Like boy bands, religion stopped being as prominent in the 21st century. The most recent Hartford Seminary Study confirms the extension of that trend.
American congregations have grown less healthy in the past decade, with fewer people in the pews and aging memberships, according to a new Hartford Seminary study.
The percentage of congregations with average weekend worship attendance of 100 or fewer inched up from 42 percent to 49 percent over the decade. More than a quarter of congregations had 50 or fewer people attending in 2010.
There’s even more good news about the people who are sticking with church.
In many cases, congregations are seeing not only fewer people in their pews but older ones. At least one-third of members in more than half of mainline Protestant congregations are 65 or older.
This corroborates the data from the 2008 ARIS survey.
The 18-29 demographic has 22% of the nations overall population, but it has 29% of its nones. Compare that to the denominations known for producing fundamentalists in droves. Baptists are losing big time in the upcoming generation and counting on the oldest generation more. Same for Pentescostals. Meanwhile the denominations most likely to have followers who are closer to being functional atheists, such as Eastern Religions or Generic Christians are also more popular in the youngest category. This agrees with recent numbers indicating that even those staying in religion are replacing a fundamental belief with a more moderate approach.
There’s no way to know if this represents people using more cherry-picked versions of faith as a kind of gateway drug to the uber party that is atheism, but I hope so. It’s no secret that those of us who deconvert from religion often do so in stages.
Anyway, the point is that the most problematic forms of religion are getting older and the forthcoming generation is getting sharper about religion. We’re a ways off from victory, but we are winning and the future looks as bright as a supernova. Perhaps it’s because after several centuries of playing nice with religion, people are finally starting to figure out that religion is horseshit all by themselves. Or maybe, juuuuuust maybe, it’s because for the first time ever the attack on religion isn’t coming from one or two prominent atheists, but from gaggles of them as well as from a significantly higher percentage of people in their everyday lives. Where once you could change the channel if Carl Sagan was on or avoid Bertrand Russell, nowadays, wherever you go (even in church), there’s likely atheists all around you – and those atheists are more likely to be informed about religion than ever before.
There was a time, not long ago, before the internet, when the nones were a drastically lower percentage of the population. That was a time when if you had a question about religion you went to a preacher or a priest. Now the failings of religion are everywhere. We all know the horrors of the bible and you cannot go far announcing the bible is a sound treatise on morality without somebody acquainting you with the monstrosity of its god. Where once the evils of religion could be covered, they are now more conspicuous than ever. The tactics/arguments that have been used to bamboozle layman can scarcely be uttered anymore without someone publicly taking the evangelist to task. Can there be any doubt that decades of effort toward fostering this kind of world is what is changing the game?
I say we continue to cultivate an atmosphere where we delight in rejecting the pretensions of religion. As I have written before:
Part of why people stay religious is because it is easy to do. I seek to make it less easy. I seek to create a world where people cannot open their mouths to tell someone about Jesus without wondering if, without the obligatory respect to which religion has grown accustomed, the target of their evangelism will make a public fool of them. I dream of a world where irrationality knows no sanctuary and no quarter outside the cathedral.
The next generation belongs to the skeptics. They are the ones who get to take the reigns of this movement with all of this momentum at its back. As a full-time employee of the Secular Student Alliance, working with young leaders in the atheist movement gets me all psyched up to get back to work on Monday.