Each year, a new soul-seizing factoid
that has no basis in truth circulates through the church and
then through the culture at large. • "Christianity will die out
in this generation unless we do something now." • "Only 4
percent of this generation is Christian." • "Ninety-four percent
of teenagers drop out of church, never to return again."
I deal with statistics almost every day.
What I've learned is that 68 percent of stats are made up on the
Many of the statistics currently bandied
about regarding the Christian faith in the United States are
incomplete, inaccurate, and otherwise prone to emphasize the
negative. Bad news has pushed aside the good news about the Good
What Hout and Fischer's conclusion warns
us is that there may be a substantial cost for the church to
play politics-we lose people.
Outreach magazine writes that "the
picture is bleak," the facts are "sobering," and "94% of our
churches are losing ground in the communities they serve."'
Evangelical Christians have been defined
as having four central convictions: (1) salvation through faith
in Jesus Christ, (2) an experience of personal conversion (i.e.,
being born again), (3) the importance of missions and
evangelism, and (4) the truth of the Bible." Evangelical
denominations include Southern Baptists, Pentecostals,
Charismatics, Assemblies of God, Lutherans in the Missouri
Synod, the Church of Christ, and most nondenominational
Reflecting this change, in 1990, only
about 200,000 Americans described themselves as
nondenominational Christians, but in 2008, 8 million did so.18
Perhaps counterintuitively, religions
that make it easy for their members also provide fewer benefits
and garner less commitment.
Notably, a large number of American-born
Catholics have left their religion; in fact, an estimated 10% of
all Americans are former Catholics.24 Why, then, hasn't the
percentage of Catholics plummeted? Immigration.
"The vast majority of Americans are
Christians. Which of the following is the largest group of
non-Christians in the United States: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists,
or the unaffiliated?" The correct answer, of course, is
"unaffiliated" by almost a 10 to 1 margin, but barely a third of
the respondents got it correct.
Since 1972, Evangelical Christians have
more than doubled in number, going from about 25 million adults
to almost 60 million.
The assumption that we live in a
secularized world is false. The world today, with some
exceptions ... is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in
some places more so than ever. This means that a whole body of
literature by historians and social scientists loosely labeled
"secularization theory" is essentially mistaken.49 To paraphrase
Mark Twain: "The reports of God's death are greatly
The percentage of [high school] seniors who viewed
religion as either "pretty important" or "very important"
dropped in the early 1980s, but it remained mostly stable for
the next twenty years at between 55 and 60%.
Likewise, the number of
attended church on a weekly or monthly basis dropped through the
1980s, but it has held steady since then at about 45 to 50%.
Do you need more reason to be skeptical?
Consider previous, failed predictions." • In 1761, Ezra Stiles,
before he was president of Yale University, used demographic
projection techniques to predict that in 100 years there would
be 7 million Congregationalists and less than half a million
Baptists. Turns out that, in fact, in 1860 there were 2 million
Baptists and only half a million Congregationalists. • In 1822,
Thomas Jefferson predicted the imminent demise of Christianity
in favor of Unitarianism. He wrote, "There is not a young man
now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian."
He wasn't even close. Currently less than .5% of the population
is Unitarian. • In the 1800s, social theorist Auguste Comte
stated that human society was outgrowing its "theological stage"
of social evolution, and sociology would replace religion as the
basis of moral judgment. (As someone who has spent twenty years
in sociology, I am so, so glad that this did not happen.) • In
the 1800s, Frederich Engels predicted that a socialist
revolution would cause religion to evaporate "soon."
Somewhat surprisingly, two-thirds of the
religiously unaffiliated believe in absolute truth, indicating
that in fact they are not all postmodern, secular humanists who
believe in relative truth, as is often assumed by Christians.
What would probably surprise many
outspoken Christian leaders is the fact that over time,
Evangelicals are praying more often.
If we look at how this has changed over
time, there is little evidence that church attendance rates
among Evangelicals are decreasing; in fact, they may even be
Over half, 52%, of Evangelicals report
that they share their faith with others at least monthly,
A Pew Survey question asked respondents
how often they "feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and
well-being." About two-thirds of Evangelicals and Black
Protestants report feeling these positive emotions on a weekly
if not daily basis. In contrast, slightly less than half of
Catholics, Mainline Protestants, and Orthodox Christians report
What may surprise many if not most
Christians is that the beliefs of young Evangelicals over the
past several decades have either remained stable or have become
more in line with the church's teachings.
. . . who pray daily has steadily increased,
from about half in the 1980s to over two-thirds currently.
Church attendance has likewise trended upward, with about 35% of
evangelical youth attending church weekly in the 1970s and 1980s
and over 40% now.
Specifically, he found that regular
attendees are more likely to look to God for strength, believe
that God is watching over them, carry their religious beliefs
into other dealings, feel God's presence every day, find comfort
in religion, desire closeness to God, consider themselves to be
very religious and spiritual, and have had a life-changing
Christians, Jews, and members of other
religions all have relatively low rates of cohabitation, around
4%. In contrast, twice as many of the religiously unaffiliated,
over 8%, are living together.
Likewise, with divorce, 60% of the
never-attendees had been divorced or were separated compared to
only 38% of the weekly attendees.
If we focus on the line labeled
"Christians (all)" we see that, taken as a whole, Christians are
committing adultery about one-third less than the unaffiliated.
