Mark Silk on the Hollowing Out of American Religion

A small amount of people at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Alexandria, VA, in Sept. 2010. Photo by Philip Hauck/Creative Commons

The biggest American religion story of the past decade has been the rise of the Nones—those who answer “none” when asked what their religion is. Over the past three decades, the proportion of Nones in the U.S. has more than doubled, from less than 10 percent of the adult population to as much as a quarter today.

Now comes a new Gallup report indicating that actual membership in religious institutions has declined nearly twice as fast as the proportion of Nones has risen.

According to the report, since the last years of the 20th century, “church membership” has shrunk 25 percent, from 69 percent of the population to 52 percent. That compares with a 14-percent decline in religious identification, from 90 percent to 77 percent.

Thus, Nones aside, among the shrinking percentage of Americans who identify with a religion, the proportion who belong to religious congregations has itself declined, from three-quarters to two-thirds, over the past 20 years. It is to be expected that children of non-churchgoing religious identifiers are less likely to grow up to be churchgoers, whether they identify with a religion or not.

All in all, given that the entire population of country has grown 14 percent during that period, this makes for a numerical membership decline of about 11 percent. And there’s every indication that there’s worse to come.

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Source: Religion News Service