The new U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life renders familiar territory remarkable. This poll of more than 35,000 American adults has produced a map of population centers (major religious traditions), the boundaries that separate them, and the thoroughfares that connect them. Among the highlights of the latest findings:
- Close to half (44 percent) of all Americans have changed religions or denominations at least once in their lifetimes.
- Protestants now make up just 51 percent of the population, though the total Christian population remains as high as 78 percent.
- Some 16 percent of American adults describe themselves as religiously "unaffiliated," more than twice the percentage who say they had no religious upbringing.
- In addition to contributing to religious diversity, immigration also augments the country's church rolls, as 46 percent of foreign-born adults claim Catholic identity and 24 percent claim Protestant identity.
The survey's topline summary describes this scene as "both very diverse and extremely fluid," which is an apt assessment as long as one remembers that the subject examined is a landscape and not, say, a moving crowd in an airport. For all of the often quite illuminating attention they get, non-Christian religions still constitute only about 5 percent of the American population. All religious groups are gaining and losing members in a very competitive environment, but the overall percentages remain fairly stable year to year and even decade to decade. Contrary to some solicitations for home missions, America is not going to become a minority Christian country anytime soon.
Why Evangelical United Methodists Don't Count The Pew report contains much useful information for pastors, ...1