The Pew Research Center just released a new study on religious decline in America. The big findings which grabbed the headline were that the overall percentage of religious persons in America is on the decline and that those Americans who consider themselves “unaffiliated” had enormous and fast growth. These two observations are not really news, however, as the American media has been covering (promoting?) them for some time now. But what I did find interesting, and somewhat surprising, was the fact that “Evangelical Protestants” actually claim the largest percentage of the American population, and they are growing in membership. Also surprising to see was that the Roman Catholic Church is losing its overall representation in the population at rates only slightly less than those of the Mainline Protestant Churches.
The “Evangelical Protestants,” so often maligned in the news and said to be losing credibility with “Millennials,” are actually not doing so bad. They experienced some loss as a percentage of the overall population, it’s true, but they actually gained around 2 million members over the last 7 years, and they still make up a quarter of the US population. While their drop of .9% of the overall population is significant, it does not strike me as a crisis within Evangelicalism as such, but rather a sharing of the overall decline in religious affiliation across the board.
Contrast this with the Roman Catholic Church. Rome has lost 3 million (depending on how the statistics are counted, of course) members and went down 3.1% of the overall US population. It’s true that the Protestant Mainline lost twice as many overall members (which is an incredible implosion), but when you apply the numbers to total percentage of the US population, Rome experiences a 3.1% loss of overall population whereas the Protestant Mainline is losing 3.4%. If immigration were not a factor, one wonders if Rome wouldn’t be experiencing exactly the same implosion as the Protestant Mainline.
Also, less surprising but still worth mentioning, Eastern Orthodoxy makes up less of a percentage of the US population than either Jehovah’s Witnesses, Buddhists, or Hindus.