Empty pews in church? Members are dropping out.

Polls by Pew Research show a dramatic drop in church membership over the first 20 years of this century. Blacks have a higher percentage of church membership than whites.

In 1998, polls showed 90 percent of Americans who consider themselves religious belonged to a one of the many organized denominations, but that percentage has dropped dramatically and being a member of a particular church has dropped even more.

Pew Research polls show a 13-percent drop of religious affiliation, down to 77 percent and actual church membership is down to 64 percent.

Notes Pew:

It is clear then, that the nature of Americans’ orientation to religion is changing, with fewer religious Americans finding membership in a church or other faith institution to be a necessary part of their religious experience.

Religiosity is strongly related to age, with older Americans far more likely than younger adults to be members of churches. However, church membership has dropped among all generational groups over the past two decades, with declines of roughly 10 percentage points among traditionalists, baby boomers and Generation X.

Most millennials were too young to be polled in 1998-2000. Now that they have reached adulthood, their church membership rates are exceedingly low and appear to be a major factor in the drop in overall U.S. church membership. Just 42% of millennials are members of churches, on average.

–Pew Research

Back at the turn of the century, Pew found 62 percent of what was then called “Generation X” (the same age group that millennials are today) belonged to a church.

Twenty years ago, 76 percent of Catholics belonged to a church. Today, the number is down to 63 percent. Among Protestants, the number went from 73 percent in 2000 to 67 percent today.

Want to make this political? Here’s what Pew found:

In contrast to the variable changes in church membership among generational and faith subgroups, the declines have been fairly similar among most other demographic subgroups. However, the rates have differed by party identification, as Republicans show a relatively modest decline in church membership of eight points since 1998-2000 (from 77% to 69%). In contrast, Democrats show one of the largest subgroup declines, of 23 points, from 71% to 48%.

–Pew Research

Among independents, the percentage dropped 14 percent, from 59 to 45.

Blacks, Pew found, are more religious than whites. Their study found 68 percent of whites belonged to a church in 2000, 10 percent less than 78 percent of Blacks. In this year’s polls, white church membership is down to 53 percent, compared to 65 percent for Blacks.

Hispanic church membership dropped from 68 percent to 45.

Pews’ conclusion?

Although the United States is one of the more religious countries, particularly among Western nations, it is far less religious than it used to be. Barely three-quarters of Americans now identify with a religion and only about half claim membership in a church, synagogue or mosque.

-Pew Research

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