(By Justin Taylor, The Gospel Coalition). PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute)—a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy—has released their reporton the 2016 American Values Atlas (AVA), which was the single largest survey of American religious and denominational identity ever conducted.
The AVA draws upon data from more than 100,000 bilingual telephone interviews conducted among a random sample of Americans in 2016, with 40,000 interviews on political issue areas.
Because of its large sample size, the AVA allows analysis of specific census regions, all 50 states, and even 30 major metropolitan areas, while providing a rare portrait of smaller religious communities and ethnic groups.
The following is drawn from their executive summary.
1. White Christians now account for fewer than half of the public.
- Today, only 43% of Americans identify as white and Christian, and only 30% as white and Protestant.
- In 1976, roughly eight in ten (81%) Americans identified as white and identified with a Christian denomination, and a majority (55%) were white Protestants.
2. White evangelical Protestants are in decline—along with white mainline Protestants and white Catholics.
- White evangelical Protestants were once thought to be bucking a longer trend, but over the past decade their numbers have dropped substantially.
- Fewer than one in five (17%) Americans are white evangelical Protestant, but they accounted for nearly one-quarter (23%) in 2006.
- Over the same period, white Catholics dropped five percentage points from 16% to 11%, as have white mainline Protestants, from 18% to 13%.
3. Non-Christian religious groups are growing, but they still represent less than one in ten Americans combined.
- Jewish Americans constitute 2% of the public while Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus each constitute only 1% of the public.
- All other non-Christian religions constitute an additional 1%.
4. America’s youngest religious groups are all non-Christian.
- Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are all far younger than white Christian groups.
- At least one-third of Muslims (42%), Hindus (36%), and Buddhists (35%) are under the age of 30. Roughly one-third (34%) of religiously unaffiliated Americans are also under 30.
- In contrast, white Christian groups are aging. Slightly more than one in ten white Catholics (11%), white evangelical Protestants (11%), and white mainline Protestants (14%) are under 30.
- Approximately six in ten white evangelical Protestants (62%), white Catholics (62%), and white mainline Protestants (59%) are at least 50 years old.
Read the report: America’s Changing Religious Identity
As an economics major as a undergrad. You learn to apply mathematics and algorithms to explain data and trends in distributions of data. By its nature the ‘dismal science’ tends to be free of ideology and dogma associated in the more soft social sciences, theology among them.
As much as the Leftist PCUSA and other mainline liberal will tend to look at this data and say. ” see you are all losing members and suffering our exodus as well.” Not so fast. By applying what is called standard deviation analysis, translation, how one would expect a result to differ from the mean in a standard bell curve distribution. The membership loss of the PCUSA is a bit over 3.5 standard deviations removed from the mean of denomination membership loss of all reported groups. Meaning that that over the same time period the PCUSA lost and continues to lose members at a rate 3.5X or 350% greater than its denominational peers.
In other terms, folks flee, die, leave, drop off the PCUSA plantation grid at a rate of 3.5 people for ever 1 person leaving denomination X in the report. So, all that PCUSA garbage about how 1001 New Communities will lead to some sort of rebirth in the entity, is indeed garbage from a mathematical, analytical perspective. Sorry PCUSA, the math and physics of this world does not match your ideological nonsense. Maybe if you spent less time behind a bull horn in your little pink knit hats, and a bit more time reading a book or actually getting an education you would gain such insights.
Peter Gregory—Your anger and vitriol do not become you. But your statements about standard deviation are just plain wrong. I don’t have the time to explain your misinterpretation of the standard deviation, but membership loss is happening to all denominations, and your claim of a SD of 3.5 is gobble.
Also Theology is not one of the social sciences.
If by “membership loss is happening to all denominations,” you mean that no denomination has had uninterrupted growth over an extended period of time, that each denomination has experienced decline in at least one year out of the past twenty, you are probably correct. If, on the other hand, you mean that all denominations have been suffering the same kind of catastrophic membership loss that the mainline denominations (i.e., the Episcopal Church, the PC(USA), the ELCA, the UMC, the American Baptist Church, the Disciples of Christ, the UCC), then you are quite mistaken. Most non-mainline denominations (e.g., the SBC, the PCA, the Evangelical Free Church, the AME Church, the Assemblies of God) have experienced significant growth over the same period during which the mainline churches have experienced unmitigated decline. Even if one were to limit the timeframe to recent years, the statement is not true; for example, in the past five years the PCA has experienced membership loss in one (2014, when membership fell from 359,834 to 358,516, a statistically insignificant decline of 0.37%; from 2012 to 2016, the PCA membership grew from 356,820 to 374,161, a modest increase of 4.86%); by contrast, the PC(USA) has experienced significant membership losses in each of the past five years (from 2012 to 2016, the PC(USA) membership fell from 1,849,496 to 1,482,767, a statistically very significant decline of 19.83%); in fact, the PC(USA) has experienced membership loss every year since 1965 (in 1965, the UPCUSA and the PCUS had a combined membership of 4,254,597; the decline to last year represents a catastrophic loss of 65.15%).
Moreover, denominational Christianity does not represent the whole picture. In the same timeframe during which mainline Christianity has lost membership, membership in non-denominational churches has exploded. Whereas in the past fifty years many disaffected Presbyterians have gone from the PC(USA) to the PCA, the EPC, and the ECO, many more have gone to swell the membership of non-denominational megachurches.
Overall, the percentage of Christians in the total American population may have fallen over the past fifty years, but the total number of Christians has increased in the same period. Christianity as a whole (unlike the mainline denominations) has grown numerically over the past fifty years; however, that growth has not matched the increase in the American population over the same period.
I have been an active contributor to this website for a long, long time. Over the years I have had more than a few take exception to my commentary. ‘Pres’, “Pres-child”, come to mind. They come and go. And maybe you are them in another avatar. I doubt that, you seem a reasonable and mature person. So again I make the offer, feel free to contact me by any means. And we talk, that’s what sane, rational, people of faith do. Disagree as we do, I feel you are a person of sincere, personal faith.
But at the end this is not about you or me, or anybody else who agree or disagree with mine or other’s points of view. The entity known as the administrative state PCUSA is arrogant, banal, vulgar in attitude. Apostate in theological orientation, lead by second rate political hacks, whose skill sets seem to be on loan from the antifa movements. And on that matter I will expend any amount of effort to speak too. And again you or anybody else who disagree, I am in the book.
James – just happened on this thread by accident. I can attest to your statement that what appears here about so-called “standard deviation analysis” is gibberish. You are right to say it would take time to address it all, but let’s try at least a brief version: I suppose in theory one could collect membership loss proportions for “all reported groups” – no such thing exists in this report – but it would be difficult to justify and interpret some analysis that looked at the standard deviation of those numbers even if one had done the calculations. But you are probably responding to the fact that even in the hypothetical and very doubtful situation of one of those numbers being 3.5 standard deviations from the mean, that of course has nothing whatsoever to do with one quantity being 3.5 times another. And even at the middle school level, one should know that “3.5X” is equivalent to 250% “greater than,” not 350%.
No surprise here. ‘Nones’ are a real thing. Increasing numbers refuse to belong to a Church which is part of a denomination. Just as increasing numbers refuse to state or accept a political affiliation, increasing numbers of people loath or distrust the entire concept of a corporate denomination.
What I find sad is that many Churches are unable to clearly state why being in Church is any better/necessary than going to a PTA meeting or a creek clean-up.