As we enter 2017, what are the major trends impacting religion in America and what can we expect looking forward? In this article, I will look at a summary of three reports from reliable sources, moving from a general overview of religion in America, to observations about the Evangelical segment of American religion, to global trends. Links are provided for the full reports. Trend data will be incorporated in updates of the Religion in America page on this site.
RELIGION IN AMERICA
Five Key Findings on Religion in the U.S. – Gallup, December 23, 2016
See the full article on the Gallup website for more analysis and charts.
- America remains a largely Christian nation, although less so than in the past. Seventy-four percent of Americans identify with a Christian religion, and 5% identify with a non-Christian religion. The rest of the U.S. adult population, about 21%, either say they don't have a formal religious identity or don't give a response.
- The trend away from formal religion continues. The most significant trend in Americans' religiosity in recent decades has been the growing shift away from formal or official religion. About one in five U.S. adults (21%) don't have a formal religious identity. This represents a major change from the late 1940s and 1950s when only 2% to 3% of Americans did not report a formal religious identity when asked about it in Gallup surveys. The increase in those claiming no religious identity began in the 1970s, with the percentage crossing the 10% threshold in 1990 and climbing into the teens in the 2000s.
- A majority still say religion is important in their lives. A majority of Americans (53%) say that religion is "very important" in their lives. This is down marginally from recent years, but the trend over time has shown less of a decline than have other religious indicators such as religious identification or church membership. In 1965, 70% said that religion was "very important" in their lives, but figures have since ranged from 52% to 61%. The percentage reporting that religion is "very important" hit the low end of this range in the 1980s and has done so again in more recent years. The 53% who say religion is "very important" this year is low on a relative basis but is similar to what Gallup measured in 1978 and 1987.
- Americans continue to say that religion is losing its influence in American society. Americans continue to perceive that religion is less influential than it used to be, with 72% in 2016 say that religion is losing its influence on American life.
- Religion remains intertwined with political self-identification. Religiosity continued in 2016 to significantly correlate with partisan identification. Slightly more than half of Republicans this year are "highly religious," based on a combination of their self-reported religious service attendance and the importance of religion in their daily life. That compares with a third of independents and Democrats who say the same. By contrast, 20% of Republicans are not religious, compared with 37% of the two other political groups.
As I have commented in several blogs, largely through political reporting the focus on the “religious right” prior to 2000 (Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, Pat Robertson, etc.) has morphed into the use of the term “evangelical” to lump politically conservative Christians into one monolithic group. This is inaccurate. The following report is based on the more traditional definition of evangelical which, while the movement does tend to be right-leaning politically, is more accurately described by its beliefs, the definition used by the National Association of Evangelicals (see “What is an Evangelical?”)
16 Things We Learned About Evangelicals in 2016 – by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, December 29, 2016.
See the full article for more analysis and charts. In addition, each of the topics is linked to a more detailed report.
While the election and its aftermath dominated much of the national attention on evangelicals in 2016, other research projects gave a fuller picture of the American religious group today.
- Evangelicals are more diverse than you may think. When using the LifeWay Research and the National Association of Evangelicals theological definition of the term “evangelical,” the group demonstrates similar levels of ethnic diversity as the rest of the country.
- They share their faith. More than a quarter of religiously affiliated Americans (26 percent) say they share their faith weekly. Among evangelicals, however, that number rises to more than a third (35 percent). That’s more than any other faith group except black Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- Evangelicals are a little fuzzy on basic Christian doctrine. Seven in 10 evangelicals (71 percent) said Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God. More than half (56 percent) say the Holy Spirit is a force and not a personal being.
- Many are sure about the end times, however. More than 4 in 10 (43 percent) evangelical pastors believe in a pretribulation rapture. That’s more than Protestant pastors in general—36 percent of whom believe Christians disappear before the start of the apocalypse.
- They have a different understanding of what a Christian should look like. Evangelicals are more likely than mainline Protestants, black Protestants, or Catholics to say the following are essential to being a Christian: believing in God, praying, reading the Bible, attending services, being honest, forgiving others, spending time with family, being grateful, and dressing modestly.
- Most evangelicals have looked for a new church in their life. Evangelicals (67 percent) are most likely to have looked for a new church at some point in their lives. Catholics (41 percent) and the “nones”—the religiously unaffiliated—(29 percent) are least likely.
