Christian affiliation in a surprisingly steep decline, Pew reports

From the Pew Research Center, based on a 2014 survey of more than 35,000 Americans:

“The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center.

Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.”

The numbers are pretty startling:

In the seven years since Pew last conducted such a poll, the percentage of Americans who described themselves as Christian dropped by almost eight percentage points, from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014.  It dropped in raw numbers as well, with 5 million fewer Americans identifying themselves as Christian even as the overall population increased.

And that decline was driven not by a major increase in non-Christian faiths such as Buddhism or Islam, but by a 6.7 percentage-point jump in the number of Americans who professed no religious affiliation at all.

The percentage of Americans who described themselves as Protestant dropped 4.8 points; the percentage who described themselves as Catholic dropped 3.1 points. The percentage of self-identified evangelical Christians was more stable, dropping by just 0.9 percent, but Pew reports that “the share of evangelical Protestants who identify with Baptist denominations has shrunk from 41 percent to 36 percent.”

And again, these changes have occurred over a seven-year period, a relative blink of an eye in the time frame in which such changes normally play out.

Meanwhile, the number of “religiously unaffiliated” jumped by 19.7 million.

Such changes are being driven primarily by young people of every ethnic and income group. As older, more religious Americans die, they are replaced by grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are less likely to share their faith. Or as Pew bluntly describes the process, “generational replacement.”

pewrel

Note the numbers in the two far-right columns: Barely half of millennials identify as Christian. Thirty-six percent are unaffiliated.

The news looks particularly dire for American Catholics:

“Nearly one-third of American adults (31.7%) say they were raised Catholic. Among that group, fully 41% no longer identify with Catholicism. This means that 12.9% of American adults are former Catholics, while just 2% of U.S. adults have converted to Catholicism from another religious tradition. No other religious group in the survey has such a lopsided ratio of losses to gains.”

Not surprisingly, the South boasts the lowest percentage of religiously unaffiliated of any region in the country, as well as the highest percentage of evangelicals. However, it is hardly immune to the overall trend. In 2014, 19 percent of Southerners said they had no religious affiliation, up from 13 percent just seven years earlier. At that rate, the religiously unaffiliated will become a majority here in the South in a little more than a generation.

Such data express in hard numbers what many religious leaders have witnessed from their pulpits each Sunday: a lot of empty pews and gray heads. It also helps to explain the growing sense among some Christian faiths that they are under attack by unseen forces. In a sense they’re right, but to the degree that they identify their enemy as governmental or political in nature, I suspect they badly misread the situation. The problem is much closer to home.

Mike Huckabee, for example, is trying to build his presidential campaign around the ludicrous idea that “we are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity.” Jeb Bush, in his commencement address at Liberty University last week, offered a slightly more nuanced version of that theme.

But as the Pew data document, the primary threat faced by religion in general and the Christian faith in particular does not come in the form of gay people who wish to marry and need a wedding cake, or of Obamacare contraceptive requirements. Nor can it be fixed with something as mundane as a “religious freedom amendment.” Those are, or ought to be, of microscopic importance given the scale of the shift now underway. They are simply means by which the blame can be projected onto secular forces and away from where it really lies.

The greatest threat to the continued and ultimately valuable role of faith in American life is that fewer and fewer Americans, particularly young Americans, are finding value and connection in places of worship. That’s what the numbers tell us, in plain and simple fashion, and that is a failing that only places of worship can address.

Reader Comments 0

580 comments
Cardinal Bevilacqua
Cardinal Bevilacqua

It's a fact that the Catholic church committed rampant, organized child rape, and in 100% of the cases, they hid the pedophiles and in 0% of cases, they went out to find and help the victims.

As if the entire Catholic corporate philosophy on the matter isn't enough to make any human puke, its also in BRUTAL defiance of Jesus in Matt 18:6-14.  No thinking person could believe that the Catholic church is "God's church".

Catholics are leaving, and their families aren't going back.  The Catholic population is aging out, and the young generation can read about the despicable practices that are church-wide practices.  Of course, Catholics also lie and distort the truth in any way they can, but the younger generation then reads the truth, and learns that the Catholic church isn't God's church.


JackClemens
JackClemens

My decision to be unaffiliated is based on a number of things. But central to them is that I cannot accept that a book written by men long after Christ died is the literal and inerrant word of god. And, there is no way Ghandi and other non-Christians who led selfless, moral lives are now in hell.

bu2
bu2

@JackClemens 

Jesus spoke in parables.  Many of us view the Bible as a series of parables.  It is the inspired inerrant truth of God even if words have been left out or mistranslated.  A story can retain its truth without being told exactly the same way every time.


