It’s helpful to statistically clarify Christianity in the United States into three categories—cultural, congregational, and convictional. The first two categories are nominal Christians—they identify, but do not shape their lives around the Christian faith.
Cultural Christians are the least connected — they call themselves Christian because of heritage or culture. Congregational Christians have some connection to a local church, but rarely attend. On the other hand, convictional Christians call themselves Christians like the other two categories, but they attend church services regularly and order their lives around their faith convictions.
If you read the headlines this week, you’d think the latter category is collapsing. But, that would be a sign of bad math, not an accurate reading of the situation.
About 70-75% of the U.S. population calls itself Christian, but about 25% of the U.S. population practices that faith in a robust manner. This includes, in order of size, evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants, and others….
Today, we are seeing cultural Christians, and even some congregational Christians, now self-identify as religiously “unaffiliated.” Folks who previously marked “Christian” on a religious survey because they weren’t Hindu or Jewish are now choosing “none of the above.”
In other words, nominal Christians (cultural and congregational) are becoming the “nones.” That’s not all that is going on, but the nominals becoming the nones are a big part of it. How do we know? Well, math….
Yet, the kind of Christians going to church has changed, particularly among Protestants. It’s moved from mainline, to evangelical. In 1972, 9% of the American population was regular church-attending mainline Protestant and 8% was evangelical, according to GSS. By 2014, the roles had reversed: church-attending mainline Protestants made up 4% of the population, while evangelicals rose to 13%.
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