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, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.
The losses are chiefly coming at the expense of Catholicism and Mainline Protestantism, which are hemorrhaging; Evangelicals declined only slightly, and that as a proportion of the overall population (their numbers have actually increased). Pew says that Evangelicals now constitute a clear majority of American Protestants. But Baptist church numbers are in freefall, with nondenominational churches picking up the slack.
The demographic future of Christianity looks very bleak, as far more Millennials either have no faith, or abandon what they were given:
As the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated continue to grow, they also describe themselves in increasingly secular terms. In 2007, 25% of the “nones” called themselves atheists or agnostics; 39% identified their religion as “nothing in particular” and also said that religion is “not too” or “not at all” important in their lives; and 36% identified their religion as “nothing in particular” while nevertheless saying that religion is either “very important” or “somewhat important” in their lives. The new survey finds that the atheist and agnostic share of the “nones” has grown to 31%. Those identifying as “nothing in particular” and describing religion as unimportant in their lives continue to account for 39% of all “nones.” But the share identifying as “nothing in particular” while also affirming that religion is either “very” or “somewhat” important to them has fallen to 30% of all “nones.”
Seeing this Pew survey, friend who works at a senior level in church administration writes that church bureaucrats are completely out of sync with Christianity as it’s being lived in the trenches. He says in his church, they are “15 years behind the times” in their planning and strategizing.
Look at those numbers. We are staring at the face of a European-style collapse within a couple of generations. If you think the children being born now to religiously observant Millennial parents are, on the whole, going to be more pious than their parents’ generation, you are whistling past the graveyard. Once this decline gets going, it’s very hard to stop.
Again and again: these are not normal times. We can’t be about business as usual. The future of Christianity in America will be Benedictine — as in Benedict Option — or it won’t be at all.