As for Ghandi and others, that's beyond my pay grade.  I believe the only way to eternal life is Christ, but Paul's letter to the Romans does leaves a little wiggle room where it talks about the application of the law to those who don't know it.  And you don't have to believe in hell to be a Christian.  You can simply believe in eternal life or nothingness.

Lucifer12345
Lucifer12345

@bu2 @JackClemens Remember what it was like before you were born?  That's the same place you will return to after you're dead. Sorry, but "Nothingness" is what you are going to get.

TomMiddleton
TomMiddleton

Trying to teach the reality of an unseen limitless God is not the easiest thing to do, Jay, especially in a material (chemical) age. So it's not hard to understand why some would give up and turn away in favor of something a little more concrete.

And as for youth, who's ever heard of young people sewing their wild oats before they have to get serious and settle down? Just kidding, of course; every generation does this. God knows we Boomers surely did.

But like you said, it's the numbers now that are the most troubling; and to me, that means we religious aren't doing our job, not even close.

We can talk about how the Kingdom of God is within us, like Jesus said, and how our bodies are temples for housing that God, but unless we can understand that our souls are our awareness and our awareness fully developed is God, then nothing else Jesus taught can be relevant to who we are today or ever, for that matter.

And while we can talk about how to pursue a goal of no limits by seeking God first through a nothing-for-self approach, how do we explain that working for self is working for ego, and that ego is just another name for our limits – how we define ourselves?

So before we go beating ourselves up for needing a strong government to hold us all together at times, maybe we should ask our churches to figure out what Jesus was really talking about and teaching it, instead of more of what doesn't work.

And then maybe we can shrink our government by increasingly eliminating the need for quite so much of it, as more and more of us grow closer to God as the better-and-better, more conscious people Jesus taught us how to become.

And as we change ourselves this way and our country as well in the pursuit of our God first, maybe we can also change this world and take it to peace – the way God said we would do. Just saying...


Lucifer12345
Lucifer12345

@TomMiddleton Nice words Tom. Let's be clear: one does not have to be a follower of religion to live a moral life. And, I'm somewhat convinced that a man named Jesus once lived but I really question his miracle ways.  After all, the noted literary scholars of his period never mention this man "Jesus," who should have made headlines almost every day with all the miracles he performed. But the written records of the time fail to mention "Jesus." 

 I cannot take a 2,000 year old book at face value when there were teams of J,E,D and P writers over hundreds of years crafting the chapters to fit whatever agenda they felt necessary to fill at the time. Is the bible divinely inspired?  Of course not. Are there actual physical things such as a heaven, hell or souls? Of course not. We are all made from stardust in a 13.7 billion year Universe and when we die our organic matter will return to a scattered, molecular state of non-existence - devoid of human consciousness. If it gives you comfort and community attachment to belong to a club that believes in angles, Noah's ark, talking serpents and flying burning chariots in the sky, so be it. But remember that nonbelievers who prefer science over superstition have the right to judge your sanity.

TomMiddleton
TomMiddleton

@Lucifer12345 @TomMiddleton 

Every time you show up for a reply, you prove you did not (could not?) comprehend what you are responding to.

First of all, I was talking about awareness, not some something physical, and second, if you are not pointing your life to the totality of it all and living for it with everything you are, you are not being religious, not the kind I'm talking about, not the kind that really works.

In the future, please think before you reply, meaning go get a pizza or something or whatever it is you do, for to have to sit here and say it all again, over and over, just for your edification, probably means I'm saying things you don't want to hear and won't, no matter how I differently say them.

You simple-minded atheists really need to do better in your attacks, for this is getting old, Ok? PLEASE?

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

 Many of these churches within these denominations now perform homosexual marriages. They ordain gay pastors and ministers -- and in some cases, female and lesbian pastors and ministers. Which you might think would cause some people to leave those churches, if they disagreed with the decisions made.  Those denominations -- the Methodists, the Lutherans, the Presbyterians -- dropped a lot of members. - Rush Limbaugh


fact

Corey
Corey

Church = Wishful Thinking Club. And when wishes do not come true the cry for government intervention crows loud and long during GOP courting season (campaign season)  

Colwest
Colwest

the long slow death of ignorance marches on, sanity will prevail

JamVet
JamVet

It is ironic that those who feign to be the most pious are the very ones who give their faith such a horrid, often deserved, reputation.

Let me ask you this, which of these Christian individuals who blog here would you want to worship with?

Something alas, Mr. Bard of Avon, is rotten in Denmark...


