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Gospel Preaching Churches Staying Strong, Getting Stronger

The current narrative – the "secularization thesis" – that America's churches are in terminal decline is dead wrong according to two college professors who looked into it. Professors Landon Schnabel of Indiana University and Sean Bock of Harvard published their findings at Sociological Science:

Recent research argues that the United States is secularizing, that this religious change is consistent with the secularization thesis, and that American religion is not exceptional.

But we show that rather than religion fading into irrelevance as the secularization thesis would suggest, intense religion – strong affiliation, very frequent practice, literalism, and evangelicalism – is persistent and, in fact, only moderate religion is on the decline in the United States. (emphasis added)

We also show that in comparable countries, intense religion is on the decline or already at very low levels. Therefore, the intensity of American religion is actually becoming more exceptional over time. We conclude that intense religion in the United States is persistent and exceptional in ways that do not fit the secularization thesis.

Gallup has repeatedly expounded on that thesis. On Thursday, Gallup reported that since 2000 church membership in the U.S. has fallen, modestly at first but accelerating recently. Twenty years ago, 70 percent of Americans said they were members of a church or a synagogue. Today, said Gallup, that has declined by 20 points to just 50 percent. Said Gallup: "The decline in church membership is consistent with larger societal trends in declining church attendance and an increasing proportion of Americans with no religious preference."

The decline among Millennials (born 1980-2000) was equally drastic. Twenty years ago, 62 percent of Generation Xers belonged to a church while among Millennials today just 42 percent say they belong to a church.

Gallup concluded, based on this poll, that the "United States is far less religious than it used to be," adding:

The rate of U.S. church membership has declined sharply in the past two decades after being relatively stable in the six decades before that. A sharp increase in the proportion of the population with no religious affiliation, a decline in church membership among those who do have a religious preference, and low levels of church membership among millennials are all contributing to the accelerating trend.

Gallup reached the same conclusion following another study it recently released as part of its ongoing analysis of religion in America. When asked, "How important would you say religion is in your own life – very important, fairly important or not very important?, the cohort Gallup quizzed showed a drop from 58 percent saying religion was "very important" in 2012 to 50 percent in 2018.

When that same cohort was asked, "Did you, yourself, happen to attend church or synagogue in the last seven days, or not?," 32 percent of them said Yes, down from 42 percent in 2009. Of even greater concern was the number who answered Never. In 1998, just 10 percent said they never attend church. In 2018, that number jumped nearly threefold, to 28 percent.

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