In a Gallup Poll in 2016, 55% of Americans said that they were members of a church, synagogue, temple or mosque. In 1999 this number was 70%. When asked if they believe in God, 89% said yes, where back in 1967 that number was 98%. Americans identify themselves as 37% Protestant, 22% Catholic, 18% no religion, 10% Christian, 3% Jewish, 2% Mormon and 5% other.
Age seems to really make a difference. When Pew Research asked if “religion is very important in their lives” the yes response by age group was:
- Silent Generation (born 1928-1945) 67%
- Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) 59%
- Generation X (born 1965-1980) 53%
- Older Millennials (born 1981-1989) 44%
- Younger Millennials (born 1990-1996) 38%
Pew then followed up with those who left religion behind. About half were raised in a religion, but indicated that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. They cited logic, lack of evidence, common sense and science as why they left religion. Some felt religion was too much like a business and others mentioned clergy sexual abuse scandals as reasons for their stance. Quotes included “too many Christians doing un-Christian things” and “organized religious groups as more divisive than uniting”.
There are several modern society reasons church attendance is down according to Six Seeds. Back when going to church was a way of life for just about everyone, families and communities used social convention to pressure most people to attend church weekly, but in today’s modern world, social expectations have lightened and so we no longer have to follow the crowd. Another reason is that for centuries, Sunday morning was the only entertainment in town. Shops were closed; sports did not start until after noon, there were no video games and cable TV. Today church is not the only show in town. A third reason is our increased mobility where we are traveling as we never have before and very seldom when out of town on a Sunday is an effort made to go to the local church. Another reason is more and more people work on weekends now that blue laws, which kept businesses shuttered on Sundays, have disappeared just about everywhere. And for many others, Sunday is the only true day of rest and they want some down time to be with their families. One more reason is technology has not only changed our everyday lives, but has major influence on our spiritual lives. The Internet and other media offerings allow you to tailor a religious life to your own timing and liking. With so many congregations streaming services online, you can actually go to services in your pajamas now.
The irony behind all of these reasons for the decline in church attendance is that we as Americans are donating more than ever according to Charity Navigator’s latest numbers. Our fellow citizens donated $373 billion to charitable causes, which is 10% more than the year before. 15% went to education, 12% to human services, 11% to foundations making grants, 8% to help health and the most donated dollars at 32% ($119 billion) went to religious groups! So even though church attendance is decreasing, are we as Americans becoming more spiritual in this fast pace modern world of ours?
We are a giving society. If we are going to part with our hard earned dollars, we want to know these donations are going to a worthy cause. Obviously if we belong to a religious organization and experience them first-hand, it is easier for us to give directly to this nonprofit group. But as more and more Americans become unaffiliated, yet want to help, there are several sites that research legitimate religious groups like Charity Navigator, or Charity Watch or even the Better Business Bureau under the BBB Wise Giving Alliance. At DollarDays, we also want to help religious organizations stretch their dollars to help more people, so nominate your favorite religious organization here this month to win one of our $500 shopping sprees.
Can we be spiritual without belonging to an organized religion? Remember that Man invented religions. Many of those in the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers took their religion for granted when they were growing up because everyone in the neighborhood did the same thing. You were born into a religion, you lived in it, and then you died in it. This is the way we have related to religion for thousands of years. As Time reported, all of us can understand institutional disenchantment. Institutions can be slow, plodding, and dictatorial. They frustrate our own personal desires by asking us to submit to the will of others. At the same time, institutions are the mechanism that helps us perpetuate ideologies and actions. If books are enough, why would we need schools? If guns are enough, why have a military? If governing yourself is enough, why do we need Washington D.C.? Religious institutions mobilize us to create aid organizations, create development for those less fortunate, and create a sense of community. Those Americans who are still churchgoers interesting enough, tend to attend services in a more intimate, communal environment. 46% of people, who attend a church, go to a church with under 100 members. 37% go to churches with membership of 100-499. So the sense of community and belonging to a close knit institution seems to be driving the religious Americans of today. To know if you are living the right kind of life, a window, where you can share your positions and practices in a group, is in many cases a more effective tool than a mirror.