As recent polls put U.S. church membership at an all-time low and anxiety at an all-time high, some Southern Baptist leaders say the numbers are a wake-up call to Christians’ deep need to take the Great Commission personally.
A Gallup Poll published in mid-April found that around 50 percent of Americans self-reported as members of a church, synagogue or mosque in 2018. That’s a sharp drop from around 70 percent in 1999, a number that had stayed fairly steady in prior decades.
The decline matches up with the nation’s “steep increase” of “nones,” or people who don’t identify with any religion, according to Gallup.
Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, says he believes it’s possible that some of the new “nones” were actually “nones” all along. In past generations, when people were asked about their religion, they would answer with the religion of their family even if they didn’t actually practice it, he said.
“There is a level of honesty in admitting to being non-religious that cultural expectations would have prevented a couple generations ago,” McConnell said.
Today, people expect transparency, so that’s perhaps part of the reason “none” is a more frequent answer, he said.
But he is quick to add that it isn’t just the “nones” who are dropping off in church membership — it’s the people who still self-identify as religious, too.
“The Gallup study shows the declines in church membership have also occurred among those with a religious preference,” McConnell said. “This is evidence that church membership has declined in value. In some cases, it is due to churches putting less emphasis on becoming a member, and in other cases it is the churchgoers who fail to see its value in practice.”
Today as church membership is declining, something else is on the rise in its place — worry, stress and anger. According to another recent Gallup Poll, those numbers hit all-time highs in 2018, with Americans’ Negative Experience Index at a 35 — three percentage points higher than it had ever been. Younger Americans are more likely to feel that anxiety.
Ronnie Floyd, president-elect of the SBC Executive Committee, said in his opinion, the religious and emotional poll data correlate and it’s a tragedy.
“To me there is no surprise that as church membership and attendance decrease, the levels of stress, worry and anger in our country increase,” Floyd said. “In fact, a closer look at the data tells us the people who have the highest levels of stress, worry and anger are the same younger generations who are leaving the church.”
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Source: Baptist Press