Religious affilliation and spirituality

Religious practice in Britain is changing. While 82% of people in Britain report having a religion, only 6.3% of the population are regular churchgoers compared with 7.5% in 1998 [1]. This is particularly evident in Christian churches but religious belief among other religions still remains relatively high. Driven by individualism and a decline in deference, new forms of personalised spirituality have also developed, whereby individuals select elements from a number of different faiths or spiritual practices that appeal to them and reflect their individual beliefs. While religious practice and belief in Britain appears to be falling, the number of faith groups in the UK VCS actually increased between 2006 and 2008 [2].

What are the implications?

  • Religious organisations provide a source of support for their members, a decline in religious membership may mean that other sources of support are needed.
  • Religion is sometimes seen as an antidote to a materialistic or consumer society (see personal debt and individualism).  The search for spirituality (though perhaps not religious membership) may increase in the future.
  • People are more likely to act collectively if they have something in common, with religious practice falling this could mean a fall in collective action.
  • People who are religious are more likely to volunteer, they are also more likely to volunteer long-term and be strongly engaged in the organisation they volunteer for. A decline in religious membership may reduce numbers of volunteers (see trends in volunteering) and levels of giving (see individual giving).
  • Religious groups can be particularly good at helping ‘hard to reach’ groups, a decline in religious support could lead to these people becoming increasingly marginalised.

Moving Forward

Although religious practice itself seems to be falling, the number of faith organisations in the sector is growing, could there be opportunities to work with these groups?

Faith groups may increasingly need to work with other secular civil society organisations in order to have legitimacy with non religious people.

  • Do you need to think about who you work in collaboration with?
  • How might you deal with the conflict in priorities or approaches which might occur when working with religious charities?
  • Can you benefit from the skills faith groups might have regarding recruiting and engaging volunteers?
  • Have you got education and training in place for staff to ensure there is no bias or prejudice towards those who work for the faith organisation or their clients.
  • Could you endanger funding from sources who might believe it will be used to promote religion?
  • Are you aware of the distinctive identities of different faith groups?

As people increasingly search for some form of value in their lives, they may look to VCOs to provide this to them. This could vary from religious or spiritual values to campaigning on behalf of social justice or environmental issues

  • Can your organisation show it is driven by its values?
  • Religious organisations often have embedded identities within communities, how can you try to ensure you organisation can fill the gaps which religion might leave in this community?

Compared to other VCOs, faith groups get a relatively small proportion of their income from statutory sources

  • Can you learn from religious groups regarding fundraising and membership in order to make you less reliant on statutory funding?

As religious membership falls, have you got procedures in place to help those who traditionally relied on the support of religious organisations?

Want to know more?

Faith and Voluntary Action: an overview of current evidence and debates

Published by: NCVO

Date: 2007

Format: PDF (1.2MB)

What is it? A report exploring the faith sector as part of the wider voluntary and community sector including a set of essays by external contributors.

How useful is this? This report gives an overview of the faith sector and provides a review of existing evidence about faith-based giving and voluntary action.  It aims to clarify the debate around faith and faith-based organisations in the context of current policy agendas and highlights the implications for both secular and faith-based organisations.  Topics covered in the essays from external authors include: the place of faith-based organisations in civil society: faith as a motivation of voluntary action; the relationship between faith and social capital; and the role of faith-based organisations in governance and service delivery.

Communities and Local Government 2008-09 Citizenship Survey: Race, Religion and Equalities Topic Report

Published by: Communities and Local Government – A Government Department.

Date: September 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? An easy to read statistical analysis of religion in the England and Wales, it looks in particular at views towards violence due to religion and the influence people feel religion plays on their life.

How useful is this? This report gives a good background on the issues which arise due to the huge diversity of religious practice in England and Wales.

Faith as social capital: Connecting or dividing?

Published by: The Joseph Rowntree Foundation – a research and development charity which commissions social research.

Date: 2006

Format: Web (findings, full report available to download as PDF)

What is it? This report examines the links and bridges faith communities make in society and the obstacles they face in further development.

How useful is this? An in-depth report which seeks to explore the contribution of faith communities to social capital looking at issues such as internal and external obstacles for developing social capital and the possible negative affects of compliance with government agendas.  It explores areas such as: the faith frameworks connecting faiths and secular organisations; use of faith buildings; and participation in formal governance.  Chapter 7 includes information on community organisation and citizen development.


  1. 'Minorities prop up church going' BBC News article 2006 [back]
  2. What is Civil Society? - NCVO Civil Society Almanac pdf 2010 [back]
Last updated at 11:34 Mon 07/Feb/11.

Recent comments

Anne's picture


NCVO Research Team

I’m curious as to how organisations who are faith-based, particularly individual faith groups such as churches, will deal with demonstrating public benefit beyond their congregation to the Charity Commission given the new Charities Act 2006.

Has anyone given any thought to how this might practically be done?

Join the discussion!

How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

Log in or join for free to comment.