Northern Ireland today is much like other parts of the United Kingdom or Ireland, in some respects at least. But in other ways, especially when it comes to religious identification and practice, we are very different.

The 2021 census data for England and Wales shows that 46% of the population identify as Christian, significantly less that the 59% reported just ten years previously. The results for Northern Ireland are, however, very different, with 80% of people here still identifying as Christian.

Global markets, the internet and emerging social trends mean that even in North Antrim or South Armagh we can easily connect across cultures with friends or colleagues in New York or Melbourne. And yet, we are something of a place apart. Religion has shaped our past, for better and for worse, and remains an integral part of the social, political and cultural fabric of life here.

Results from the census sparked our curiosity and prompted us to do some further research ourselves, which resulted in the Good News People resource, a report on Northern Ireland and the evangelicals that live here. 


The research combines data from two sources; a weighted poll of the general population (conducted by a professional polling company) and a survey of over 2,000 practising Christians.

Highlights from our public polling

  • One in every two people in Northern Ireland describe themselves as a practising Christian. Catholics were more likely to describe themselves this way (62%) than Protestants (46%).
  • 40% of practising Christians, that is one in five people in Northern Ireland, consider themselves to be an evangelical’ Christian. This includes 38% of practising Catholic Christians, which surprised us, in a good way!
  • Each week in Northern Ireland; 35% of people pray, 23% of people go to church and 13% of people read the Bible. This week more people will go to church than will attend an Irish League football match all season.
  • Around 57% of people don’t go to church. Half of this group have no intentions of going, but a third would be open to coming along to a church service.

Key findings from our survey

In our survey, around 83% of responses came from a group who could be described as classic’ or committed evangelicals. The results from this group provided a really clear and consistent picture. For instance; over 90% of them go to church, pray and read the Bible every week. About 55% volunteer each week at church and their churches are involved in providing pastoral, practical and spiritual support in the community. When it comes to classic evangelicals and socio-political issues:

  • 92% disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that abortion should be available for any reason’. In contrast 34% of the general population disagree or strongly disagree.
  • 81% agree or strongly agree that asylum seekers, refugees and other newcomers should be supported in practical ways to feel welcome in our communities, compared to 56% of the general population who agree or strongly agree.
  • 89% agree that people should be free to express their beliefs in the workplace. This compares to 54% of the general population who agree or strongly agree.
  • 96% disagree or strongly disagree that churches should be compelled by the government to perform same-sex marriages. In contrast 40% of the general population disagree or strongly disagree.
Stairway to Heaven NI

Some analysis

It’s clear that classic evangelicals are a highly committed minority of people who differ from the general population on some contentious cultural issues. However, 65% of the population agree or strongly agree that there is a role for faith in society. Another clear point of agreement is that over 80% of both the general population and evangelicals agree that more effort is needed to encourage peace and reconciliation in NI society and that now is the time to reform the Northern Ireland Assembly to bring about more accountability and stability (May 2023).

Our research found that lots of people from across the breadth of the church identify as evangelical’. Unsurprisingly, we are not universally received with open arms. Some people associate us with American right-wing supporters of Donald Trump or more locally, a kind of fundamentalist Christianity wedded with British loyalism. Many evangelicals, profoundly aware of this political conflation are at pains to define themselves in terms of their relationship to God, rather than the state. We did find however, that people think differently about the evangelicals they encounter in the media and those that they know personally. The most common words people used to describe evangelicals in the media were religious, extreme and loud’. For those evangelicals that they knew personally the words were friendly, honest and kind.’ While it’s clear that we have work to do when it comes to our discipleship, witness and basic communication, in many cases personal relationships can override public perceptions.

So Northern Ireland remains a deeply religious place where one in two people profess to be practising Christians and one in five consider themselves to be evangelical. In a small place, this provides amazing opportunities to speak into society and public life. However, it also creates particular challenges around how we are perceived, and how people respond to our distinctive beliefs on some contentious issues.

"It’s clear that classic evangelicals are a highly committed minority of people who differ from the general population on some contentious cultural issues."

The word evangelical’ comes from the Greek for Good News’. We believe that evangelicals are good news people, a sizeable minority who are committed to their local churches, communities and wider society. We care about poverty, the protection of human life, marriage, refugees and reconciliation. We are similar to our neighbours yet distinctive in more than a few ways too. This research was not driven by the pursuit of power or politics, or in an attempt to impose our beliefs on everyone. Commenting on the report, Gladys Ganiel, Professor in the sociology of religion at Queens’ University, said; These surveys remind us that those seeking to understand Northern Ireland must not neglect the role of religion – either in politics or in everyday life.”

This is our hope too, along with the prayer that some might even be curious to find out more about this good news God for themselves.