The percentage of U.S. adults who belong to a church or other religious institution is declining, plunging by 20 percentage points over the past two decades, Now it’s hit a historic low. How will low attendance affect churches?
According to polls, fewer and fewer people are going to church. Sadly, it’s happening despite the Bible’s command: “Let us . . . not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some.” (Hebrews 10:25)
In 1999, polls said 70% of people belonged to a church. The numbers were close to or higher for most of the 20th century. Now only about 50% of people say they go to church.
As far as groups identified in the study, church attendance decline seems to be sharpest among Catholics, Democrats, and Hispanics.
Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology, religion, and divinity at Duke University, says that as recently as the 1970s, it was difficult to predict someone’s political party by how often they went to church. “Now it’s one of the best predictors,” he says. “The correlation between religiosity and being Republican has increased over the years.”
The decline in church membership is also driven by cultural and generational factors, says Nancy Ammerman, a professor of the sociology of religion at Boston University.
“Culturally, we are seeing significant erosion in the trust people have for institutions in general and churches in particular,” she says, adding that there’s “a generational shift as the ‘joiner’ older generation dies off and a generation of non-joiners comes on the scene.”
New poll numbers underscore the generational divide. Among Americans 65 and older, church membership in 2016-2018 averaged 64% percent, compared to 41% among 18-29-year-olds.
“These trends are not just numbers, but play out in the reality that thousands of U.S. churches are closing each year,” Jones adds. “Religious Americans in the future will likely be faced with fewer options for places of worship, and likely less convenient ones, which could accelerate the decline in membership even more.”
How important is church membership? Use scripture to inform and support your statements.
(Jetstreams glow pink as they are illuminated by the setting sun behind a church in Kansas. The percentage of U.S. adults who belong to a church or other religious institution has plunged over the past two decades. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)