If it seems stories about football coaches being put on administrative leave for praying or city councils changing policy due to religious practices are growing, it may be because America is growing less religious even as those claiming a religion appear to be just as, if not more so, devoted to it.
In a 2014 Pew Research Studyon religious life released yesterday, 77% of Americans claimed to be religiously affiliated, dropping from the 83% percent of respondents in 2007. In that same time span the religiously unaffiliated grew from 16% to 23% and became even more secular in practice. In 2007, 70% of those with no religious affiliation stated a belief in God, with that figure dropping to 61% in the most recent study.
So when it comes to religion, if you stayed where you were in the 2007 study, you’ve become more sure of it. That goes for the ones claiming no faith as well those stating a connection to it. In fact, says the report, “The portion of religiously affiliated adults who say they regularly read scripture, share their faith with others and participate in small prayer groups or scripture study groups all have increased modestly since 2007.”
Those figures support the narrative that American Christianity isn’t dying as much as it’s reshaping, weeding out those nominal in practice. When Pew Research’s first major report on the state of faith in America came out in May, LifeWay Research executive director Ed Stetzer joined others, saying, “The percentage of convictional Christians remains rather steady, but because the nominal Christians now are unaffiliated, the overall percentage of self-identified Christians is in decline. This overall decline is what Pew shows – and I expect it to accelerate.”
Also in the report, despite sound bites and Internet memes saying the contrary a large majority of Americans – nine in ten – view organized religion as a force for good in American society. Seventy-five percent stated churches and other religious institutions help protect and strengthen morality in society, views widely held by even the religiously unaffiliated. At the same time, large numbers of the religiously unaffiliated say religious institutions are too concerned with money and power, too involved in politics, and too focused on rules.
Altogether, the study pointed out, 42% of adults have a mostly positive view of religious institutions with only 7% giving a mostly negative view.