Go To Church Definition & Meaning

Story HighlightsIn 2020, 47% of U.S. Adults belonged lớn a church, synagogue or mosqueDown more than 20 points from turn of the centuryChange primarily due to lớn rise in Americans with no religious preference

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below một nửa for the first time in vanphongphamsg.vn's eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged khổng lồ a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 1/2 in 2018 & 70% in 1999.

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Line graph. U.S. Church membership was 73% in 1937 when vanphongphamsg.vn first measured it. It stayed near 70% through 2000 before beginning lớn decline, khổng lồ 61% in 2010 and 47% in 2020.

U.S. Church membership was 73% when vanphongphamsg.vn first measured it in 1937 & remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.

As many Americans celebrate Easter and Passover this week, vanphongphamsg.vn updates a 2019 analysis that examined the decline in church membership over the past đôi mươi years.

vanphongphamsg.vn asks Americans a battery of questions on their religious attitudes & practices twice each year. The following analysis of declines in church membership relies on three-year aggregates from 1998-2000 (when church membership averaged 69%), 2008-2010 (62%), and 2018-2020 (49%). The aggregates allow for reliable estimates by subgroup, with each three-year period consisting of data from more than 6,000 U.S. Adults.

Decline in Membership Tied to lớn Increase in Lack of Religious Affiliation

The decline in church membership is primarily a function of the increasing number of Americans who express no religious preference. Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who vị not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 & 21% over the past three years.

As would be expected, Americans without a religious preference are highly unlikely to belong to a church, synagogue or mosque, although a small proportion -- 4% in the 2018-2020 data -- say they do. That figure is down from 10% between 1998 & 2000.

Given the nearly perfect alignment between not having a religious preference & not belonging to a church, the 13-percentage-point increase in no religious affiliation since 1998-2000 appears to trương mục for more than half of the 20-point decline in church membership over the same time.

Most of the rest of the drop can be attributed to a decline in formal church membership among Americans who do have a religious preference. Between 1998 & 2000, an average of 73% of religious Americans belonged to lớn a church, synagogue or mosque. Over the past three years, the average has fallen lớn 60%.


Generational Differences Linked khổng lồ Change in Church Membership

Church membership is strongly correlated with age, as 66% of traditionalists -- U.S. Adults born before 1946 -- belong khổng lồ a church, compared with 58% of baby boomers, 50% of those in Generation X và 36% of millennials. The limited data vanphongphamsg.vn has on church membership among the portion of Generation Z that has reached adulthood are so far showing church membership rates similar to those for millennials.

The decline in church membership, then, appears largely tied to population change, with those in older generations who were likely lớn be church members being replaced in the U.S. Adult population with people in younger generations who are less likely lớn belong. The change has become increasingly apparent in recent decades because millennials & Gen Z are further apart from traditionalists in their church membership rates (about 30 points lower) than baby boomers và Generation X are (eight và 16 points, respectively). Also, each year the younger generations are making up an increasingly larger part of the entire U.S. Adult population.

Still, population replacement doesn't fully explain the decline in church membership, as adults in the older generations have shown roughly double-digit decreases from two decades ago. Church membership is down even more, 15 points, in the past decade among millennials.

Changes in Church Membership by Generation, Over Time
1998-20002008-20102018-2020Change since1998-2000%%%pct. Pts.Traditionalists (born before 1946)Baby boomers (born 1946-1964)Generation X (born 1965-1980)Millennials (born 1981-1996)
Note: Given that vanphongphamsg.vn's polls are based on the người lớn U.S. Adult population, the 1980-2000 period would have included only a small proportion of the millennial generation, và the 2018-2020 period includes only a small proportion of Generation Z (born after 1996).

The two major trends driving the drop in church membership -- more adults with no religious preference và falling rates of church membership among people who bởi have a religion -- are apparent in each of the generations over time.

Since the turn of the century, there has been a near doubling in the percentage of traditionalists (from 4% lớn 7%), baby boomers (from 7% khổng lồ 13%) and Gen Xers (11% to lớn 20%) with no religious affiliation.

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Currently, 31% of millennials have no religious affiliation, which is up from 22% a decade ago. Similarly, 33% of the portion of Generation Z that has reached adulthood have no religious preference.

Also, each generation has seen a decline in church membership among those who do tiếp thị liên kết with a specific religion. These declines have ranged between six và eight points over the past two decades for traditionalists, baby boomers và Generation X who identify with a religious faith. In just the past 10 years, the giới thiệu of religious millennials who are church members has declined from 63% to lớn 50%.


