Former President Barack Obama's observation is eerily confirmed by surveys showing rapid declines in Americans identifying as Christian.
America is shedding Christianity – particularly Protestantism – quickly and at an accelerating pace, according to a compilation of professional surveys by respected, nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
Sixty-five percent of U.S. adults identify as Christian today compared with 90 percent four decades ago. The share of believers is shrinking at greater than a percentage point a year, and there are no segments of the faith gaining, though a small handful are steady.
The Pew Center did a telephone survey about spiritual beliefs and worship attendance with nearly 13,000 adults in the U.S. in 2018-2019. The margin of error is a tiny 1 percentage point due to Pew’s combination of stratified random sampling supplemented by weighting among demographic segments to approximate composition of the national population. The survey culminates a series of 88 such detailed looks into the faith of Americans over the last dozen years.
Losses in identification with a particular religion and curtailing going to services are not evenly distributed, however. Builders (born 1928-1945), Baby Boomers (1946-1964) and Generation X (1965-1980) are becoming less oriented toward and active in Christianity but at much more modest rates than Millennials (1981-1996). For example, 84 percent of Builders say they are Christian, but only 49 percent of Millennials, the first generation in the U.S. with fewer than half as believers.
Christianity, for the most part, is not losing adherents to other religions. Since 2007, followers of non-Christian faiths have grown in share from 5 percent to 7 percent, and Mormons are steady at 2 percent. The gain has been in atheism (from 2 percent to 4), agnosticism (2 percent to 5) and “nothing in particular” (12 percent to 17). The total of these three groups of unbelief is 26 percent, by far the highest number in American history.
People of color are more likely than Caucasians to identify as Christians. Seventy-two percent of both African-Americans and Hispanics say they are followers of Jesus compared with 65 percent of whites. Minorities go to church more often too, monthly or better attendance from 58 percent of blacks, 51 percent of Latinos and 42 percent of Caucasians.
Evangelical Christianity is on the decline nationally, 28 percent in 2009 and 25 percent now. However, among those identifying as believers, a greater share are born again, 56 percent to 59. They also are more diverse; people of color accounted for just 32 percent of evangelicals before compared with 36 percent today, very close to the proportion in the general population (39.6 percent, per the U.S. Census Bureau’s August 2019 estimate).
Overall, those attending church regularly are a minority of Americans. Forty-seven percent are present monthly or more, down from 54 percent in 2007 past. The shift in attendance is noticeably greater with Millennials, falling from 50 percent to just 35 percent. Generation X and Baby Boomers have lost 5 percentage points each (about 10 percent of their 2007 totals), while Builders are down minimally, from 62 percent to 61. Senior citizens increasingly are the face of the modern church.
Reading the numbers from a spiritual perspective, they seem to point to the ἀποστασία, transliterated “apostosia,” referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day (of Christ’s return) will not come unless the falling away comes first,” the apostle Paul says there. “Apostosia” means, literally, “a departure or desertion from a previous standing,” or those once identifying with the faith no longer doing so.
If this were only in the United States, then we might justifiably say today’s falling away is a localized phenomenon. However, other once-faithful regions report similar changes. More than half of those in Western Europe, where both ancient Christianity and the Protestant Reformation prospered, identify as “not religious” or “a convinced atheist,” according to a WIN/Gallup International survey in 2014. Most of the 10 least religious countries in a follow-up study in 2018 were where followers of Christ used to predominate: Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden and the U.K.
Christianity is stable or on the rise in some countries, mostly in Africa and South America. Still, any gains are small, and these nations are not strong in the faith historically, so they do not fit 2 Thessalonians 2's “falling away.”
The remedy to this spiritual negativity is to press into Christ more deeply than ever. As Hebrews 11:6 says, God “is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.” Salvation comes through a Person, not an institution or a theology.
Christians must read the Bible and pray the Lord will help conform us to his will. We need to ask others to petition God for us, and we should take their requests before him as well. Going to church or having other fellowship with believers fosters relationships, belief, and perseverance. We must not forget to ask the Lord to assist us in entering his rest, knowing he has us in the palm of his hand, working all together for our good (Romans 8:28-30). Believers have peace and strength in living from a position of trust in God.
The Christian will stand strong against the forces of evil not by their own cunning but the Almighty’s power and linking arms with sisters and brothers in the faith. “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted,” Jesus says in Luke 18:14. This last epoch before the end is no time to go it alone.
About the author: The Rev. Kyle Huckins, Ph.D., has an earned doctorate and taught both journalism and religious studies in universities, winning three honors for scholarly research on the intersection of faith and media.
He's won 25 awards for professional media writing and production in a career stretching back to the 1980s and covering every mass medium. For 20 years, he's worked in public relations and marketing with outstanding results in placing articles, generating click-throughs, growing social-platform accounts, and more.
Ordained in 2003, he's clergy and has served congregations and their associations in numerous positions of pastoral, administrative and educational leadership. He has a master's degree in theological studies from Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary. Click here for more on Huckins.
This website also has a regularly updated blog on faith, Facebook and Twitter feeds and more. You may email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from his readers in 135 countries ... and growing!
This trend is of biblical – and eternal – proportions.
Scenes like this are increasingly rare in the U.S., as only 35 percent of Millennials attend church at least monthly and just 49 percent say they are Christians.
Pew Research Center finds the last decade tough on Christianity, with declines in virtually all segments. (Click picture to go to survey summary.)
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