Saturday, March 14, 2009

Religious identification changing

How Americans think of themselves as religious -- or not -- is undergoing a major shift. The American Religious Identification Survey, or ARIS, which has been measuring this since 1990, notes a number of significant trends across our religious landscape. Churches and their leaders need to take serious note.

The survey of 54, 461 adults, found a overall decline in those declaring they have any religious identification. Mainline non-Catholic Christians have declined nationally to 12.9 percent, from 18.7 percent in 1990.

In the South Atlantic (where we are) is still the strongest enclave of Christianity. The West is becoming more Catholic (primarily due to immigration) while the Northeast less so. The South Atlantic is slightly more Catholic, going from 14 percent to 17 percent. Although mainline Protestantism remains the dominant religion the Southeast, it has nonetheless declined from 74 percent to 61 percent. You can read a chart showing all the results by clicking HERE.

There is a lot to be said, more than I have time here today. First, we should not be looking for scapegoats; mainline Christianity is not declining because some of our churches we are more inclusive. The less inclusive (Southern Baptists) are also on the decline. If anything, our inclusiveness gives us a foundation to build future growth. 

The numbers should tell us to not be complacent, that we cannot rest on past glories and ways of doing things. To reach new people and bring back those who find us irrelevant means we must be creative and open to new ways of being the Church while strengthening our core mission of bringing Christ's light of hope, healing and reconciliation into the world. We need to stop hiding our light under the basket. I hope we can explore these themes here on this blog and elsewhere in the days ahead.

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