The number of Christians appears to be declining, according to data released last week by TWH – the Pew Research Center. The overall percentage of people who identify as Christian in the US has decreased over the past 10 years while the percentage of religiously unaffiliated individuals has steadily increased.
The research employed a random sample of responses based on US addresses and respondents were contacted by phone. The data was collected by the Pew Research Center’s 2020 and 2021 National Public Opinion Reference Survey between late May and August of this year.
To calculate the changes from a decade ago, the center used data collected earlier.
The 2021 survey tool focused on specific religious and denomination choices that did not include pagan or Native American beliefs.
Permitted responses were Protestant (eg, Baptist, Methodist, non-denominational, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Episcopalian, Reformed, Church of Christ, etc.), Roman Catholic, Mormon/LDS, Christian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist. , Hindu, atheist, or agnostic followed by “something else” and “nothing in particular.”
Respondents who chose “something else” were asked to specify. “Do you consider yourself a Christian or not?” The coders were instructed to change the responses based on the support of one participant. Coders were asked to choose “no” if the defendant named a non-Christian religion, “e.g. Native American, Wiccan, Pagan, etc.” The only time Wiccan or Pagan is mentioned in the center’s guidance on this report.
The Center reports that 75% of individuals living in the United States identified as Christian in 2011. However, in 2021, that number dropped to 63%, representing a decrease of 12%. The center’s report states, “Christians continue to make up the majority of the US population, but their share of the adult population is 12 points lower in 2021 than in 2011. In addition, the share of US adults who say they are a Pray on the day. The daily basis is trending downward, as is the case with people calling religion “very important” in their lives.
Over the past 10 years, distaste for organized religion has also grown. Earlier this year in March, Gallup released a survey showing that American church membership had dropped by 50% since the organization began collecting such data 80 years ago.
Gallup said their data suggests that “the decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference.” His data showed what he described as “a perfect alignment between not having a religious preference and not belonging to a church”. He notes that there appears to be an increasing number of individuals in the US population who do not profess any religion.
Gallup also noted a generational trend. Adults had the highest church membership, with 66% in the sample born before 1946. The numbers then declined over the generations, with church attendance dropping to 58% among Baby Boomers, 50% for those in Generation X, and 36% among millennials. Gallup said Gen Z members who reached adulthood to be able to participate in the study were reporting church attendance rates similar to those of millennials.
The Pew Center observed a similar pattern. Their data found that “nearly three-in-ten American adults (29%) are religious “nobody” – people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics, or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religious identity. To put the decline into context, in the 2007 surveys, the number of Christians was nearly five times higher than “none” (78% versus 16%).
The decline in Christianity was sharpest among Protestant denominations, falling from 52% in 2007 to 40% in 2021. Roman Catholics have fallen to about 21% of America’s adult population. However, born again or evangelical Protestants outnumber other Protestant denominations.
The pattern exists in both black and white populations in the survey.
The Pew Center cautioned that the long-term trend remains unclear given the subgroup of respondents who said religion is “very important” in their lives. However, the number of individuals who support that religion is “not very” or “not at all” significant, rising from 16% since 2007 to 33% in 2021.
Yet another research team, the nonpartisan Folk Religion Research Institute, released its report last summer. In its 2020 American Values Atlas, PRRI found that “seven in ten Americans (70%) identify as Christian, including more than four in ten who identify as white Christians and one-quarter More than one in four Americans who identify as Christians of color (23%) are religiously unaffiliated, and 5% identify with non-Christian religions.
The PRRI found a similar trend with “none”, noting that “disaggregating white Christians has fueled the growth of religiously unaffiliated people” but this trend has slowed. Their data show that the survey arrangements show a proportional change trend but with fewer individuals each time identified as “none”. He also looked at generational divisions
PRRI also found that the rate of abandonment of Christianity had slowed among white Christians. PRRI wrote, “The proportion of white Christians reached a low point in 2018 at 42%, and rebounded slightly in 2019 and 2020 to 44%. This upward ticking indicates that the decline is about 11 per decade.” The % is getting slower than the losing pace.”
With the exception of Hinduism, all three surveys focused their attention on the traditional monotheistic model of organized religion in American culture. Neo-paganism, polytheism, nor any of its religions were included in the surveys. Neither were Native American religions, folk religions, or African traditional religions. But it is important to note that the findings showed a trend away from Christianity regardless of which religions the survey respondents are turning to.
Furthermore, whether these trends represent the continued secularization of America is unclear. By all accounts and research findings, America remains a strictly religious nation. The place of religion in public life remains strong, perhaps stronger than ever.