According to TEAR Fund, who seem to be doing some interesting bits of research of late, 1 in 4 of UK residents pray at least once a week, and the majority identify some benefit that comes from praying. According to the research (and note, these are projections from a sample of 2,000), 9 million of us pray every day, and London is the 'prayer capital' with nearly 3/4 of its residents praying regularly. Twice as many people pray regularly as come to church, though I guess some of these are people of other faiths. Even 12% of atheists pray, which must be an interesting experience for them.
A few others details: women are more likely to pray than men, only 1 in 4 of people in their 20's pray, compared to 61% of over-75s. Around half of Anglicans pray daily, among people in new churches or Pentecosal churches, it's over 80%. The most common benefit ascribed to prayer was a sense of peace, which the research contrasts with the busyness of modern living and suggests that the quest for peace is part of what nudges people to pray.
The full research is worth reading - it's clearly and simply presented, and gives lots of food for thought. The TEAR Fund angle is to encourage people to pray for the developing world, which comes 5th on the list of top prayer topics behind family and friends (clear winner), thanking God, healing and guidance.
The report confirms the work of the 'Church in a Spiritual Age' project, which found plenty of evidnece of spiritual seekers and practices outside the church, and challenges Christians to find a language and a practice of discipleship which makes sense to modern day seekers. It raises for me some big questions:
- How can we as Christians rediscover the work of spiritual direction - helping people to pray - and liberate it from the need to be part of the church structures. If 2 in 5 people are praying, there is massive potential for encouraging and equipping these people to pray more, with more confidence, and a better idea of the God they are praying to.
- Are we seeing straws in the wind? at baptism preparation I give people a leaflet of Graces - mealtime prayers - suitable for all the family. It's something we developed at my old church in Darlington, and it seems to be well recieved, and it gets used. The other is our new 'Start the Week' prayer time at the local primary school - several families and members of the school community have been along, some who aren't regular churchgoers, to this 10 minute, all-age, interactive prayer time. Does being bite-sized make it easier to digest?
- How do we as a church resource ordinary Christians in prayer. I'm always on the lookout for Advent and Lent resources that people can use in their own prayer times, or as a family, during the special seasons of the church. We don't want to be spoon-feeding people, but at the same time the seasons of 4 weeks/40 days are great times to introduce people to new spiritual disciplines or new ways of praying.
Finally, the story is reported here by the BBC, with the obligatory comback from the joyless National Secular Society, who must be quite worried that 1 in 8 of their people are praying on the quiet. Given that they have only 7,000 members, (though the NSS are notoriously reluctant to publish membership figures) I'd be worried too.