WASHINGTON, DC – A recently-released Gallup Poll has revealed what most of us have already assumed. Church attendance in America has been declining. It’s something that we can individually perceive, but it takes an organization like Gallup to quantify.
The report combines the results of surveys taken over multiple years as far back as 1938 and the group’s most current poll. Having taken similar polls on the same subject over a lengthy period of time, Gallup is able to demonstrate established and emerging trends.
The latest poll reveals that only half of Americans have any religious affiliation defined by church membership. Perhaps even more staggering is that during the 60 years from 1938 to 1998, church membership remained relatively constant at or about 70%. The 20-percentage point decline (an actual decline of 28.6%) over the past 20 years is dramatic in and of itself. The trend is even more alarming. A continuing 28.6% decline over the next two decades years would mean that only 35.7% of the American people would be church members.
The Gallup report goes into great depth in both its accumulation of data and analysis for understanding why church membership is on the decline. Readers may access the report at the Gallup website page, U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades.
It is important to understand the specificity of the questions and the distinctive definitions of the words used in the surveys to properly analyze the results. Some of the first things that followers of Christ will notice is the abundant use of the word “religion” and the broad umbrella under which Gallup uses the words “Christian” and “evangelical.” Readers may also access the questions used in the survey at this page on the Gallup website.
Gallup analysts use an accumulation of social data from others of their surveys and corresponding reports to explain the dramatic drop in church attendance. Unfortunately, the accounts and the analysis are based on “theological” terminology rather than the experience of the respondents being born-again followers of Christ as described in the Scriptures, or not. Therefore, their conclusions are based almost entirely on social norms and perspectives to gain insight into a period of “falling away” that is foretold in Scripture.
The Christians at Thessalonica had become concerned that they may have missed Christ’s return for His Church. Reassuring them, the Apostle Paul informed them “that day shall not come except there come a falling away first.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3 KJV)
We are witnessing that falling away from the faith across Europe and North America. Apologists for the Christian faith, such as Ravi Zacharias, agree that we are seeing the emergence of personal moral autonomy where every man does what is right in his own eyes. That includes judging Scripture on the basis of what we believe rather than basing what we believe on the basis of Scripture.
“Our love of autonomy is the reason for the shift we are seeing in America. The Gallup poll reveals more about our desire for personal independence than it does about our interest in religion. If our sense of informational and moral autonomy continues to increase, fewer of us will turn to religion for answers or direction.”
If we use Gallup as a guide, there are more than 163 million people in America who are unchurched. That does not even take into consideration how many are church members but, nonetheless, are not committed to following Christ.
When I was a child, my grandmother used to play a finger game with me. Perhaps you remember the ditty that went with it.
Here’s the church and here’s the steeple,
Open the door and see all the people.
I fear the day is fast approaching when reality will not be as funny as this failed attempt of telling the rhyme on an old episode of The Fresh Prince of Belair.
To read more news on Religion on Missions Box, go here.
- Sight Magazine, Number of Americans who belong to a church or house of worship plummets – Gallup report
- Gallup, S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades
- Christian Headlines, Gallup: Number of Americans Who Belong to a Church or House of Worship Plummets
- Cold-Case Christianity, The Real Reason Why Fewer Americans Think Religion Matters
- Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas