I recently joined thousands of fans for the London leg of Beyoncé’s Renaissance world tour. I’ve written in these pages before about my love for the Queen Bee, and how I believe much of her artistry over the past few years has pointed her fans towards God.
As I looked around the 60,000-seater stadium and watched the mostly millennial and Gen Z audience with arms outstretched, their bodies moving in time to the all-consuming bass, I could feel a palpable sense of people experiencing something spiritual. And I realised that, for many of this generation – people my age and younger – the spiritual experiences that so many seek are not something they associate with God, let alone Christianity.
New research shows people in the UK are less likely to believe in God than those from pretty much anywhere else in the world. Belief has significantly declined over the past 40 years – the period in which most of those at Beyoncé’s concert were born. In 1981, three-quarters of Brits surveyed said they believed in God, compared to just 49 per cent in 2022. According to the recent study by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, only China, Sweden, Japan, South Korea and Norway have a lower percentage of believers than the UK. The study adds to the 2021 Census picture of a less religious population.
But there’s something interesting going on beneath the surface. People still sense there might be something more to life; that perhaps we are more than solely material beings. Belief in life after death in the UK is more prevalent than in most other European countries. And according to the Policy Institute study, younger people are even more inclined to believe in some sort of afterlife than older people.
In our own analysis, Theos found that of those who selected the ‘non-religious’ category in the Census, a significant percentage believe in the supernatural. Within what we have dubbed the ‘Spiritual Nones’ category, a third believe in a higher power and 61 per cent believe that humans are, at heart, spiritual beings.
I would imagine a good proportion of those who attended Beyoncé’s concert define themselves as spiritual. They might use crystals, consult psychics or wave burnt sage around their homes to get rid of bad juju. They may even pray to Jesus, because Jesus sounds like a person it might be good to pray to.
For some reason – perhaps negative perceptions of Christianity in the media that highlight bigotry, prejudice and moral failures in the Church – these young people do not connect Christianity with the ‘something more’ they are longing for. Perhaps, to them, the Church is more about barriers or walls; enclosed spaces that keep the unrighteous out.
But there is hope. The Policy Institute study also suggests that, after having declined for the past 40 years, confidence in religious institutions is rebounding. Similarly, the data shows an uptick in belief since the Covid-19 pandemic.
It feels like there might be something in the air. There are whispers of God in music, art and even the media. There’s an openness to hearing about Christianity. Perhaps – when it comes to interest in Christian spirituality – we might be experiencing, in the words of Beyoncé, a renaissance.