I’ve recently been seeing some “thought leaders” in mainline evangelical Christianity posting about a book entitled Myth of the Dying Church which apparently released recently. Many of these “thought leaders” are crowing over the book, claiming that the church itself is doing fine and no major issues. This is utter hubris. The church in America is dying at a rapid rate. Not only that, basic Bible knowledge is also on the decline, particularly among young people. To illustrate, I went to one of the most well regarded statistical databases in America, the General Social Survey (GSS) data. This data is freely available online and will be linked to at the end of the article.
The first item to examine in the GSS database I examined was the percentage of the population who identified as different general branches of religions or no religion. Those identifying as “Evangelical” sit at 25%, down six percent since 2012 and 11% from the all-time high in 1987. Liberal mainline Protestants sit at 23%, up 3% from 2012 but down 13% from the all-time high in 1982. Catholicism has remained approximately steady. People with no religion are at 23%, up three percent since 2012 and 18% up since the survey began in 1972. However, if these numbers are split into age groups, it gets even worse.
34% of young people, aged 18-34 identify as having no religion, up 4% since 2012 and up an incredible 25% since 1972. 21% of this age bracket identify as Catholic, down 3% from 2012 and 11% from the all-time high in 1972. Liberal denominations are up 8%, to 20% since 2012 but down 11% since the all-time high in 1984. “Evangelicalism” is down 8% since 2012, to a pathetic 19% of the youngest age bracket and a whopping 17% since the all-time high in 1987. These numbers are indicative of two things. The church, in general, is losing people to atheism and agnosticism and Evangelicalism is suffering the worst. Definitely, something Evangelical “thought leaders” ought to be celebrating.
Feelings about the Bible are very informative. Only 29% of Americans believe it is the Word of God, down 9% all time. Only 20% of young people believe this, down 15% all time. 21% of all Americans consider the Bible a book of fables. The number is highest among young people, 27%.
Even worse is the percentage of people who attend church. 30% of Americans claim never to attend church, a number which has spiked precipitously from the 9% it was in 1972. That number includes 35% of people in the youngest age bracket. 29% of all Americans go to church less than once a month. 30% of young people are in that category. Doing some very basic arithmetic, 59% of Americans go to church less than once a month, including 65% of people in the youngest age bracket. Only 17% of Americans go to church every week, with only 11% of young people. 6% of Americans go to church more than once a week. Only 4% of young people. Thus only 23% of Americans go to church at least once a week, and only 15% of young people. Again, totally something to cheer about.
Moving on to basic Biblical moral standards, we find things are even worse. Only 31% of Americans say same-sex relations are always wrong, down a massive 39% since 1972. Only 20% of the youngest age bracket believe same-sex relations are always wrong. By contrast 70% of young people think same-sex relationships are never wrong along with 57% of the entire population. 68% of the general population believe homosexuals should have equal marriage rights. By contrast, only 22% are opposed. Only 13% of young people believe homosexuals should not be allowed to marry. 80% believe they should be allowed to marry. 17% of America believe pre-marital relations are always wrong in adults. Only 10% of young people believe this. By contrast, 61% of the general culture think it is never wrong to have extra-marital relationships, including 70% of young people. The church appears not to have done anything to influence the culture…at all. Remember, these are numbers that thought leaders in Evangelicalism are fawning over and calling evidence that the church in America is not dying.
Just looking over the above numbers should tell the story for us. The church in America is following the path of the church in Europe….plummetting towards irrelevance and no amount of “thought leaders” claiming otherwise is going to change it. However, identifying the problem is not the same as solving it.
Solving the mess the church is in is not something that can be done in one blog or by one person. However, I think we have some clues as to solving the issues. In fact, I’ve written a few articles discussing this already. Look for more in the upcoming weeks as we try to right the ship before it goes under.