Church Attendance Declining In United States

by Kevin Burton

   Church attendance is down, way down, in the USA, reports the British newspaper The Guardian, citing two main reasons.

   The worldwide Covid pandemic is the first, understandable reason. For a while there, few people were going anywhere. The second reason is more troubling: Americans are giving up on Christianity. 

   Churches are closing, reports The Guardian.

   “About 4,500 Protestant churches closed in 2019, the last year data is available, with about 3,000 new churches opening, according to Lifeway Research,” wrote Guardian reporter  Adam Gabbatt. “It was the first time the number of churches in the US hadn’t grown since the evangelical firm started studying the topic. With the pandemic speeding up a broader trend of Americans turning away from Christianity, researchers say the closures will only have accelerated.

   “The closures, even for a temporary period of time, impacted a lot of churches. People breaking that habit of attending church means a lot of churches had to work hard to get people back to attending again,” said Scott McConnell, executive director at Lifeway Research.

   “In the last three years, all signs are pointing to a continued pace of closures probably similar to 2019 or possibly higher, as there’s been a really rapid rise in American individuals who say they’re not religious.”

   “Protestant pastors reported that typical church attendance is only 85 percent of pre-pandemic levels,” McConnell said.

   Way back in October my wife and I started talking about re-establishing the habit of going out to our church building rather than watching Sunday service on the computer.

   Churches were among the worst offenders in spreading the virus by disobeying government quarantine instructions, according to newspaper accounts.  We even switched churches (switched websites rather) when our old pastor put what I thought was undue pressure on people to attend in person. This was before vaccines were available. 

   But by last October we had the Covid shot, then a booster. The spread of the virus didn’t seem to be quite as rapid. We talked about going back.

   We were in Omaha on the first Sunday of our October vacation and planned to use the occasion to pick a church and hit a pew for the first time in a long time.

   Then we woke up maybe 40 minutes later than planned. We had our church picked out but, we were not familiar with Omaha and how to get there.  That moment of truth came and it was just easier to tune in the service from their website.

   That moment of truth hits us at home too.  If either of us is the least bit, sick, tired, if we overslept at all, it’s just so easy to turn on the computer with the big monitor downstairs and do church that way.

   No to commuting, traffic, exposure to people not being careful about the virus. Yes to robes and house shoes.

   “But while Covid-19 may have accelerated the decline, there is a broader, long-running trend of people moving away from religion,” Gabbatt reported. “In 2017 Lifeway surveyed young adults aged between 18 and 22 who had attended church regularly, for at least a year during high school. The firm found that seven out of 10 had stopped attending church regularly.”

   Some of the reasons were “logistical,” McConnell said, as people moved away for college or started jobs which made it difficult to attend church.

   “But some of the other answers are not so much logistics. One of the top answers was church members seem to be judgmental or hypocritical,” McConnell said.

   About a quarter of the young adults who dropped out of church said they disagreed with their church’s stance on political and social issues, McConnell said.

   A study by Pew Research found that the number of Americans who identified as Christian was 64 percent in 2020, with 30 percent  of the US population being classed as “religiously unaffiliated”.

   In 1972, 92 percent of Americans said they were Christian, Pew reported, but by 2070 that number will drop to below 50 percent – and the number of “religiously unaffiliated” Americans – or ‘nones’ will probably outnumber those adhering to Christianity.

   Stephen Bullivant, author of Nonverts: The Making of Ex-Christian America and professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University, said in the Christian world it had been a generational change.

   While grandparents might have been regular churchgoers, their children would say they believe in God, but not go to church regularly. By the time millennials came round, they had little experience or relationship with churchgoing or religion.

   The Bible predicted that people would turn away from sound teaching in the end times.

   “For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and will turn aside to myths,” 2 Tim. 4:3-4 NASB.

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1 Comment

  1. Even the term, “sound doctrine” is tricky. People who have long considered themselves to be Christian can adamantly disagree on “sound doctrine.” Let us also keep in mind that there is a difference between being religious and having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

    Tracy Duffy



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