It appears that the commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery"
is, thankfully, still having an effect on the church.
Evangelicals who regularly attend church
display far less sexual misconduct than those who attend less
often. Twenty-two percent of Evangelicals who never attend
church have committed adultery as compared to 13% of those who
Not only did Protestants commit less
crime, but also the Protestants who attended church on a weekly
basis did so far less than other Protestants. Figure 6.5 plots
these differences, and the weekly attendees had crime levels
that were about half as high as the other,
less-frequently-attending Protestants. For example, 4% of the
weekly attendees had been arrested, compared to 8% of the
monthly attendees, 12% of the yearly attendees, and 15% of those
who never attend.
Turning to attendance data, we see very
large differences. Among Protestants, about 10 to 12% of the
monthly, yearly, or rarely attending respondents averaged five
drinks or more on the days they drank. In contrast, only 3% of
the weekly attendees did.
Turning to attendance measures, when it
comes to everyday honesty the results are mixed for
Evangelicals. A willingness to lie for a friend decreases
considerably with church attendance. While 17% of the
Evangelicals who rarely attend church would lie to the police,
only 3% of the weekly attendees would do so.
. . . people who associate themselves with
Christianity, as compared to the religiously unaffiliated, are
more likely to have faithful marriages, commit less crime,
interact honestly with others, and not get into as much trouble
with drugs or alcohol. What's more, the more committed
Christians are to their faith, as measured by church attendance,
the greater the impact the church's teachings seem to have on
their lives. The 2006
Social Capital Community Study asks respondents how often they
talk or visit with their immediate neighbors. As shown in Figure
7.1, Protestant respondents were the mostly likely (53%) to
interact at least once a week with their neighbors, followed by
Catholics (50%), those with no religious affiliation (46%), and
members of other religions (44%).
Among Evangelicals, those who attend
church services most frequently report the most caring and
acceptance. About one-third of the never-attendees selflessly
care for others on a daily basis compared to 45% of the more
regular attendees. Similarly, only 26% of the never-attendees
regularly accept others when they are wrong, but 46% of the
weekly attendees do so.
respondents-Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, and Black
Protestants-are the most forgiving, with 52 to 55% of them
reporting that they always or almost always forgive others.
About 45% of Catholics and members of other religions report
always forgiving, and only 29% of the religiously unaffiliated
The good news is that among
Evangelicals, weekly attendees are the most likely to give to
the homeless and volunteer for charities. As shown in Figure
7.3, 54% of Evangelicals who attend church every week gave food
or money to the homeless at least twice in the previous year,
compared with only 34% of the never-attending ones. With
charitable volunteering, the difference is even more pronounced.
Forty-nine percent of weekly attendees volunteered compared to
only 13% of the never attending.
Among Protestants, those who attended
church services most frequently had the warmest feelings toward
both the rich and the poor. The weekly attendees rated their
feelings toward the poor at 74 points and toward the rich 63
points; whereas, those who rarely attended rated them at 66 and
55 points respectively. The gap between the rich and the poor
remained steady, at 10 or 11 points, at each level of
On a positive note, Evangelicals who
attend church more often have warmer feelings toward minority
groups than those who attend less often. Weekly attendees
averaged ratings of 6.4 to 6.6 for these groups, and those who
rarely attended or only attended yearly had ratings of 5.3 to
Among Evangelical high school kids,
feelings of parental closeness increased with church attendance,
especially with weekly attendance.
Among Evangelical youth, those who
attended church more often were also the ones who were most
likely to give their time and money to others. In fact, the
weekly attendees were almost twice as likely to do these
activities as the yearly attendees.
With measures of love and compassion,
Christians do very well as compared to the rest of society. They
are neighborly, forgiving, and caring for the poor. And what's
more, these measures of general goodwill toward others increase
with church attendance, which suggests the possibility that
churches effectively teach compassion.
In a classic sociological study, Eugene
Hartley surveyed people about their attitudes toward various
ethnic groups, including the fictitious groups "Dani- reans,""Pirraneans,"
and "Wallonians"9 He found that those people who didn't like
Blacks and Jews also did not like these three fictional
However, in contrast, relatively few
non-Christians had negative feelings toward Methodists,
Catholics, or Baptists.
This allows us to examine whether
non-Christians have increasingly negative attitudes toward
Christians. To the contrary, their attitudes toward us actually
have become increasingly positive in recent years. Figure 8.5
presents attitudes toward Evangelical Christians over time among
three groups-Christians, members of other religions, and the
religiously unaffiliated. In the 1990s, about 70% of the
religiously unaffiliated had a negative opinion of Evangelical
Christians, and now only about 40% do.
As shown in Figure 8.9,53% of
Evangelicals believed that Evangelicals are looked down upon,
and about 40 to 45% of the remaining respondents agreed with
this statement. As you'll remember from the start of this
chapter, the actual percentage of Americans who view
Evangelicals negatively is closer to 20 to 25%. In other words,
both Evangelicals and others think that Evangelicals are
disrespected more than they are. Evangelical Christians in
particular overinflate the negative opinions held about them by
the general population.
One of the questions asked faculty
members if they had negative feelings toward various religious
groups. As shown in Figure 8.10, over half-53%-of the faculty
members reported having negative feelings toward Evangelical
Christians, and this was far more than toward any other group