The percentage of Americans who belong to a church, synagogue or mosque has hit a historic low, a Gallup report shows. The new report has found that an average of 50% of Americans in 2018 said they belong or are members of a church or other religious institution. This represents a 20% decline in church membership over the past 20 years, and the lowest it has been since Gallup began polling the question in 1937. Previously church membership reported being at least 70% or more from the years 1937 through 1976. For Democrats, Independents, Hispanics and men, fewer than half report being members of a church or other religious institution.
The new Gallup report analyses the organization’s data in 2018 based on telephone interviews with a random sample of over 7,688 adults from all American states. Gallup’s report compares the data from 2018 to Gallup polling results from to 2000. The decline in church membership coincides with an increase in Americans who claim they don’t have any religious affiliation. The data also shows that Americans with a religious affiliation has dropped to 77%, down from 90% in 2000. Those reporting no religious affiliation has doubled from 9% to 19% in 2018. Among those who claim no religious affiliation, 7% report belonging to a church.
The trend coincides with a decline in church membership among people who do have religious preferences. In 2000 it showed that 73% of adults with a religious preference belonged to a church. But the recent polling shows that only 64% of adults with a religious preference belong to a church. The low level of church membership among millennials (42%) is also contributing to an accelerating trend because millennials were too young to be polled as adults in 2000. Additionally, 29% of millennials report having no religious preference, compared to the 14% of the baby boomer generation and 18% of Generation X.
“The percentage of millennials with no religion may be continuing to grow, as an average of 33% in Gallup surveys conducted in 2019 to date say they have no religious affiliation,” Gallup Senior Editor Jeffery M. Jones said. The number of Catholics who belong to a church has dropped 13% (to 63%) since 2000, the data indicates. By comparison, the number of Protestants who belong to a church has dropped by only 6% (to 67%) over that time. “Whilst there has been a real decline in church membership according to Gallup, Protestant church attendance is virtually unchanged over the same period,” Jeff Walton, Program Director for the Institute on Religion & Democracy said.
The challenge is clear for churches. How do they convince some of the unaffiliated religious adults in society to make a commitment to a Church of their chosen faith? Roughly 25% of U.S. adults are religious but not members of a church, synagogue or mosque.” Although millennials are playing a key role in the decline of church membership, Jones explained that roughly 66% of millennials who have religious preferences may one day be convinced to join a church as they “get more established in their lives.” He suggested that having families can be an “impetus to becoming a part of a faith community.”
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