RetiredParamedic
RetiredParamedic

The numbers reflect the hypocritical behavior of many (not all but many) members of 'Christian' churches. They advertise 'come as you are' but the reality is you better get it all together BEFORE you try to connect with their little fifedom or they will 'bless your heart' and send you packing. Even the 'cool' modern churches that cater to hipsters, have a pastor that wears skinny jeans to preach, and offers you a free Starbucks on the way in have their issues. They're mostly run by and attended by millennials and have no time nor patience for even younger baby boomers. If you're 50'ish or older better move on to the local mainline church, but don't bring any baggage with you.

Lucifer12345
Lucifer12345

@RetiredParamedic All Elmer Gantries. Charlatans. Snake oil salesmen. How bout all the Jim Bakkers, Jimmy Swaggards and Jesse Jacksons of the pulpit?  They all profess to be wholesome and god-fearing, but they are bogus fakes. Counterfeit prophets. Dime store knock offs. You best worship at home and save yourself the 10 percent.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

Lotsa testimonials goin' on here. 

"I was raised in the church, but....blah blah blah"

I was raised in the church too. When I reached the age where the message stood between me and what I'd rather be doing, I took a long hiatus only to return when I grew up. As it turned out, humans weren't ALL THAT He had hoped for. There had to be something more fulfilling than they, so I returned to the source from whence they came.

While perfection escapes me, the path is familiar and forgiving.

IReportYouWhine#1
IReportYouWhine#1

 I remember thinking when the GOP crawled into bed with the Evangelicals a few years ago that Christianity would be the worse for it. People don't want their governance and their religion served up on the same plate. Lots of folks walked away from the church and the GOP, one I know of for sure.


Didn't even try to find another one, did ya?

EliasDenny
EliasDenny

I'm a native Georgian and also a Christian and if church congregations don't add something to the community then there is no reason for them to exist.

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

I remember thinking when the GOP crawled into bed with the Evangelicals a few years ago that Christianity would be the worse for it. People don't want their governance and their religion served up on the same plate. Lots of folks walked away from the church and the GOP, one I know of for sure.

Filter
Filter

I was born in a Southern Baptist home and was raised on Sunday School, big church, choir practice, training union, Wednesday dinner and Youth Church. In my late teens I decided to go into youth work, got myself ordained and headed off the seminary after college. I loved my church, I loved my faith. Then sometime in the mid 80’s a cancer arose. My faith began to be coopted by those who wanted to use it to further their political aims. People I held in high esteem (James Dobson, who once wrote great books on parenting, is the first that pops to mind)  began to stray away from the tenets of faith I had been taught into discussions of policy and government. Slowly these discussions somehow morphed into a litmus test and any disagreement led to questions about the strength of your faith overall.

Problem was my faith was strong and deep, but I had very little in common with those who had somehow convinced people that their party and their way of thinking was the only way that a “good Christian” could believe. A place where I had always felt so at home had somehow become a place where I no longer felt welcome. I knew I could no longer be a part of something that I had loved since I was a child.

The blurring of the lines between the church and politics robbed me and many others of our safe place in the pew. Making it worse was the mindset of those around me who were (are) so convinced that everyone thought just like them that dissent was enough to get you ostracized. The Great Commission got tossed aside for political gain. The Gospel was no longer the message, “conservative” dogma was.

So when it came time to raise my child I couldn’t give them the same experience in that safe place that I had. I know there are other denominations out there but I was  raised a Southern Baptist and I love what they represented in my youth. I deeply resent what others have done to my church. So I teach my faith to my young ones at home. I pray that my teaching will be enough, but I fear that the people that have taken over Christianity as some sort of ancillary to a political movement will drive them away unless they hew to a party line which I seriously doubt they will find attractive.

So if Christians and people of faith want to know why the numbers are what they are then they should stop blaming “libruls” “godless democrats” and other boogeymen and instead look in the mirror and realize that they have lost their way. 

td1234
td1234

@Filter What ways were those that turned you off? What particular issues of the SBC were you as an ordained member opposed to? 

honested
honested

@td1234 @Filter 

Unwarranted interference in the actions of Governance and the private lives of Citizens maybe?

Lucifer12345
Lucifer12345

@Filter Thank you for your fine analysis. The fact that the GOP is using Christianity to lend them power and prestige to further their political careers is a frightening movement that sends chills through us non-believers. Anyone can believe what they wish, but they should not be in a position to shove their beliefs down the throats of the rest of us.

Filter
Filter

@td1234 @Filter I realize that you might not see this as I am so late in my response, however, since you asked....


It began with the whole prayer in school thing. I was listening to people stirring up fear saying that there was this concerted effort to kick religion out of schools. On the ground, however, I was going to eat with my youth group kids once a week, sponsoring the FCA after school, organizing one of the first "Prayer at the Pole" events, all without any push back at all. The key was that all of my involvement gave the children a CHOICE to participate rather than mandating it. It became clear that this debate was one of enforcing a "prayer". It was about dogma. 


