The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released annual survey results that indicate nearly half of American adults leave the “faith tradition they were raised in to either join another religion or drop out of organized religion altogether.
This has been a recurring theme for some years now. The old “mainline” Protestant congregations continue to shrink, while the membership of non-denominational churches and the ranks of the unaffiliated continue to grow. People seem to flock to mega churches based on the charisma of the minister.
This year though, the unaffiliated people who say they are religious but don’t claim allegiance to any particular institution or tradition are now the fourth largest religious group in America.
Also, from the report:
Groups that have experienced a net loss from changes in affiliation include Baptists (net loss of 3.7 percentage points) and Methodists (2.1 percentage points). However, the group that has experienced the greatest net loss by far is the Catholic Church. Overall, 31.4% of U.S. adults say that they were raised Catholic. Today, however, only 23.9% of adults identify with the Catholic Church, a net loss of 7.5 percentage points.
However, the number of Catholics in America remains fairly steady, mostly because of Latino immigration.
Prof. Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University, said large numbers of Americans leaving organized religion and large numbers still embracing the fervor of evangelical Christianity pointed to the same desires.
“The trend is towards more personal religion, and evangelicals offer that, Professor Prothero said, explaining that evangelical churches tailored much of their activities to youths.
“Those losing out are offering impersonal religion, “and those winning are offering a smaller scale: mega-churches succeed not because they are mega but because they have smaller ministries inside.”
Some would wonder about the mega churches offering personal religion, but the successful ones do offer tons of special interest groups for all sorts of people, so people find a group to which they can belong that makes them feel comfortable. I’m not sure that’s a good thing though. For Christians, the ministry of Christ was not about finding your comfort zone, but just the opposite…it was about moving into the greater world.
I think there are other factors also. The time crunch experienced by two-income families with children might make “going to church just one more burdensome thing on an already full plate. The breakup of communities possibly makes church attendance seem less compulsive. Let’s face it, there was a time you were just “expected” to attend church. After years of televangelism, maybe people just expect church services to pack more of an emotional wallop, or at least be entertaining.