July 13, 2011
Is America Becoming More Religious?
By Mike McManus
surprising new evidence that America is becoming more religious.
Poll, which has been tracking the nation’s faith for more than 70 years,
reported recently that 43 percent of Americans reported weekly or almost
weekly church attendance in 2010.
is up slightly over 42 percent in 2008.
this is a small change. However, it is based a huge sample of 800,000
Americans that Gallup interviewed.
increased attendance occurred during a period (from February, 2008 to May,
2010) when the economy was improving slightly, and the U.S. confidence had
Gallup suggested that is the opposite of
conventional wisdom: “There has been well-publicized speculation about the
possibility that church attendance has risen over the past two years as
Americans become more despondent and worried as a result of the economic
“However, trends in Gallup’s Economic
Confidence Index reflect just the opposite pattern with both church
attendance and economic confidence increasing from 2008 to 2009 and now into
Gallup reported in 2007 that 82 percent of
the public identified with a Christian religion. 51 percent of whom said
they were Protestant, 23 percent Roman Catholic, 8 percent were “other
Christian,” such as Orthodox or Mormon.
These figures have fallen slightly over time.
In 1948, Gallup found that 69 percent were
Protestant and 21 percent Catholic, or 91 percent Christian. The major
change has been a doubling in the percentage who did not identify with any
Of course, identifying with a faith does not
mean one is active.
Church membership was 73 percent in 1937 when
Gallup first asked the question, a figure that was very stable, 70 percent
in 1999, for example. However, since 2002, the figure has ranged from 62 to
On the other hand, an even more recent Barna
Group Poll revealed that a growing percentage of Americans have reduced
their giving to churches and other non-profit charities as the economy
First, a huge 77 percent of Americans
reported being personally impacted by the nation’s financial difficulties in
May, 2011, a quarter of whom have been affected “in a major way.” In
November of 2008, 68 percent had been affected personally. At that time, 20
percent had reduced their giving to churches and another 30 percent cut
giving to other nonprofits.
By April of this year, the percentage who cut
church giving rose to three in ten and 39 percent trimmed contributions to
Among those who reduced gifts to churches, a
quarter stopped all giving, and 12 percent cut by more than half compared to
15 months earlier.
Consistent with these trends, Barna reported
that the number who tithed, donating at least 10 percent of their income,
has also dropped. The figure had been relatively stable at 5 to 7 percent,
but is now down to 4 percent.
Commenting on these trends, David Kinnamen,
President of the Barna Group, said, “The economic downturn influenced
donations later than it affected other aspects of our spending. Once it
kicked in, though, donors have cut back significantly in their giving to
churches and non-profits.”
How to assess these trends of a slight rise
in church attendance, a slight drop in church membership and a drop in
Barna reported this year that about a million
church people a year are joining the unchurched. “Interestingly, many of
these unchurched people are spiritually active. One out of every five reads
the Bible in a typical week; six out of ten pray to God, and nearly a
million tithe their income. Four in ten absorb Christian content through
the media - radio. television, magazine or faith-based websites,” Barna
One woman I know is in this group. She used
to go to church weekly, but now meets with a group of Christian friends for
Bible study and prayer.
As for the decline in giving, many really are
hurting in this economy.
Doubtless, however, some remind me of James:
“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I
do….Faith without deeds is useless.”