A recent Gallup poll found only 50% of Americans self-reported as members of a church, synagogue, or mosque in 2018. That’s a sharp drop from around 70% in 1999, a number that had stayed fairly steady in prior decades. The decline matches up with the nation’s “steep increase” of “nones,” or people who don’t identify with any religion, according to Gallup.
Today, people expect transparency, so that’s perhaps part of the reason “none” is a more frequent answer, said Scott McConnell of LifeWay Research. People are more willing to admit they have no religious preference. But, “the Gallup study shows the declines in church membership have also occurred among those with a religious preference,” McConnell said. “This is evidence that church membership has declined in value. In some cases, it is due to churches putting less emphasis on becoming a member, and in other cases it is the churchgoers who fail to see its value in practice.”
As church membership declines, worry, stress and anger increase. Those numbers hit all-time highs in 2018, with Americans’ Negative Experience Index at 35 – three percentage points higher than it had ever been. Younger Americans are more likely to feel that anxiety.
That’s no surprise to Ronnie Floyd, president of the SBC Executive Committee. “A closer look at the data tells us the people who have the highest levels of stress, worry, and anger are the same younger generations who are leaving the church.”
“This news should cause us as pastors, churches, and believers to look closely at what we are doing and make sure we are about the business of declaring the gospel of Jesus and doing it with love and compassion,” said Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board.
“We will see a cultural shift back toward Jesus when we see individual believers engaging friends and family members with the truth of the gospel.”