While Christianity overall is in decline, the number of evangelicals in the U.S. is growing[dropcap]T[/dropcap] he religious landscape in the U.S. has dramatically changed in just the past seven years as the number of Americans identifying themselves as Christians dropped by 8%, according the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study. Recently the media had a heyday with these doom and gloom headlines: “Big Drop in Share of Americans Calling Themselves Christian” and “Christianity Faces Sharp Decline as Americans are Becoming Even Less Affiliated with Religion.”
This is something for evangelicals to celebrate. Our churches are strong and growing.
But before you jump to any conclusions about the secularization of America, take a look at what’s really inside the Pew Survey numbers.
If you dig past the headlines you’ll see that while Christianity overall is in the decline, the number of evangelicals in the U.S. is growing. The number of evangelicals in the U.S. grew by 2 million people since 2007, to an estimated 62 million nation-wide. Adults who self-identify as evangelical or born-again rose one percentage point to 35% of the population in the past 7 years; while those who don’t self-identify as born-again or evangelical dropped from 41% to 33%.
“This is something for evangelicals to celebrate. Our churches are strong and growing,” said Carl Nelson, President of Transform Minnesota.
Minnesota numbers tell a different story
In Minnesota the total number of Christians dropped by approximately 10% from 2007 to 2014, according to the Pew’s RLS, with Historically Black Protestant churches seeing the only increase of 1%. The trends for Minnesota evangelicals in Pew’s report don’t look as promising as they do nationally; evangelicals dipped by 2 percentage points from 2007 to 2014. Mainline Protestants and Catholics also saw a reduction during that time, of 3% and 6% respectively. The only sector in Minnesota that saw a substantial increase over that seven-year period came from those categorized as “unaffiliated.”
Although different data from the U.S. Religion Census shows Minnesota’s evangelical population is on the rise. Evangelical Protestants have grown from 11% of the state’s population in 2000 to 14% of the state’s population in 2010. According to Nelson, the differences in survey conclusions is likely because Evangelicals Protestants is a hard category to define.
“It’s not surprising that the numbers jump up and down depending on how the survey questions were formatted,” said Nelson. “Looking at all of the data together and comparing Minnesota’s statistics to the national statistics, it’s fair to say that the evangelical population in Minnesota is remaining steady.”
Noted evangelical statistician Ed Stetzer has been reporting for years that the group he calls “convictional Christians,” has remained constant at about 25% of the population. These are people whose lives and practices are shaped by their faith in a robust manner.
And yet nominal Christians – who Stetzer labels as “cultural and congregational Christians” – have been in decline. This is primarily the result of Christians beginning to self-identify as “nones” rather than labeling themselves with a faith they barely knew or observed. Stetzer says, “Perhaps we are seeing an outbreak of honesty in how nominal believers respond to survey questions.”