Gallup pollsters say U.S. church membership has taken a deep dive since the turn of the century – 73% in 2000 to 47% in early 2020. I first ran across these startling numbers a few weeks ago in Pundicity, a column by Jeff Jacoby.
A Boston Globe columnist, Jacoby is one of the most balanced culture observers and analysts writing today. He said the stats are based on responses to this Gallup question: “Do you happen to be a member of a church, synagogue, or mosque?”
Atheist groups and anti-God advocates celebrated the Gallup numbers. “Congratulations, Atheists,” trumpeted friendlyatheist.patheos.com, “Church Attendance in America is at an All-Time Low.”
Ironically, the Gallup poll also reported:
“The U.S. remains a religious nation, with more than 7 in 10 affiliating with some type of organized religion. However, far fewer – now less than half – have a formal membership with a specific house of worship.” (Emphases added.)
Apparently, faith is not diminished, it’s just that many adherents are simply going solo. To me, that suggests they still believe but have grown disenchanted or totally dissatisfied with the trappings of organized religion. This incongruity– membership freefall contrasted with intact faith – left me a bit puzzled.
Through the decades, I’ve discovered that some people are quite particular or peculiar about where and if their names are on the roll books.
That rabbit trail took me back 50 years, a time when my rural home church decided to update its membership rolls. Still on the rolls were many people we had not seen or heard from in years. We knew some had joined other churches, and no one notified us.
It seemed a harmless thing to write those long-gone members and ask them to respond to one of two basic questions: (1) Have you moved your membership to another church where you are now worshiping? (2) Do you wish to have your name remain on the roll at Antioch?
Wow! Did that ever stir up a hornets’ nest! Some responded graciously with a “yes” to the first question. On the other hand, quite a few folks let us know they were highly offended that we would ask such a question.
Another irony to me. Frankly, I never did figure out why the offense. But some wanted their names left carved in stone at a church they chose not to attend or support in any way. Their names are probably still there.
I assume that being a member of a religious group does a couple of major things. First, it helps strengthen the member in his/her faith. Second, it provides a ready fellowship for worship, celebration, and growth – and for times of need.
In fact, many studies and polls identify a wide range of benefits for the faithful. Furthermore, all indicators suggest the faithful heap benefits not only upon themselves personally, but also upon society at large, whether they’re on the church rolls or not.
NY Times columnist T. M. Luhrmann wrote,
“One of the most striking scientific discoveries about religion in recent years is that going to church weekly is good for you. Religious attendance … boosts the immune system and decreases blood pressure. It may add as much as two to three years to your life.”
In April, National Catholic Register posted results of a survey that echoed that principle. “In 2019,” said the report, “about 42% of those who reported attending religious services weekly told Gallup that their mental health was excellent. In 2020, 46% said the same, an increase of four percentage points.” And this was during the pandemic, no less! (Emphasis added.)
Better health is likewise suggested in a study by Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. The study sought explanations for why religious people are at a decreased risk of substance use disorders. It acknowledged that the negative relationship between people of faith and substance abuse is “well established,” but fell short of suggesting that faith could be a factor.
A Vanderbilt University study revealed in 2017 that “People who attend services at a church, synagogue, or mosque are less stressed and live longer.”
That longer life stat is reflected in a Washington Post article titled “Another possible benefit of going to church: A 33 percent chance of living longer.”
Not only does one’s faith have a demonstrable positive impact on health and happiness. It also has a positive impact on the community.
A Pew Research poll in 2019 concluded that actively religious people demonstrate “higher levels of happiness and civic engagement (specifically, voting in elections and joining community groups or other voluntary organizations).”
In 2017, the Washington Times summarized studies showing that people of faith are “more likely to give to charities than those who do not identify with a faith tradition.”
In fact, Times writer Bradford Richardson cited a “staggering difference” between charitable giving by religious people and the nonreligious. “On average,” he wrote, “religiously affiliated households donate $1,590 to charity annually, while households with no religious affiliation contribute $695.”
I think I detect a pattern here. People of faith are happier, healthier, live longer, participate more in the community, vote more, volunteer more, and give more (more than twice as much!) to charity.
And yet, the secular media, the cancel culture, the far Left, and the politically correct are stunned. Dumbstruck. Flabbergasted.
“The reason for this is not entirely clear,” opined NY Times columnist Luhrmann.
Duh! The reason? Could it be…faith?