How Many Americans are Evangelical Christians? Born-Again Christians?

(Part 2 in a series on Evangelical Christianity in America)

In my last post, I examined the wide range of definitions that are given to Evangelical Christianity. In this post, I will take one of those definitions and use it to illustrate the percentage of Americans who are Evangelical Christian. The definition that I’m using is whether a person affiliates with an Evangelical denomination. (Click here if you want the gory classification details). Also, I am analyzing data from the General Social Survey.

As shown in this figure, the percentage of Americans fitting this description rose in the 1970s and 1980s and has somewhat declined since then. Currently Evangelical Christianity in the US is at about its 40-year average, with 23%-24% of Americans affiliating with an Evangelical church or denomination.

Underscoring the point that there are different ways of defining one’s religious standing, I have also plotted the percentage of Americans who are Christian (Protestant or Catholic) who report having had a born-again experience. (I would have preferred to plot self-identification as “evangelical,” but the GSS hasn’t asked that in awhile). This is shown in the above figure, and as you can see, it’s held fairly steady over the past 20 years. Using these classification schemes, there are more born-again Christians than evangelical Christians. In fact, the percentage of Americans who are born-again Christians in 2012, 34%, is higher than at any previously measured time (though, only by a percentage point.)

Though the two terms are sometimes used as synonymous, not all evangelicals say they are born-again (perhaps those raised in the church?) and not all born-again Christians are evangelicals. This is shown below, where I plot the percentage of people with a born-again experience in the four main Christian traditions in the US.

No surprise, most evangelicals and members of historically Black protestant churches report having had a born-again experience, but so too do a portion of mainline Protestants and Catholics.

What does all this mean? How we define a religious category, of course, changes how we measure and understand it. In this case, Evangelical Christianity is holding steady, after some decline, at about its 40-year average. Born-again Christianity is going strong, slightly trending upward.

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  • Conrad Hackett

    For even more wonkery about the significant consequences of how evangelical identity is measured, consider: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-5906.2008.00423.x/abstract.

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      Thanks, Conrad! I’ve really liked this article and it’s influenced how I think about these things…

  • Theodore Seeber

    There are many roads up Mt Fuji. Which you take is not important, what is important is that you get to the top.

    • edward emmell

      you are mislead, there is only one road to God!

  • R Ortiz

    I see a serious methodological flaw in this analysis.

    According to http://www.wikinfo.org/Multilingual/index.php/Ways_to_recognize_what_is_a_religion (the last I checked the site is having difficulties) there are two ways to analyse beliefs: through action and through appearance. This article looks as if it’s analysis is according to appearance. The Barna Group is trying to recognize action, how well it succeeds is open to question.

    That methodological flaw was already mentioned in the New Testament, “by their fruits you shall know them.” The Bible warns against outward appearances as being normative. Yet this study, as far as I can tell, is based on outward appearances.

    • Douglas Kraeger

      I believe an essential question is, “Does a person tuly love the whole truth?”
      We do not have to agree on the details to agree with the general conclusion that obviously because of God’s infinite, perfectly simple nature and His desire to share Himself with His creatures, God must want everyone to believe (will to accept) a certain something. If they do not truly love the whole truth and are not working to believe everything God wants everyone to believe, does it really matter what they profess to be because they are essentially telling God, “I do not care what you want everyone to know and believe, For all I care you can “stuff it”.
      That brings up the question: How many religious ministers are talking about this essential element of every faith? Can the laity encourage ministers in this area? Should they?
      I have a possible way to help. Any constuctive feed back is welcome. Thank you.
      Do you know of any good reason why ministers of every faith should not enthusiastically support the idea that all ministers of all faiths (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, etc.) should publicly unite on one core belief they all should hold and for them to work together in publicly calling for and emphasizing this common core belief;
      The absolute basic necessity and importance and obligation before God of parents, and especially fathers, to do all they can to show their children that all good parents should keep on trying to pray as perfectly as possible and to never stop working to know and believe everything God wants everyone to know and believe (whatever that is) and thereby show the only way to truly love the whole truth and thereby truly love the author of all truth, God.
      Each minister simply placing their trust in God in the sure faith that all who honestly seek the whole truth will be led by God’s grace, through the verifiable evidence and related questions (that each minister is eager to share with anyone) to the one faith God wants everyone to have, each believing that to be their faith. Can you imagine any religious minister publicly saying, after a group of other ministers have publicly united in the above statement, “Yes, God wants everyone to pray as perfectly as possible and to work to know and believe certain things, but we are not part of that group because we do not actively encourage people to pray ever more perfectly or to work to know and believe everything God wants everyone to believe”, or for that minister to say implicitly that, “We do not believe there is enough verifiable evidence and related questions for God to bring people to our faith. Others should accept my faith just because I have.”
      Should not all ministers have the faith that such a united public stand would be pleasing to God?
      Also, 2Thessalonians 2:9+10 reads, “the one whose coming springs from the power of Satan in every mighty deed and in signs and wonders that lie and in every wicked deceit for those who are perishing because they have not accepted the (true) love of the (whole) truth so that they may be saved.”
      What good reason can a religious minister give for not placing a sign at every entrance to their church as a constant, yet passive and non-judgmental reminder such as:
      “If people do not (truly) love the (whole) truth they are implicitly, or maybe in some cases explicitly, saying to God, “I do not want to work to know everything You want everyone to know, so You can just “stuff it” for all I care!”

      Could they honestly say that no one could benefit from such a reminder?
      What reasons could a Catholic priest or any other religious minister give for not joining in the above public statement at the top of this page?
      1. We do not believe God will lead people to only our faith if people honestly seek all the verifiable evidence concerning what God wants everyone to believe.
      2. We are afraid they will be lead to the Catholic faith.
      3. We do not truly love others and do not care if they come to the One Faith God wants everyone to have.
      4. We want people to accept our faith because we have it.
      Should not the lay people of every faith encourage their ministers to actively and enthusiastically support such a public stand by all ministers of all faiths, each in the sure faith that God would be pleased and He would lead all to the One Faith He wants all to accept?

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