Line graph. Changes in church membership among those with a religious affiliation, by generation. There has been a seven-point decline in church membership, from 79% in 1998-2000 to lớn 72% now, among traditionalists with a religious preference. There has been a six-point decline over the same period, from 71% khổng lồ 65%, in church membership among baby boomers with a religious preference. There has been an eight-point decline in church membership among those in Generation X with a religious preference, from 68% lớn 60%. & there has been a 13-point decline since 2008-2010 among millennials with a religious preference, from 63% to lớn 50%.

Church Membership Decline Seen in All Major Subgroups

As would be expected given the 20-point decline in church membership overall, the vanphongphamsg.vn data show declines among all major subgroups of the U.S. Population beyond age, with some differences in the size of that decline.

Among religious groups, the decline in membership is steeper among Catholics (down 18 points, from 76% to 58%) than Protestants (down nine points, from 73% khổng lồ 64%). This mirrors the historical changes in church attendance vanphongphamsg.vn has documented among Catholics, with sharp declines among Catholics but not among Protestants. vanphongphamsg.vn does not have sufficient data to lớn analyze the trends for other religious faiths.

In addition to lớn Protestants, declines in church membership are proportionately smaller among political conservatives, Republicans, married adults and college graduates. These groups tend to lớn have among the highest rates of church membership, along with Southern residents & non-Hispanic black adults.

Over the past two decades, declines in church membership have been greater among Eastern residents và Democrats. Still, political independents have lower rates of church membership than Democrats do.

Changes in Church Membership, by Demographic Subgroup
1998-20002008-20102018-2020Change, 1998-2000to 2018-2020%%%pct. Pts.MenWomenNon-Hispanic trắng adultsNon-Hispanic đen adultsCollege graduateNot college graduateMarriedNot marriedRepublicanIndependentDemocratConservativeModerateLiberalEastMidwestSouthWestProtestantCatholic

The smaller declines seen among conservatives và other subgroups are largely attributable lớn more modest change among older generations within those groups. For example, conservatives in older generations have shown drops in church membership of between five và 13 points since 1998-2000, compared with the 20-point change among all U.S. Adults. However, the influence of generation is apparent, in that church membership is lower in each younger generation of conservatives than in each older generation -- 51% of conservative millennials, 64% of conservative gen Xers, 70% of conservative baby boomers and 71% of conservative traditionalists in 2018-2020 belong khổng lồ a church.

Hispanic Church Membership

Church membership among Hispanic Americans in 2018-2020 was 37%, among the lowest for any major subgroup. Analysis of changes over time in Hispanic adults' church membership is complicated by a shift in vanphongphamsg.vn methodology lớn include Spanish-language interviewing in all surveys beginning in 2011. Church membership rates are significantly lower among Hispanic respondents interviewed in Spanish than among Hispanic respondents interviewed in English. Thus, a comparison of current Hispanic church membership to past membership would overstate the decline by virtue of comparing mixed-language Hispanics today to lớn English-speaking Hispanics, alone, in the earlier period.


The U.S. Remains a religious nation, with more than seven in 10 affiliating with some type of organized religion. However, far fewer, now less than half, have a formal membership with a specific house of worship. While it is possible that part of the decline seen in 2020 was temporary & related to the coronavirus pandemic, continued decline in future decades seems inevitable, given the much lower levels of religiosity & church membership among younger versus older generations of adults.

Churches are only as strong as their membership và are dependent on their members for financial tư vấn and service khổng lồ keep operating. Because it is unlikely that people who vì chưng not have a religious preference will become church members, the challenge for church leaders is to lớn encourage those who do tiếp thị liên kết with a specific faith lớn become formal, & active, church members.

While precise numbers of church closures are elusive, a conservative estimate is that thousands of U.S. Churches are closing each year.

A 2017 vanphongphamsg.vn study found churchgoers citing sermons as the primary reason they attended church. Majorities also said spiritual programs geared toward children & teenagers, community outreach và volunteer opportunities, and dynamic leaders were also factors in their attendance. A focus on some of these factors may also help local church leaders encourage people who chia sẻ their faith to join their church.

Learn more about how the vanphongphamsg.vn Poll Social Series works.

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Results for this vanphongphamsg.vn poll are based on telephone interviews conducted 2018-2020, with a random sample of 6,117 adults, aged 18 và older, living in all 50 U.S. States và the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed kiến thiết effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents & 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.