I’ve been incessantly writing and talking about a “demographic sinkhole” opening up under the Church in these USA.
Gallup published (oddly, under “Politics”) about US Church membership. When you go over there to read the article, be aware that they use the word “traditionalist” to identify people born before 1946. It has nothing to do with liturgical choices.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.
U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.
As many Americans celebrate Easter and Passover this week, Gallup updates a 2019 analysis that examined the decline in church membership over the past 20 years.
Gallup asks Americans a battery of questions on their religious attitudes and practices twice each year. The following analysis of declines in church membership relies on three-year aggregates from 1998-2000 (when church membership averaged 69%), 2008-2010 (62%), and 2018-2020 (49%). The aggregates allow for reliable estimates by subgroup, with each three-year period consisting of data from more than 6,000 U.S. adults.
The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.
As would be expected, Americans without a religious preference are highly unlikely to belong to a church, synagogue or mosque, although a small proportion — 4% in the 2018-2020 data — say they do. That figure is down from 10% between 1998 and 2000.
Given the nearly perfect alignment between not having a religious preference and not belonging to a church, the 13-percentage-point increase in no religious affiliation since 1998-2000 appears to account for more than half of the 20-point decline in church membership over the same time.
Most of the rest of the drop can be attributed to a decline in formal church membership among Americans who do have a religious preference. Between 1998 and 2000, an average of 73% of religious Americans belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque. Over the past three years, the average has fallen to 60%.
That’s the generic nutshell.
What about Catholics?
Between 2010 and 2020 there was a big drop. Why could that be?
Also, note the difference in the drop between Republicans (-12) and Democrats (-25), Conservative (-14) and both Moderate and Liberal (-21).
Protestant (-9) and Catholic (-18). Could that be because Catholics are dropping out to go to megachurches?
Also,… NB: mention of pandemic…
The U.S. remains a religious nation, with more than seven in 10 affiliating with some type of organized religion. However, far fewer, now less than half, have a formal membership with a specific house of worship. While it is possible that part of the decline seen in 2020 was temporary and related to the coronavirus pandemic, continued decline in future decades seems inevitable, given the much lower levels of religiosity and church membership among younger versus older generations of adults.
Churches are only as strong as their membership and are dependent on their members for financial support and service to keep operating. Because it is unlikely that people who do not have a religious preference will become church members, the challenge for church leaders is to encourage those who do affiliate with a specific faith to become formal, and active, church members.
While precise numbers of church closures are elusive, a conservative estimate is that thousands of U.S. churches are closing each year.
[NB] A 2017 Gallup study found churchgoers citing sermons as the primary reason they attended church. Majorities also said spiritual programs geared toward children and teenagers, community outreach and volunteer opportunities, and dynamic leaders were also factors in their attendance. A focus on some of these factors may also help local church leaders encourage people who share their faith to join their church.
Let’s jump over to that link about sermons.
Sermons and Music Matter More to Protestants Than Catholics
While the rank order of priorities is similar between members of the two Christian branches, Protestants (including those who identify as simply “Christian”) attach much more importance than Catholics to the content of sermons, as well as to the quality of music. [When you don’t have sacraments….]
Catholics and Protestants attach nearly the same levels of importance to the more social or pragmatic aspects of church, including access to youth programs, community outreach opportunities and social activities. However, Protestants are not significantly more likely than Catholics to care about the style of their religious leaders, saying the presence of dynamic leaders who are interesting or inspiring is a major factor. [When you don’t have sacraments….]
|Sermons that teach about scripture||83||62|
|Sermons that help connect religion to own life||80||67|
|Spiritual programs for children/teens||68||63|
|Community outreach and volunteer opportunities||61||56|
|Dynamic religious leaders||53||47|
|Choir or other spiritual music||44||29|
|Based on those who attend church monthly or more often|
|GALLUP, MARCH 9-29, 2017|
Overall, Catholics rate none of the factors as more important reasons for attending than do Protestants, suggesting that the latter group — with dozens of denominations and branches of Protestantism to choose from — may be more attuned to specific dynamics of what they prefer in their church experience than Catholics.
I wonder about that last component, “Choir or other spiritual music”. Could it be that Catholics have been hammered with musical dreck for so long that they’ve tuned that aspect out? I know one case, a parish in NYC which the Archdiocese was trying to close, that massively revived especially through having several sung TLMs during the week at a time when people were getting off work. It was expensive to start, because they had paid singers. However, once it caught on the contributions by far outweighed the expense. Numbers at the evening Masses grew.
Another example, when I as a seminarian and then deacon was assigned to a church in Rome, San Nicola in Carcere, I got some of the other seminarians to come to serve Masses but also to sing Gregorian chant. There was also a schola entirely of women, many of whom worked for the Comune. We started leaving the doors of the basilica open and people walking by came in and then stayed. The regular attendance at Sunday Mass began to grow. I did the same thing when I was rector of a church, also in Italy. A very good local choir would sing chant and polyphony for a Latin Novus Ordo Mass. We left the doors open. People passing by came in and stayed and returned the next week. Attendance grew.
The plural of anecdote is “data”. I’m sure you readers have music and liturgy related anecdotes.
When the sinkhole has taken the “beige” and the juggernaut of time, the biological solution, has taken our dear seasoned Catholics, there will be left only the highly motivated and committed: trads, converts, charismatics, etc. These groups will have to find each other and unite to stay vital as Catholics in devolving modern society. The key will be traditional sacred liturgical worship which will inform the sort of evangelical zeal and principles which the young and committed will surely embrace, especially regarding works of mercy and strong catechesis. Rather like the ancient Church.
And the TLM is growing… growing… growing…. hear that you bishops?…. growing.