Then came the homosexual issue. Those around me seemed not be content to state it was a sin, but to make it the worst of sins. I believe that there is no degree of sin, that all are the same. But my brethren seemed to happen upon some extra-biblical wisdom that this one sin was the king of sins. 


My last example is the demonization of all dissent. An unspoken list of "articles of faith" seemed to pop into existence, including questioning the faith of anyone who didn't vote with the GOP. When it became known that I had dared to vote for Bill Clinton over GHWB a petition was circulated in the church where I worked to have me removed. Because of who I supported politically. 


It was all so Machiavellian, with the end justifying the means, to the point where exaggerations at best and lies at worst were OK as long as it supported an unspoken creed. 


I changed careers and never looked back. .  

olegalsemail
olegalsemail

Why are dem/libs so morally bankrupt?


Just askin...


You people..

fedup52
fedup52

God did the earth quake thing in Nepal (dozens killed) and our marines helping out.


SO WHO IS THE GOOD GUY HERE.

olegalsemail
olegalsemail

@fedup52 So GOD did it? Wow "you people" have such a great understanding of the Bible...


You ignorant ignorant people...

Lucifer12345
Lucifer12345

@stinkyliberals @fedup52 The bible is nothing but porn. I won't allow my own children to read it. It is disgusting. Remember the J,E,D and P bible team of writers wrote in a time when people believed the Earth was flat and there were gods called Zeus, Venus, Thor, Atlas and others. The bible is crap and is 3,000 years old.  To say it is divine is like saying Hitler was a saint.

Lucifer12345
Lucifer12345

@alexander2 @fedup52 Unless the marines can bring these people back to life it doesn't matter who sent them. What you are saying is that an arsonist sets a fire, saves the people inside and then become a hero in the newspapers. Such rubbish.

honested
honested

@Lucifer12345 @stinkyliberals @fedup52 

The bible is nothing but a weak attempt to conflate conventional wisdom with superstition.

It provides those lacking the ability to be analytical and introspective with some basic rules for self preservation and then expands into the absurd.

Lucifer12345
Lucifer12345

@Doom Classical liberal @fedup52 That's the point. There is no god. Certainly a righteous celestial intelligent entity would not kill off his/her own creation. So, the earthquake was caused by the movement of underground faults and plates that caused the earth to shift slightly.  Science is the new God. Understand it as so ...

TBS
TBS

@LeninTime 

Lenin

I figured you knew that.  I think it is several leaders doing the same.  Their way of saying they do not like the potential agreement with Iran.

As for Yemen, Saudis weren't doing much snubbing when it came to coordinating intel and logistics with the US. 

TBS
TBS

@LeninTime @TBS 

It is certainly a snubbing and an outward show of displeasure.  I don't think that can be argued but behind the scenes I think it is as you stated yesterday "thick as thieves". 

honested
honested

@LeninTime 

Well, if we have identified positions which irritate the Saudis, the Iranians and the Israelis (for whatever reason there opinion even matters) it suggests a reasonable compromise has been attained.

Doom Classical liberal
Doom Classical liberal

@TBS


This is what I was referring to yesterday. I stand vindicated. 


"NBC’s Richard Engel reported Friday that U.S. officials were stunned they were not given any notice before Saudi Arabia launched attacks against Houthi rebels. According to Engel, military leaders were finding out about the developments on the Yemen border in real time."


“Saudi Arabia and other countries simply don’t trust the United States any more, don’t trust this administration, think the administration is working to befriend Iran to try to make a deal in Switzerland, and therefore didn’t feel the intelligence frankly would be secure. And I think that’s a situation that is quite troubling for U.S. foreign policy,” Engel said.


http://www.frontpagemag.com/2015/dgreenfield/nbc-saudi-arabia-thinks-obama-leaking-intel-to-iran/

Doom Classical liberal
Doom Classical liberal

@fedup52


Lenin a Doomy convert? Did Hell freeze over? Lenin and I vehemently disagree on about 90% of issues. But there is the 10%, perhaps even more, that he and I are strangely in full agreement sometimes. I just take it that when that happens Lenin must not be feeling well that day. 

TBS
TBS

@Doom Classical liberal @TBS 

I will go with the Saudi ambassador's comments in the article I posted yesterday but will check out the article. 

Thanks

Doom Classical liberal
Doom Classical liberal

@honested


Sounds more like we just pissed everyone off and especially our allies. Its interesting that the Saudis, Omanis, and I think the Arab Emirates leaders are all skipping a gulf summit with the U.S. Its a not so subtle statement that they don't seem to much respect or agree with U.S. leadership right now.