In what was to be his final Christmas address, our then-Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain is "a Christian country."
He continued, "It is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been such a successful home to people of all faiths and none."
This controversial statement paved the way for a heated debate in the media and among the general public over what it really means to be a Christian country. With the most recent census revealing that the percentage of people identifying as 'Christian' is on a downward trajectory and that nationwide church attendance is declining rapidly, the question asked by many is 'how can we still claim that the country as a whole is Christian'?
Recently, this conversation has been brought back into the light with the surprising findings of a study commissioned by youth organisation Hope Revolution Partnership, which found that 21% of people between the age of 11 and 18 describe themselves as active followers of Jesus.
These findings are particularly striking given that the percentage is over three times as much as that found in a 2006 study by church statistician Dr Peter Brierley. Naturally, these seemingly-positive findings have been welcomed by the church as a whole, partially because they seem to provide a contrast to the negative statistics that came out of the 2011 census.
Yet, as a youth pastor, I find the celebratory and upbeat reaction to these findings quite disconcerting.
When I read the statistic that 21% of young people identify as followers of Jesus, it broke my heart. Regardless of its veracity or the upward trend we’re seeing in young people coming to Jesus, the fact remains that the vast majority of young people in this country still don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
Although the statistics are encouraging, and do show that young people are engaging more with churches and the Christian message, we are nonetheless living at a time when at least 79% of the young people in the UK are still living out of relationship with God.
Within our own youth ministry at Hillsong UK, we have seen growth in young people connected in to mid-week discipleship groups, growth in young people evangelising and inviting their friends to church and the most exciting growth of all is that we are seeing teenagers make the decisions to follow Jesus every week.
But the reality is that there are millions of young people in London still to reach, so there is still an immense amount of work to do, and this is no time to pat ourselves on the back for doing a good job.
If we are to see this nation won for Christ, we need to have both a theology of church growth and a vision for the country that matches God’s.
If God has given us the task of reaching the whole world with the gospel, why would we as Hillsong UK be content with just reaching a few thousand young people? Why would we as the Church in the UK be content with only 21% of young people walking in relationship with Jesus? I believe the time has come for us to commit to reaching these young people, by innovating the method by which we minister to the emerging generation, while keeping the message the same; that Jesus is alive, he is love, and he desires to be in relationship with every single young person in this country.
So, is the UK a Christian country? I wonder if answering in the affirmative can be a crutch that provides a false sense of security. My conviction is that the answer to that question doesn’t really matter. We as Christians should rather understand that, as it says in Hebrews 11:16, we are citizens of a "better country, that is, a heavenly one." Our true home is in heaven, and until we arrive our job is to reach the ends of the earth with the message of Jesus.
Dan Blythe and Tim James are youth pastors at Hillsong UK