Gallup, one of the most reliable pollsters, offers some useful and intriguing statistics about the state of religious belief in America. This remains a very religious country, especially compared to our peer nations, but there has been some slippage. Excerpts from the report:
About 82% of Americans in 2007 told Gallup interviewers that they identified with a Christian religion. That includes 51% who said they were Protestant, 5% who were “other Christian,” 23% Roman Catholic, and 3% who named another Christian faith, including 2% Mormon.
Because 11% said they had no religious identity at all, and another 2% didn’t answer, these results suggest that well more than 9 out of 10 Americans who identify with a religion are Christian in one way or the other.
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The percentage of Americans who identify with a Christian religion is down some over the decades. This is not so much because Americans have shifted to other religions, but because a significantly higher percentage of Americans today say they don’t have a religious identity. In the late 1940s, when Gallup began summarizing these data, a very small percentage explicitly told interviewers they did not identify with any religion. But of those who did have a religion, Gallup classified — in 1948, for example — 69% as Protestant and 22% as Roman Catholic, or about 91% Christian.
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Sixty-two percent of Americans in Gallup’s latest poll, conducted in December, say they are members of a “church or synagogue,” a question Gallup has been asking since 1937. . . . In the 1937 Gallup Poll, for example, 73% of Americans said they were church members. That number stayed in the 70% range in polls conducted in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. By the 1970s, however, the number began to slip below 70% in some polls, although as recently as 1999, 70% said they were church members. Since 2002, self-reported church membership has been between 63% and 65%.
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in general, year after year, roughly the same percentage of Americans — in the low 40% range — report to survey interviewers that they have gone to church within the last seven days.
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This year, 56% of Americans have said religion is very important. Only 17% say religion is not very important. . . A couple of measures of this question from the 1950s and 1960s indicated that at that time, over 70% of Americans said religion was very important in their daily lives. That percentage dropped into the 50% range by the 1970s, and since then it has fluctuated somewhat, but has generally been in the 55% to 65% range.
There is much to talk about here, and feel free to raise what issues you wish, but notice that Protestantism seems to be slipping, while those with no religious identity are rising. But how does that jibe with all of those megachurches that are everywhere using all of these techniques to make church more palatable to the unchurched?