8 May, 2021

Considering Ourselves Amid the Decline of Mainline Churches

by | 19 May, 2015 | 3 comments

My Mark A. Taylor 

If you think religion in America is claiming less loyalty than ever, the latest data released by the Pew Research Center will affirm your concern.

At the same time, it offers a few morsels of encouragement for Evangelicals, who seem not to be losing as much ground as mainline Protestants and Catholics.

America”s Changing Religious Landscape, based on more than 35,000 extensive phone interviews with adults in all 50 states, summarizes the situation this way: “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.”

May19_MT_jnNo pocket of the country is immune from the decline. “These changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups,” the report continues. “While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages,” among those of every race, among those with college degrees and those with no college, and among women as well as men.

It”s still true that more Christians live in America than in any other country in the world, but the percentage of those identifying as Christians in the U.S. has dropped from 78.4 percent in a Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014.

At the same time the rise of the “nones,” those with no religious affiliation, has increased roughly 19 million since 2007, according to the Pew study. “There are now approximately 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S.,” a larger group than that of either Catholics or mainline Protestants in the U.S.

In fact, the decline of affiliation with Catholics and mainline Protestants accounts for the largest part of the smaller number of Christians in the U.S. The survey indicates there are about 51 million Catholic adults in the U.S. today, about 1 to 3 million fewer than in 2007. Mainline Protestants today number 36 million, about 5 millions fewer than the estimated 41 million in the 2007 report.

The numbers are not so drastic for Evangelicals. For the purposes of this report, Christian churches and churches of Christ belong in this number. And it”s not a bad number; in fact, there appear to be more Evangelicals in the U.S. today than in 2007, an increase of 2 to 5 million adult adherents, to a total of about 62 million.

And yet even that good news is tempered by the fact that the percentage of adult Evangelicals in America has declined by about 1 percent, according to the study. In other words, Evangelical growth in the U.S. has not kept pace with overall population growth.

The report, all 200-plus pages of it, is available online here. And it”s only the first of several reports to come from the research project.

It”s easy to get buried in all the data, but next week in this space, I want to suggest some “big picture” take-aways we should consider. It”s one thing to notice that the influence of some church groups is dwindling while churches like ours (i.e., Evangelicals) are growing. It”s another to consider what the decline and our relative success actually mean.

Are Evangelical churches growing because they are succeeding at reaching the culture in a way mainline Protestants and Catholics are not? That question among several others will fill this space next week.

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    This is all good news IMHO. Atheism & agnosticism are fads, while being a CINO (Christian in name only) is no longer cool. So we will have fewer folks who go to church on Sunday & live like devils Monday through Saturday, folks who confuse the unchurched & turn them away from our Lord.

    I don’t think the percentage of saints in the population is decreasing at all. We’re just losing more pretenders.

    If 70% of Americans really were Christians, as is claimed in surveys,
    –Abortion would be illegal,
    –Homosexual “marriage” would be unheard of,
    –Hollywood would be putting out mostly good stuff & little filth instead of the other way around, &
    –Barack Obama would be an unknown community organizer in Chicago.

  2. Avatar

    John is right that it’s bad for churches to be home to pretenders unless they sincerely want to become followers of the Lord Jesus, and pretenders may not be sincere in any direction. What I observe in this city is that during hours when churches are meeting there are lots of cars on the streets going somewhere, but apparently not to a church gathering. Do we discuss Jesus and salvation with the people we converse with every day? Should we? Or is our conversation always about TV shows or personalities or the latest scandal in our community or the weather?

  3. Avatar

    Amen to John Alcott’s comment!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest Articles

Stories

By taking these symbols of Jesus’ body and blood, we announce we believe there really was a Jesus, and he really did die for us and carried all our sins down to a grave . . .

Documentary Highlights Christian Response to Pandemics

Southeast Christian Church’s “Purpose in Pandemics” is a documentary that follows the response of the church to pandemics throughout history. The “Purpose in Pandemics” website also includes a study guide for small groups and individuals.

Used of God

I soaked up Sam Stone’s wit and wisdom during our lunches together. Afterward, I’d take notes about our conversations. After hearing of his passing, inspired by his wordsmithing, I felt compelled to share just a small part of his story.

Sam E. Stone: ‘He Tried to Speak the Truth in Love’

In memory and appreciation of our former editor, Sam E. Stone, who died early this week, we share this 2011 column from Christian Standard’s archives in which Sam discussed four Scripture verses significant to his life.

Elliott Library ‘Cornerstone’ Laid

Three Bibles of historical significance to Cincinnati Christian University were the first books place on the shelves during relocation of the George Mark Elliott Library.

The Death of Evil

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw in minority groups’ struggles for social equality in America a parallel with Israel’s bondage in Egypt. King envisioned God’s goodness would deliver the U.S. from the evil of segregation.

Mark Scott’s Greatest Kingdom Impact

Since I first enrolled at Ozark Christian College, Mark Scott has been my kingdom hero, and I’m not the only young preacher Mark has shaped. Over his 35 years at OCC, Mark has inspired generations of students.

‘Have We Plans for 1921?’

“All the Standard asks is the opportunity to serve, and it yearns to render in 1921 the greatest, finest, and best service of its history. . . .”

CCLF Concluding Strong First Year in Greater Cincinnati

In its first full year, the Christian Church Leadership Foundation has accomplished much to ensure Christian education and resources would continue to be available to people in the Greater Cincinnati area.

News Briefs for Dec. 9

Items from Timber Lake Christian Church (Moberly, Mo.), Choateville Christian Church (Frankfort, Ky.), Johnson University, and more.

My Counsel for Young Preachers

If I were counseling an aspiring young preacher fresh out of Bible college or seminary, champing at the bit to lead in the church, I would offer these three bits of advice.

My Memories of Marshall Leggett

By Ben Merold
As I think about Marshall Leggett, who passed away on March 2 at age 90, two personal experiences keep coming to my mind . . .

Powell Quintuplets Graduating from High School

When the Powell quintuplets were born in 2001, all of Kentucky celebrated, including Southeast Christian Church, where the Powells are longtime members. Now the quints are 18 and are all headed to the same university.

Reentry: It May Be Harder Than We Think

When the COVID-19 crisis eases, I anticipate that reentry is going to be harder than some people think. Churches, especially, need to prepare for this.

CICM Responds to Unprecedented Surge of COVID-19 in India

People are flocking to Central India Christian Mission’s new hospital in the city of Damoh for treatment of COVID-19. CICM founding director Ajai Lall described the challenges CICM is facing as well as some tangible ways people might help.

Wheeler’s Retirement Plans from JU Include Grandchildren, ‘Dorkman’

David Wheeler, 69, is retiring this summer after 24 years as a professor at Johnson University—and 48 years of ministry overall—but he plans to continue his comedy portrayal of “Johnson historian Clyde Dorkman” for the school’s Senior Saints in the Smokies yearly gatherings.

May 9 | A Kingship of Disobedience

While Saul ruled Israel for 40 years and had many military successes, his reign was checkered with disobedience and neuroses.

Follow Us