American culture underwent a paradigm shift in 2020, and few people noticed. For the first time, less than half of Americans claim to belong to a house of worship.
To explain, Gallup estimates 47% of Americans claim to belong to a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue. In contrast, 55% of Americans claimed to belong to a house of worship in 2015.
Hence, the number of Americans who identify as churchgoers fell by 8% in just five years – if Gallup’s polls are accurate. Similarly, Gallup estimates 61% of Americans belonged to houses of worship in 2009. Thus, US religious participation fell by 14% in 11 years.
If those trends continue, less than 40% of Americans could belong to a house of worship in 2026, just five years away. Similarly, 36% or a little over a third of Americans could be part of a house of worship in 2031, 11 years from now.
Welcome to a Churchless America
This change could be dramatic because churches are important cultural, social, and political institutions. Remember, churches drove the Civil Rights Movement, and helped elect presidents as diverse as Jimmy Carter (D-Georgia), Ronald Reagan (R-California), and Donald J. Trump (R-Florida).
What will our politics look like without churches? For instance, a lack of “Prayers to Polls” – the famous effort by black churches to promote Sunday voting.
Beyond politics, there’s all the good works the churches perform in our communities. The food banks, schools, homeless shelters, and outreach programs. Who provides the volunteers to help the poor if there are no churches?
Is America Less Religious?
Gallup’s findings are important, but it is hard to tell how accurate they are.
To elaborate, Gallup’s numbers are not a measure of religious participation. Instead, Gallup counts the number of people who say they belong to a church. It is impossible to know how many of those people actually participate in their religion.
I suspect Gallup found higher levels of “church membership” years ago because people were afraid to admit they did not go to church. Today, as community ties weaken the risks of not participating in religion fall.
For instance, many people no longer fear losing jobs, or friends, because they do not go to church. Thus, Gallup’s real finding could be Americans are more honest in their discussion of their faith, rather than religious participation falls.
The US Religious Disconnect
Notably, Gallup found an interesting disconnect in Americans’ religious behavior.
Gallup estimates that seven out of 10 Americans (70%) claim affiliation with an organized religion. Interestingly, that number matches Gallup’s estimate of American religious participation in 2000. Yet Gallup also estimates that only 47% of Americans participate in organized religion.
Hence, Americans could be a religious people who dislike religion. I think many Americans love the idea of religion but hate the reality. To elaborate, the dogma about a loving God, morality, and salvation through Jesus conflicts with the reality of corruption and hypocrisy in the church.
Thus, the notion that America is becoming a post-Christian nation is correct. Now we need to figure out what a Post-Christian nation is and how to live a moral life in a post-Christian world. I have a feeling that challenge will be far harder for both believers and non-believers than most people admit.