Fewer Americans claim Christianity

America has fewer Christians, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center.

The Christian share of the U.S. population has dropped, while the number of U.S. adults who do not claim any religion is growing, according to the Pew Research Center. While liberal Christian denominations seem to have aged and lost membership, there has been some growth among Evangelical churches.

It appears that the number of Christian adults in the United States has shrunk by somewhere between 2.8 million and 7.8 million. These trends are not limited to geographic areas but seem to be common to all part of the country.

This is the Pew Research Center’s second U.S. Religious Landscape Study, a follow-up to its first comprehensive study of religion in America, conducted in 2007.

More young Americans are leaving the Christian faith but the losses are happening in all age groups. That drop is true also among minority groups, college graduates, high school graduates and among men plus women.

America still appears to be the most Christian nation in the world as 70 percent of all Americans identify themselves as Christian.

In a survey of 35,000 Americans, Pew found the number of adults who identify as Christians has dropped from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014.

On the other side, the number of Americans who don’t identify with any organized religion – including atheists, agnostics, etc. – rose from 16.1 percent in 2007 top 22.8 percent in 2014.

The number of those in other religions has risen. That has gone from 4.7 percent in 2007 to 5.9 percent in 2014. Pew noted significant growth in the Muslim and Hindu religions – although they are still tiny minorities in America.

The drop in the number of Christians was about 3 percent among Protestants and Catholics. The rate of decline for Evangelical Christians is slower, however.

And the Christian population is becoming more diverse. Whites make up a smaller share of Protestants and Catholics than they did in 2007.

Racial and ethnic minorities now make up 41 percent of Catholics (up from 35 percent in 2007), 24 percent of Evangelical Protestants (up from 19 percent) and 14 percent of mainline Protestants (up from 9 percent).

Religiously mixed marriages are on the rise. Since 2010, 39 percent of those surveyed have gotten married to someone of a different religion. That figure was 19 percent in 1960. One fifth of those since 2010 are those who are religiously unaffiliated who married a Christian spouse.

Most religious groups are getting much older while the unaffiliated population – including Millennials – is getting younger. The median age of unaffiliated adults has dropped to 36, down from 38 in 2007 and far lower than the general (adult) population’s median age of 46.

The median age of mainline Protestant adults in the new survey is 52 (up from 50 in 2007), and the median age of Catholic adults is 49 (up from 45 seven years earlier).

The U.S. Census doesn’t ask about religion and doesn’t produce statistics on religion. Major Christian denominations keep some membership records but they are not always updated or accurate.

The survey also looked at small religious groups that make up less than 2 percent of the population, including Mormons, Episcopalians and Seventh-day Adventists.

In 2007, there were 227 million adults in the United States, and a little more than 78 percent of them – or roughly 178 million – identified as Christians.

Between 2007 and 2014, the overall size of the U.S. adult population grew by about 18 million people, to nearly 245 million. But the share of adults who identify as Christians fell to just under 71 percent, or approximately 173 million Americans, a net decline of about 5 million.

Mainline Protestantism – that includes the United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Churches USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Episcopal Church, among others – appears to have experienced the greatest drop in absolute numbers.

In 2007, there were an estimated 41 million mainline Protestant adults in the United States. As of 2014, there are roughly 36 million, a decline of 5 million – although the number of mainline Protestants may have fallen by as few as 3 million or as many as 7.3 million between 2007 and 2014.

Historically black Protestant churches – which includes the National Baptist Convention, the Church of God in Christ, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Progressive Baptist Convention and others – has remained relatively stable in recent years, at nearly 16 million adults.

Evangelical Protestants, while declining slightly as a percentage of the U.S. public, probably have grown in absolute numbers as the overall U.S. population has continued to expand.

The new survey shows that Evangelical Protestant churches –
 including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God,
 Churches of Christ, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the
 Presbyterian Church in America, other evangelical denominations and many nondenominational congregations – now have a total of about 62 million adult members. That is an increase of roughly 2 million since 2007, though it is possible that the number of evangelicals may have risen by as many as 5 million or remained essentially unchanged.

Like mainline Protestants, Catholics appear to be declining both as a percentage of the population and in absolute numbers. The new survey shows there are about 51 million Catholic adults in the United States, roughly 3 million fewer than in 2007. With the margin of error for the survey, that could be as low as one million.

And unlike Protestants, the percentage of Americans who are Catholic has remained stable.

There are now about 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults in the United States and this group is more numerous than either Catholics or mainline Protestants, according to the new survey. Indeed, the unaffiliated are now second in size only to evangelical Protestants among major religious groups.

As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations.

Fully 36 percent of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34 percent of older Millennials (ages 25-33).

And fewer than six-in-ten Millennials identify with any branch of Christianity, compared with seven-in-ten or more among older generations, including Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers. Just 16 percent of Millennials are Catholic, and only 11 percent identify with mainline Protestantism. Roughly one-in-five are evangelical Protestants.

About a third of older Millennials (adults in their late 20s and early 30s) now say they have no religion, up nine percentage points among this cohort since 2007, when the same group was between ages 18 and 26.

Nearly a quarter of Generation Xers now say they have no particular religion or describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, up four points in seven years.

Baby Boomers also have become slightly but noticeably more likely to identify as having no religion.

Switching religion is a common occurrence in the United States. If all Protestants were treated as a single religious group, then fully 34 percent of American adults currently have a religious identity different from the one in which they were raised. This is up 6 points since 2007, when 28 percent of adults identified with a religion different from their childhood faith.

The evangelical Protestant tradition is the only major Christian group in the survey that has gained more members than it has lost through religious switching. Roughly 10 percent of U.S. adults now identify with evangelical Protestantism after having been raised in another tradition, which more than offsets the roughly 8 percent of adults who were raised as evangelicals but have left for another religious tradition or who no longer identify with any organized faith.

Other highlights:

  • Unaffiliated Americans now are 19 percent of the adult population in the South (up from 13 percent in 2007), 22 percent of the population in the Midwest (up from 16 percent), 25 percent of the population in the Northeast (up from 16 percent) and 28 percent of the population in the West (up from 21 percent). In the West, the religiously unaffiliated are more numerous than Catholics (23 percent), evangelicals (22 percent) and every other religious group.
  • The percentage of college graduates who identify with Christianity has declined by nine percentage points since 2007 (from 73 percent to 64 percent). The Christian share of the population has declined by a similar amount among those with less than a college education (from 81 percent to 73 percent).
  • More than a quarter of men (27 percent) now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, up from 20 percent in 2007. Nearly one-in-five women (19 percent) now describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated, up from 13 percent in 2007.
  • Evangelicals now constitute a clear majority (55 percent) of all U.S. Protestants. In 2007, roughly half of Protestants (51 percent) identified with evangelical churches.
  • Since 2007, the share of Evangelical Protestants who identify with Baptist denominations has shrunk from 41 percent to 36 percent. Meanwhile, the share of evangelicals identifying with nondenominational churches has grown from 13 percent to 19 percent.
  • The United Methodist Church (UMC) continues to be the largest denomination within the mainline Protestant tradition. Currently, 25 percent of mainline Protestants identify with the UMC, down slightly from 28 percent in 2007.