- They say they pray about big decisions and regularly thank God. Seventy percent of evangelicals and 78 percent of black Protestants say they rely on prayer when making a major life decision. Only 39 percent of Catholics and 38 percent of mainline Protestants say the same.
- Most would rather talk about God than politics. Six in 10 Americans are more comfortable talking about politics than their spiritual beliefs. By contrast, evangelical Christians prefer talking about God over politics by a 2-to-1 margin.
- Many believe things are getting harder for them. A growing share of evangelicals (41 percent) say it has become more difficult to be an evangelical Christian in the U.S. in recent years; just 34 percent answered the question the same way in 2014.
- Evangelicals have views different from most Americans on LGBT issues. More than half of people with evangelical beliefs (54 percent) say it’s wrong to identify with a gender different from their sex at birth.
- They are pro-life at the beginning and end of life. Only 7 percent of white evangelicals view having an abortion as morally acceptable. More than 3 in 4 (76 percent) say it is morally wrong. Almost 9 in 10 church-attending evangelicals (89 percent) see it as morally wrong.
- Evangelicals think sports gambling should be illegal, but aren’t sure if it’s immoral. Almost 6 in 10 with evangelical beliefs (58 percent) say sports betting should not be legalized throughout the country, and 57 percent believe daily fantasy sports should be illegal.
- They are hesitant about technology to enhance human abilities. White evangelical Protestants are more likely than Americans overall (64 percent vs. 49 percent) to say using synthetic blood to give healthy people greater speed, strength and stamina would be crossing a line and “meddling with nature.”
- They say they are attending church more. Three in 4 evangelicals say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month. That’s the most of any religious group and well above the 51 percent of all Americans who say they attend regularly.
- Evangelicals hear about political issues at church, but don’t want endorsements from the pulpit.Half (49 percent) of American evangelicals said they heard a pastor speak on religious liberty. Slightly less than half (46 percent) heard about homosexuality at church.
- Globally, evangelicals are the second fastest growing Christian group. Evangelicals (2.12 percent) and Pentecostals (2.22 percent) are outpacing other branches of Christianity. By 2050, those two groups combined (1.67 billion) will outnumber Catholics (1.61 billion).
Sources: LifeWay Research, Pew Research, Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gorden-Conwell Theological Seminary
5 Global Trends Impacting Religion in 2017 and Beyond– by Aaron Earls, Facts & Trends, December 7, 2016
What will religion look like in the world next year and into the future? Using their annual research, Gordon-Conwell’s Status of Global Christianity offers a preview of the world’s near and long-term religious future.
- The world is becoming more religious.
Despite how it may seem, religion continues to thrive in the world—growing at a 1.33 percent rate, higher than the population growth (1.21).
In 2017, almost 6.7 billion people will identify with a religion, which equals 89 percent of the world’s population. By 2050, almost 92 percent will be religious in some way.
- Atheism is on the decline.
Non-religionists continue to fall behind global population rates. Their 0.31 percent growth will bring them up to almost 834 million in 2017.
While agnostics are growing around 0.36 percent, atheists have the smallest growth percentage of any belief system—0.05.
According to projections, non-religionists will actually decline in raw numbers sometime after 2025. For atheists, they will start to drop sometime after next year.
- Christianity is growing, but not as fast as Islam.
The overall global population is growing at a 1.21 rate. Only Islam (1.93 percent), Sikhs (1.62 percent), Hinduism (1.34 percent), and Christianity (1.31 percent) are growing faster.
In 2017 and the foreseeable future, Christianity should remain the largest religion in the world with almost 2.5 billion adherents. Islam will have slightly less than 1.8 billion followers, while Hindus will cross the 1 billion mark.
- The world is more urban than ever.
In 1900, there were 20 megacities, cities with more than 1 million people. In 2017, there will be 522 such cities.
Next year, 55 percent of the world’s population will live in an urban environment. That amounts to more than 4.1 billion people. Of those, almost 1.6 billion will be Christians.
- Literacy continues to expand.
From 1900 to 2000, literacy rates among adults jumped from 27.6 percent to 76.7 percent. By next year, more than 8 in 10 global adults will be able to read.
Christians are working to produce more Bibles to keep up. More than 87 million Bibles will be printed in 2017. When combined with the smaller portions of Scripture, 2017 will see more than 5.1 billion pieces of the Bible printed.
MORE . . .
We are in a time of signfiicant change in religion around the world. Through the year I will continue to monitor trends, updating the Religion in America page and adding posts here on the InfoMatters blog.