USA Today reported in the March 9 edition that "Almost all denominations [are] losing ground" in America. For those who study these matters, as I do routinely, this was no great surprise. We are, said the article, "a land of freelancers." The percentage of people who call themselves some kind of Christian has dropped 11% in a generation. The Bible Belt is less Baptist and the Rust Belt is less Catholic. This cuts across all lines. People are exploring new spiritual frontiers and searching for new approaches to faith. Many are simply dropping out totally.
These shifts have occurred over an eighteen year period, according to the newest American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). Despite the growth of immigration, which has added 50 millions new people to the nation, almost all denominations have lost ground since 1990. Barry Kosmin, who is this survey's co-author, says, "More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, 'I'm everything. I'm nothing. I believe in myself.'"
The survey said that 15% of all Americans claim no religion (none), up from 8% in 1990. This is the fastest growing religious category in the United States, hands down. This category outranks all others except for Roman Catholic and Baptist. The challenge to Christianity comes not from other religions, such as Islam or Hinduism, but from "none."
Catholic strongholds in New England and the Midwest have faded as immigrants and retirees have moved to the Sun Belt. Bishops in the Midwest and Northeast are forced to close parishes while bishops in the South scramble.
Baptists make up 15.8% of those surveyed, just very slightly less than the "none" category. This number dropped from 19.5% in 1990. Mainline Protestant denominations continue their sharp decline as well.
But don't take too much comfort in any of this if you prefer the label "Christian" or "non-denominational" or just "born again." This figure was 14.2%, essentially the same as in 1990. So, and this is important to note, even if mainline people are shifting to evangelical churches, which some are clearly doing, this is not stopping the loss of people overall.
My personal observation is that very few congregations are growing by actually reaching "real converts" week-by-week. The evidence that biblical evangelism is actually transforming significant numbers of people is very small. What amazes me is that the ordinary Christian in the typical church doesn't really care. Anyone think we need a real, God-sent, spiritual awakening anytime soon?