faith in question is Christianity.

Tonight has visited St Oswald’s Primary School in Bradford, where the majority of pupils are Muslim. The school has a Christian ethos, but teaches pupils about different religions as part of its Religious Education programme. Several of the Muslim parents at St Oswald’s have told Tonight they appreciate the strong values of the school, and feel it is important for their children to learn about different cultures.

Children at St Oswald’s Primary School in Bradford Credit: ITV / Tonight

Many who've moved away from the church still seem very attached to some of its values. Comedian Sanderson Jones co-founded Sunday Assembly: a regular congregational event which aims to mirror the community spirit and support found in traditional churches – but minus the 'God' bit. There are now 26 of these groups in 3 countries.

“There’s 1.1 billion people out there who aren’t religious and none of them have got congregational communities to go to, so we want to give them an option that they can get together.”

– Sanderson Jones - co-founded Sunday Assembly

But it’s not all bad news for the church: in the UK, membership of Pentecostal churches has risen by around 20% over the past five years, often boosted by immigrant communities.

One of the fastest-growing churches in London is Jesus House, which has its roots in Nigeria, and welcomes around three thousand worshippers every Sunday. Senior Pastor Agu Irukwu told Tonight,

“There are churches that are growing up and down the land. And I think what you will find with churches that are growing is that those churches are relevant. It’s not just a service; it’s what you have in addition to the service, so people come here for fellowship, people come here for community.”

– Agu Irukwu - Senior Pastor Jesus House
Jesus House Pentecostal church Credit: ITV / Tonight

St Thomas’ in Warrington, an Anglican church, is also trying to open itself to the local community. As well as traditional services, hey have a mother and toddler group, a credit union and a food bank. According to Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, this approach is crucial for the future.

“It’s not primarily about getting people into church. It’s great when that happens, but there is a lot that we do that isn’t set out with that as the aim. We are there to give our lives to the sake of the communities we are in."

– Nick Baines - Bishop of Leeds