“Give me that old time religion”? For a growing number of Americans, not so much. New information from the Pew Research Center reveals a spike in Americans claiming no religious connection. Meanwhile, it reports a steep decline among those who claim the name of Christ.
Phone surveys in 2018 and 2019 found that 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians. That’s a plunge from 77% in 2009. For those who call themselves atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular,” it’s a different story. The portion of these so-called “nones” has risen from 17% in 2009 to 26% today.
The Pew report has more troubling news. Church attendance is on the decline. The portion of those who attend religious services regularly—at least once or twice per month—has dropped 7% over the past 10 years. The percentage of those who rarely or never attend services has increased by the same amount. In 2009, regular attenders outnumbered those who rarely attend church 52% to 47%. Now those folks who make regular church attendance their priority are in the minority. Only 45% of Americans claim to attend church more than once a month.
Generational differences may partly explain the change in America’s religious landscape. The report says three quarters of U.S. baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) call themselves Christians. Among the younger millennial generation, however, only 49% label themselves Christian.
On the surface, these stats might seem like only bad news. But numbers don’t always tell the whole story. For much of the history of the United States, many people have shared a common Judeo-Christian heritage if not an actual, life-saving faith. Christianity and church attendance were largely accepted as cultural norms. The Pew study suggests that norms have shifted. Maybe Americans today are more honest about their religious beliefs. In the past, churches may have been full because Christianity was popular, not because everyone in the seats really believed the gospel.
It is important to remember too that Jesus’ church (the whole body of believers) is not confined to any one part of the globe. While Christianity becomes less popular in one country, it may explode in others (for example: Iran, Afghanistan, and Gambia). Christians take comfort in knowing that God protects His people throughout the world. God is with the true church everywhere, whether there are many or few, in peace and in persecution. Christians pray for their communities and nations to be awakened to the gospel. And they rest secure, knowing that God is in control.