17 April, 2024

Faith Factors

by | 1 July, 2023 | 0 comments

By Kent E. Fillinger 

The number of unaffiliated, nondenominational Christian churches in the United States grew by almost 5,000 congregations and nearly 9 million people from 2010 to 2020, thus making it America’s largest Protestant “denomination,” according to the U.S. Religion Census. In 2010, unaffiliated, nondenominational Christian churches had an estimated 12,241,329 adherents in 35,496 congregations, which represented 4 percent of the overall population. By 2020, the number of people worshipping in those churches grew to 21,095,641, and their share of America’s religious population increased to 13.1 percent, representing 6.4 percent of the nation’s population. 

How Many Churches Do We Have? 

According to this same 2020 data, our Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ totaled 4,787 congregations (about 12 percent of all nondenominational Christian churches) with 1,379,041 adherents (about 7 percent of all nondenominational Christian church attendees).  

By comparison, the Disciples of Christ denomination included 3,135 congregations with 398,072 adherents and the noninstrumental Churches of Christ had 11,881 congregations with 1,422,331 adherents.  

Our most recent Christian Standard annual survey included 370 churches, or almost 8 percent of our total number of churches. Those 370 churches reported average weekly attendance of 363,308, or over one-fourth (26.3 percent) of the total number of adherents attributed to our movement. 

In a July 29, 2022, Wall Street Journal article, Baylor University professors Byron Johnson and Jeff Levin claimed the U.S. Religion Census undercounted the total number of congregations by between 26 percent and 40 percent. They said the total number of congregations in the U.S. was closer to 500,000 rather than the 344,894 reported in the census. If we assume Johnson and Levin are correct in their estimates, but also maintain that the proportion of churches also is correct, then the total number of Independent Christian Church and Church of Christ congregations would fall somewhere between 6,000 and 6,700.  

The Importance of Religion 

A Wall Street Journal-NORC report published in March 2023 found that 39 percent of Americans described religion as “very important” to them, down from 48 percent in 2019. That represented an accelerated drop in a long decline from 62 percent in 1998. Fifty-five percent of adults 65 and older said religion was very important to them, compared with only 31 percent of 18- to 29-year-old respondents.  

The same study showed similar declines from respondents in how they valued patriotism, having children, tolerance for others, and community involvement. The only priority that has grown in importance in the last 25 years is money, which was cited as very important by 43 percent in the recent survey, up from 31 percent in 1998.  

The Number of ‘Nones’ Stabilizes 

On a positive note, the percentage of the population who are religious “nones”—that is, those who say they are unaffiliated with any organized religion—has remained steady at about 20 percent for six years (2017 to 2022), according to annual Gallup surveys. In the 1950s, when Gallup began asking the religious identity question, very few Americans were listed as “nones.” By the 1980s that percentage had risen to just under 10 percent, then it held steady for the next couple of decades, before steadily rising until 2017.  

The self-reported importance of religion and self-reported church attendance data are two of the best measures of religiosity, according to Gallup. As noted above, the relative importance of religion has decreased over time and, likewise, so has church attendance.  

Church Attendance Pre- and Post-Pandemic 

From July 2020 to November 2022, Pew Research Center conducted five surveys to identify in-person and online church attendance patterns to determine the pandemic’s impact. Findings reported in a March 2023 Pew Research Center study showed the pandemic had a minimal impact on church attendance overall and an even smaller effect among White evangelical Protestant churchgoers. 

Religious attendance rates reported by Americans have declined slightly compared with pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, one-third of all U.S. adults said they attended religious services at least monthly. That percentage dropped to 30 percent in 2022. Among White evangelical Protestants, 63 percent attended church monthly or more in 2019 compared with 58 percent in 2022. 

Among all U.S. adults, 40 percent reported in November 2022 that they participated in religious services in some way (in-person, online, or both) in the last month. Sixteen percent of that number included those who attended in-person only. An additional 12 percent said they attended in-person and watched online, and the remaining 12 percent said they only watched online. 

By comparison, 72 percent of White evangelical Protestants said they participated in religious services in the last month. An equal number said they only attended in-person or attended in-person and online (26 percent each). The final 19 percent said they watched online only. 

According to the U.S. Religion Census, one in five U.S. adults (20 percent) said they attended religious services in person less often than before the pandemic, while 7 percent said they attended more often now than before the pandemic. Almost one-third of adults (31 percent) said their church attendance habits today were about the same as before the pandemic. 

By comparison, more than half of White evangelical Protestants (52 percent) said they attend religious services as often now as before the pandemic. Almost one in ten (9 percent) said they attend church more often now, and just over one-fourth (26 percent) said they attend services less often than before the pandemic. 

Among those who completed all of the Pew Research surveys, 87 percent of U.S. adults and 83 percent of White evangelical Protestants said they attend religious services at the same rate in 2022 as they did in 2019. By contrast, 6 percent of White evangelical Protestants said they attend church more now than they did before the pandemic, and 10 percent said they attend church less today than in 2019. 

Kent E. Fillinger

Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and regional vice president (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan) with Christian Financial Resources.

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