Wednesday, 27 April 2022

US Religious Affiliation News - Accelerating Decline in Church Membership to Below 50%.

U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time.

According to the latest Gallop survey, religious affiliation and church membership is declining at an accelerating rate in the USA and the religiously unaffiliated are now in the majority, with affiliates to the various religions falling below 50% for the first time since Gallup began polling in 1937!

In the 60 years between 1940 and 2000, this figure declined only 3% from 73 to 70%, a figure that, given the distribution of values over the period from about 66% to 76% probably represents a steady figure of about 70%, subject to random sampling error.

The significant decline began at the turn of the millennium, falling 9%age points from 70 to 61% in the first 10 years, 6%age points in the next 5 years and a full 8%age points in the last 5 years, an annual rate of decline of 0.9, 1.2 and 1.6 percentage points, respectively. In Gallop's survey, religious affiliation means self-identifying as belonging to a church, synagogue or mosque. In Gallop's words:

Gallup asks Americans a battery of questions on their religious attitudes and practices twice each year. The following analysis of declines in church membership relies on three-year aggregates from 1998-2000 (when church membership averaged 69%), 2008-2010 (62%), and 2018-2020 (49%). The aggregates allow for reliable estimates by subgroup, with each three-year period consisting of data from more than 6,000 U.S. adults.

Although not the same thing, there is a close correlation between not having a religious preference and having no religion. The decline in church membership is probably a function of the decline in religious preference. Since the turn of the millennium, the percentage of Americans who do not self-identify with any religion has grown from 8% to 21%; a 162.5% increase in absolute numbers.

Americans are quickly losing faith in faith!

Not only that, but opinions appear to be firming up with the, perhaps surprising, figure for those who, while having no religious preference are nevertheless members of a church, synagogue or mosque, falling from 10% in 1998-2000 to just 4% in 2018-2020.

Given the nearly perfect alignment between not having a religious preference and not belonging to a church, the 13-percentage-point increase in no religious affiliation since 1998-2000 appears to account for more than half of the 20-point decline in church membership over the same time. Most of the rest of the drop can be attributed to a decline in formal church membership among Americans who do have a religious preference. Between 1998 and 2000, an average of 73% of religious Americans belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. Over the past three years, the average has fallen to 60%.

As has been noted before, there is a marked difference between generations in the degree of affiliation to and membership of, a religion, with the youngest group being the least religious and the most inclined to reject religion, with 'Millennials' (born between 1981 and 1996) only about half as likely to be members of a church, synagogue or mosque as 'Traditionalists' (born before 1946) at 36% and 66% respectively. 'Baby boomers' (born between 1946 and 1964) and 'Generation X' (born between 1965 and 1980) are 58% and 50% respectively.

The two major trends driving the drop in church membership -- more adults with no religious preference and falling rates of church membership among people who do have a religion -- are apparent in each of the generations over time. Since the turn of the century, there has been a near doubling in the percentage of traditionalists (from 4% to 7%), baby boomers (from 7% to 13%) and Gen Xers (11% to 20%) with no religious affiliation.

Religions are suffering the double-whammy of declining religious beliefs per se, and declining church membership amongst those who do admit to holding religious beliefs.

Currently, 31% of millennials have no religious affiliation, which is up from 22% a decade ago. Similarly, 33% of the portion of Generation Z that has reached adulthood have no religious preference. Also, each generation has seen a decline in church membership among those who do affiliate with a specific religion. These declines have ranged between six and eight points over the past two decades for traditionalists, baby boomers and Generation X who identify with a religious faith. In just the past 10 years, the share of religious millennials who are church members has declined from 63% to 50%.

As the final two charts show, the result is always the same, differing only in magnitude and then not by a great deal. No matter how the data is sliced up, every demographic has shown a marked and accelerating decline in church membership, even amongst the conservatives and republicans amongst whom are to be found the Evangelical Christian fundamentalists, who on the US political stage, have tended to be the loudest and most vociferous, so much so that to us from outside the USA, America sometimes seems to be a nation of loopy religious extremists.

Over this period too, the Catholics have had sexual abuse scandal after sexual abuse scandal with even the most senior US Catholic cleric being sacked and defrocked and diocese after diocese declaring bankruptcy to avoid paying the very large compensation and reparation bills. Scandals of sexual and financial impropriety have even engulfed the Vatican with the former pope standing accused of complicity in child abuse scandals and their coverup, in his former German archdiocese of Munich, and making deliberately misleading and inaccurate statements to the enquiry into the abuses.

Nevertheless, the decline in membership of the Catholic church (-18%), while being double that of the Protestant churches (9%), it is within the normal range of decline for other demographics. The highest rates of decline (25%) are to be found in Democrat-leaning voters and residents in the Eastern United States (presumably East Coast, New England). The protestant churches show the smallest decline at 9%. This possibly reflects the fact that evangelical, Republican-voting, Americans tend also to be white Protestant.

Perhaps surprisingly, given that earlier polls tended to show that religiosity was declining faster in American men than women, this polls show a reversal of that trend, with a steeper decline for women (20%) than for men (18%). American women are making up for their earlier tardiness in abandoning religious institutions.

Just as a bit of fun, if the rate of decline over the last 5 years is maintained and projected into the future, let alone continues to accelerate at the rate its's been accelerating since 2000, membership of religious establishments in the USA should be in single percentage points within the next 15-20 years and should be a mere footnote in history by the middle of the 21st century.

What seems to be happening is what Europe and the rest of the industrial world experience since 1945 - the decline in religiosity proceedes exponentially as first a few, then more and finally very many people abandoned religion as Atheism and non-affiliation first became thinkable, then acceptable, and now the norm as we realised that we did not need the church involved in our daily lives and as the church reacted by becoming even more reactionary and condemning of an increasingly Humanist society, freed from the straight-jacket imposed by dubious religious 'morality' with its support for intolerance, division, hate and bigotry.

Hopefully, in the USA, the support given to the odious and deplorable Donald Trump by the Christian churches has opened the eyes of many Americans to the hypocritical, misogynistic, racist, self-serving and socially divisive nature of fundamentalist Christianity in the USA where, more than perhaps anywhere else in the developed world:

Religion provides excuses for people who need excuses.

Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Still a ways to go, but going in the right direction. I suspect the younger generation(s) are, on average, better educated than their boomer peers. Also free passage of information and ideas 'on the netty' are bound to have a corrosive effect on religious and other irrational bollocks.

  2. I find it interesting but not surprising that more and more people are leaving the church. I grew up attending Lutheran Church as a child and still find value in the teachings of Jesus, but I had to leave when the "Church" as a generalized concept became more interested in political power (the Reagan years) than promoting an honorable approach to life. In my case, the final straw was the christian made-up panic over gays recruiting children off the streets (didn't happen), and yes, we're living through a repeat with a recent spate of panics over grooming and transgender young people. Both of my parents were caught up in the panics, which made for some interesting and rather heated family gatherings. I still vividly remember groups like the OCA (Oregon Citizens Alliance) pushing their hate filled views onto the faithful. Of course I live in Oregon. They also initiated a number of unsuccessful anti gay ballot measures. The OCA then went after 28 smaller communities where they were more successful (passed anti gay measures in 26 of them). To this day, I've often wondered how mob psychology was so effective when employed to attack an out-of-favor group of fellow citizens, but also now a large majority of republicans still believe the 2020 election was stolen even though there is no evidence to support that assertion. Well, we live in interesting times. I hope we survive them...


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