Pew Religious Landscape

The Pew Center Religion and Public Life survey “America’s Changing Religious Landscape” was released on Tuesday. This gigantic survey is an update of the equally impressive 2007 survey. Here are some quick take-aways:

  • “Between 2007 and 2014, the Christian share of the US population fell from 78.4% to 70.6%, driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics.”
  • The twin surveys, taken seven years apart, find that “the number of Christian adults in the U.S. has shrunk by somewhere between 2.8 million and 7.8 million.” (During this same period the total adult population increased by about 18 million.)
  • For “every person who has joined a religion after having been raised unaffiliated, there are more than four people who have become religious ‘nones’ after having been raised in some religion.” (‘None’ = ‘none of the above’)

Things are especially bad for Mainline Protestants, which includes most Presbyterians and Methodists:

  • Mainline Protestantism “appears to have experience the greatest drop in absolute numbers.” Their numbers “may have fallen by as few as 3 million or as many as 7.3 million between 2007 and 2014.” (Contrast with the total decline across all Christian traditions, above.)
  • The share of adults belonging to mainline churches dropped from 18.1% in 2007 to 14.7% in 2014.
  • In 2007, 28% of Gen X’ers and Millenials were Mainline Protestants (15% and 13% respectively). In 2014, they are 24% (13% and 11%).
  • In 2007, women were 54% of protestants in the mainline tradition in the US, and men were 46%. In 2014, women are 55% and men are 45%.
  • Mainline Protestants declined among groups with more and less education: 23% of college graduates in 2007 fell to 18% in 2014, and 16% of adults without a college degree in 2007 fell to 14% in 2014. Evangelical Protestants held their ground with college graduates (20% in both surveys) and nearly so among those without a college degree (29% in 2007 falling to 28% in 2014).
  • The median age of adults in the mainline protestant tradition in the US: in 2007 it was 50; in 2014 it had risen to 52.

So much for Mainline Protestants in general. What about the United Methodist Church (UMC) and the PC(USA)?

  • The PC(USA) as a percentage of the US adult population in 2007 was 1.1%, in 2014 it had fallen to 0.9%. The UMC, as a percentage of US adults, dropped from 5.1% to 3.6% in the same time frame.
  • The UMC continues to be the largest denomination within the mainline Protestant tradition. Currently, 25% of mainline Protestants identify with the UMC, down slightly from 28% in 2007.

I looked (hard!) for a ray of sunshine in the report, and didn’t find much. We’ve made a lot of mistakes and as the saying goes, when you’re in a hole, the first thing is to stop digging. But I did find one:

  • Racial and ethnic diversity has increased in churches. Evangelical Protestants were 19% non-white in 2007 and 24% in 2014. Mainline Protestants were 9% non-white in 2007 and 14% non-white in 2014.

Other than that, well, it just shows that Jesus knew what he was talking about when he says the harvest is plentiful. He wasn’t kidding. (Hear my sermon about that passage here.)


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