News

Poll: Church membership in US plummets over past 20 years

Poll: Church membership in US plummets over past 20 years
World
NEW YORK - The percentage of U.S. adults who belong to a church or other religious institution has plunged by 20 percentage points over the past two decades, hitting a low of 50% last year, according to a new Gallup poll. Among major demographic groups, the biggest drops were recorded among Democrats and Hispanics.

Gallup said church membership was 70% in 1999 — and close to or higher than that figure for most of the 20th century. Since 1999, the figure has fallen steadily, while the percentage of U.S. adults with no religious affiliation has jumped from 8% to 19%.

Among Americans identifying with a particular religion, there was a sharp drop in church membership among Catholics — dropping from 76% to 63% over the past two decades as the church was buffeted by clergy sex-abuse scandals. Membership among Protestants dropped from 73% to 67% per cent over the same period.

Among Hispanic Americans, church membership dropped from 68% to 45% since 2000, a much bigger decline than for non-Hispanic white and black Americans.

There was a big discrepancy over that 20-year period in regard to political affiliation: Church membership among Democrats fell from 71% to 48%, compared to a more modest drop from 77% to 69% among Republicans.

David Campbell, a University of Notre Dame political science professor who studies religion’s role in U.S. civic life, attributed the partisan divide to “the allergic reaction many Americans have to the mixture of religion and conservative politics.”

“Increasingly, Americans associate religion with the Republican Party — and if they are not Republicans themselves, they turn away from religion,” he said.

Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke University, said that as recently as the 1970s, it was difficult to predict someone’s political party by the regularity with which they went to church.

“Now it’s one of the best predictors,” he said. “The correlation between religiosity and being Republican has increased over the years.”

The overall decline in church membership is driven by cultural and generational factors, said 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 said. “We are also seeing a generational shift as the ‘joiner’ older generation dies off and a generation of non-joiners comes on the scene.”

The new Gallup findings underscore that generational dynamic. Among Americans 65 and older, church membership in 2016-2018 averaged 64% per cent, compared to 41% among those aged 18-29.

“The challenge is clear for churches, which depend on loyal and active members to keep them open and thriving,” wrote Gallup poll analyst Jeffrey Jones. “How do they find ways to convince some of the unaffiliated religious adults in society to make a commitment to a particular house of worship of their chosen faith?”

“These trends are not just numbers, but play out in the reality that thousands of U.S. churches are closing each year,” Jones added. “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.”

Professor Scott Thumma, who teaches sociology of religion at Hartford Seminary, suggested several likely factors behind the decline. Among them, he said religious young adults are delaying marriage, postponing having children, and, when they do, having fewer children.

He also suggested there was diminished social pressure to formally join organizations.

“I’ve encountered many persons in churches that have attended for several years but did not officially join or become a member,” he said by email. “This is also evident in persons switching from one congregation to another without joining any.”

The findings are based on Gallup surveys conducted over the last 20 years, with most surveys including at least 2,000 U.S. adults and having a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Some findings are based on aggregated interviews from 1998-2000 and 2016-2018, with each period including interviews with more than 7,000 adults.
Read more on Toronto Star
News Topics :
RELATED STORIES :
World
Young Tower members assist in carrying a large United States flag down the LaPorte Jaycees Fourth of July parade route in LaPorte, Ind., Wednesday, July 4, 2012. AP / The...
World
This photo taken May 3, 2013, shows a long time exposure showing the stars in the sky over a cross of Panagia Chrisospiliotissa, a Christian Orthodox monastery outside...
Science
Although marijuana use for medical and recreational purposes is at an all time high in the United States, a team of researchers led by a Florida State University professor has found...
Top Stories
MONTREAL – Until last summer, the Cyclorama of Jerusalem in Sainte Anne de Beaupré, Que., was largely unloved. Visitors to the massive 360 degree panoramic depiction of Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s crucifixion...
Science
Do children raised by religious parents have better social and psychological development than those raised in non religious homes In a new study, researchers found that religion can be a mixed...