U.S. Church Membership Below 50 Percent for First Time

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted March 30, 2021

It’s not just the “old-time religion” that seems to be hurting these days: A March 29, 2021, poll released by Gallup Inc. says that fewer than half of all Americans are affiliated with a church, a synagogue, or a mosque. What was a 73-percent majority in 1937 has shrunk to 47 percent today—an all-time low in the more than 80 years this survey has been run.

Just as extraordinary is the percentage over time: Affiliated churchgoers consistently “remained near 70% for … six decades … [until] the turn of the 21st century.” After that point, numbers have been dropping at “a steady decline.” How did this happen? 

According to Gallup, the reason is split between an “increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference” and “a decline in formal church membership among Americans who do have a religious preference.”

Take a look at these startling numbers, broken down by decade: “The percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998–2000 to 13% in 2008–2010 and 21% over the past three years.” And “between 1998 and 2000, an average of 73% of religious Americans belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. Over the past three years, the average has fallen to 60%.”

Age, Politics Play a Role

Furthermore, the report stated that the older an American is, the more likely he or she is to be a member of a religious congregation. Of those born before 1946, some 66 percent are church members. Among baby boomers, it’s 58 percent. For Gen X, the number drops to 50 percent. And for millennials, it plummets to 36 percent.

Gallup reported, “The decline in church membership, then, appears largely tied to population change, with those in older generations who were likely to be church members being replaced in the U.S. adult population with people in younger generations who are less likely to belong. … Each year the younger generations are making up an increasingly larger part of the entire U.S. adult population.”

Some other interesting data emerged from the study: “Among religious groups, the decline in membership is steeper among Catholics (down 18 points, from 76% to 58%) than Protestants (down nine points, from 73% to 64%). This mirrors the historical changes in church attendance Gallup has documented among Catholics, with sharp declines among Catholics but not among Protestants.”

In addition to the religious demographic, Gallup found that membership declines are also “smaller among political conservatives, Republicans, married adults and college graduates,” but higher among those in the Eastern United States and among Democrats.

Of course, Gallup—along with some online commenters on Facebook—also noted the plausible impact the COVID-19 restrictions had on religious gatherings, though they are by no means the sole cause for the drop.

The Body of Christ in Earth’s Last Days

This new study comes on the heels of a 2020 report in which America’s “engagement” with the Bible as a daily source of inspiration has likewise declined, again in part due to the pandemic. We seem to be coming up against the same dilemma more and more as time goes on: What is Christianity’s purpose in a society that seems to want it less and less?

Do we just go our own way? Do we segregate? Do we secede? Or do we join the crowd? Do we start thinking that maybe church really isn’t that crucial to our faith?

The Bible clearly gives the answer. As Christians, we have a duty—no, a privilege: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). We do this individually, each a soul whom Christ has saved; and we do this as one body, “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

Do not give up on the precious lost for whom Christ has died; “do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thessalonians 3:13). The world may think church a fast-fading trend, but our God knows better. God’s church, His people, exist to represent Christ to the world. Yes, there will be trials and hardships and even persecution, but Scripture assures us that “he who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

Are you uncertain about your future in the church? Then check out Pastor Doug Batchelor’s presentation, “Who Needs the Church?”, the first part in a dynamic series entitled Reclaim Your Faith.

The Gallup report concludes with this ominous advice: “The challenge for church leaders is to encourage those who do affiliate with a specific faith to become formal, and active, church members. While precise numbers of church closures are elusive, a conservative estimate is that thousands of U.S. churches are closing each year.”

The process of making “formal,” “active” members has been studied and researched and tested like some statistic, like some plug-and-play formula. But this can be achieved only by a living, working relationship with the Source of power and life Himself, God. Discover what role you have in God’s end-time church in Pastor Doug’s “Dismembered: Avoiding an Out-of-Body Experience,” an article that you can read for free.

And understand the deep beauty of a godly community of faith in “An Exciting Way to Get Involved,” a Bible study on how the body of Christ can reach out to the lost.

The church is not dead; neither is it irrelevant. God is still patiently waiting for us to call upon His mighty arm of strength that we might co-labor with Him in the reaping of souls for His kingdom. What will be your answer to His call?

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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