Thomas Gallatin / March 30, 2021

American Church Membership Drops Below 50%

For the first time since polling on church membership began, fewer than half are members.

A recently released annual Gallup poll found that, for the first time since Gallup began tracking church membership over 80 years ago in 1937, U.S. church membership dropped below 50% of the population. In 2020, just 47% of Americans claimed membership in any church, synagogue, or mosque. This continues a significant downward trend over the last two decades. In the decades prior to 1999, an average of 70% of Americans maintained church membership.

Since the turn of the 21st century in particular, a growing secularism has taken root as fewer and fewer Americans express any commitment to a religious identity. Much of the decline appears to be generational, as 66% of those born before 1946 belong to a church, whereas 58% of Baby Boomers, 50% of Generation X, and just 36% of Millennials claim church membership.

However, all generational demographics have witnessed a similar rate of decline over the last 20 years — roughly a nine to 12 percentage point drop-off in church membership.

With the decline of church membership has come a steady rejection of traditional moral values, particularly regarding sexuality. A Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 67% of Americans support so-called same-sex marriage, with 76% of Democrats supporting and 51% of Republicans now also indicating favorable support. Some 76% of Americans surveyed also expressed support for “laws that protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people against discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing.” (That depends heavily on the meaning of “discrimination.”)

It makes sense that the less religious the American population becomes, the more people will reject religious values and morality while increasingly embracing a humanism that prizes personal autonomy over and against any divinely revealed morality. The predictable result will be a continued increase in cultural moral decadence and self-interest. Furthermore, the demand for a more centralized, powerful, and controlling government will continue to rise in peoples’ minds as a necessary force to guide and direct society. The role that God used to hold in a majority of Americans’ minds is fast being replaced with a greater reliance on government power.

Can things turn around? Certainly. But the current trends aren’t very promising.

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