Religion in America: Who Needs a Church?

The Pew Research Center is releasing the results of its “extensive new survey” on religion in America. In “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” it summarized changes for reported religious identification: Evangelical Christians dropped 0.9% (from 26.3% of the US population in 2007 to 25.4% in 2014), Catholics fell 3.1%, Mainline Protestants fell 3.4%, and “Unaffiliated” rose 6.7% (from 16.1% to 22.8%). Overall, adults identifying themselves as Christian dropped from 78.4% to 70.6%. America is becoming less religious and less Christian.

There is a handy link at that article that lets you drill down to the denominational data. The Mormon percentage is largely unchanged (from 1.7% in 2007 to 1.6% in 2014). Rollover each state on the handy map and you will find only three states with more than 9% Mormon population (Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming). A few other Mountain West states have a notable presence, but once you hit the Great Plains, it’s all 1% or less. Even California shows only 1%. We’re still a regional church.

Another article at the site gives “5 key findings about the changing US religious landscape.” The key findings are: (1) Christians are declining; (2) largest losses among Catholics and Mainline Protestants; (3) the “nones” are rising, which includes who respond “nothing in particular” as well as atheist or agnostic; (4) young adults are more likely to be in the “nones” category than older Americans; and (5) modest growth in non-Christian faiths like Islam and Hinduism. For Mormons, this means work harder to keep young adults in the Church and figure out how missionaries can talk meaningfully to “nones.”

The Salt Lake Tribune published a summary story as well, “Christianity Shrinking in US; Mormon numbers essentially flat.” It features this quote from David Campbell: “While many Mormons are coming in the front door, many others are leaving out the back door.” Mormons have always had a proselyting plan and program; we’re newer to the retention game, which is actually a lot trickier. Defection is a much more complicated process than conversion. But the bottom line is: We have a back door problem.

Anything else that was interesting in the survey results? It’s nice that the LDS Church is not suffering overall declines to the extent of some other denominations, but it is clear we are well into an era of declining religiosity. Once upon a time Americans, even young Americans, asked “Which is the true church?” Now they seem to be asking, “Who needs a church?”

54 comments for “Religion in America: Who Needs a Church?

  1. Discussed it at my blog yesterday too. Overall while I think Mormons are treading water relative to the population we’re still doing much better than everyone else. Evangelicals grew in absolute terms but lost numbers in relative terms. Biggest surprise was the large drop in Catholicism which is surprising given immigration from Catholic heavy countries. Also the Catholic birth rate has dropped much more than I expected.

    It’s also interesting that the trends are very similar to Canada although practical religiosity like attending services is significantly lower in Canada.

    While a lot of the Nones are disinterested in religion a large portion of them in the past would have identified with a religion but now don’t. It’s not clear that their practical behavior is significantly different. i.e. many would have been people who called themselves Baptist or Catholic but never attended services and didn’t have it affect their behavior much. That said the number calling themselves atheist or agnostic is also increasing. They are 31% of the Nones. Also ¼ of those raised Christian no longer consider themselves Christian, which is huge. They don’t have stats on that for Mormons, but in their last Mormon studies about 14% of those raised don’t consider themselves Christian.

  2. For Mormons, this means…figure out how missionaries can talk meaningfully to “nones.”

    Yes. And figuring out how to talk with evangelicals has hindered that process.

  3. “figure out how missionaries can talk meaningfully to “nones.”

    Built into this statement is the assumption that it’s a marketing problem, but the fact that even people who buy the initial marketing often leave, the problem seems to be more about of a “lived experience” problem or a fundamental disagreement about values problem. I guess I am saying that the statement seems a bit arrogant. Maybe the problem isn’t how we talk about the church, maybe the problem is the church. Young people don’t feel like their authentic selves fit into a church that requires an incredible amount of conformity. Maybe the church product needs to be more inclusive of a variety of honest interpretations of how to live the gospel. We often quote Joseph Smith as saying “Teach correct principles and let people govern themselves.” I think people would be much more likely to stay if we actually practiced that. But it’s much easier to cherry pick some diversity and market that image even though it doesn’t really match up to a typical ward experience. We need to fix the typical ward experience and the negative things about ward culture flow from policy and rhetoric at the top which is overly concerned about boundary maintenance.

  4. I think we’re uniquely positioned to talk to the “nones”, but as lastlemming notes, our insistence on trying to narrow the gap between ourselves and evangelicals makes that hard. Our great asset is that we *don’t* believe in the same God and Jesus evangelicals do. Whatever the weekly reality in our chapels, our doctrines don’t require infantile literal readings of scripture or strong beliefs that God is always going to help us find our keys as he ignores all serious pain and suffering in the world. But it’s going to be hard to get missionaries to say, “Oh, you don’t believe in God? That’s OK, we don’t believe in most gods either. Our God is different from what you’re used to hearing about. He’s real and is always giving us new tips on how to live good lives and deal with our problems. Can we come in and tell you about it?”

  5. Part of the problem is that the Nones really aren’t interested. They are disengaged not just from religion but from activities in general. They have much lower involvement with all activities ranging from sports to charity. Likewise the vast majority say they aren’t looking at religion.

    It’s important to note that the Nones is an aggregate category. That is the people in the Nones now aren’t necessarily the same who were in it in 2007. So there is shifting. How much that shifting has changed the last 10 years or so isn’t quite clear yet.

    Even ignoring that disengagement tendency you also have the problem that the Nones by and large don’t like rules, really dislike social conservatism, and think religion is too much about power. So for Mormons of all religions it’s going to be a tough job convincing these people to make pretty substantial changes. (I discussed the Nones a few weeks ago prior to this latest Pew results) Pretty much the Nones are polar opposites to most of Mormon culture and society.

  6. They may be, but luckily the scriptures are replete with examples of ‘nones’ changing course in large numbers.

  7. One thing to note: although the survey shows people identifying as Mormon dropping from 1.7% to 1.6%, in actual numbers they increased. The % is relative to the whole nation (which is growing at a decent clip), and, as it turns out, is statistically insignificant given the sample size.

  8. [The Nones] have much lower involvement with all activities ranging from sports to charity.

    When you include giving tithing and other donations to religious organizations as charity, then religious people clearly give more than the Nones. However, when religion is taken out of the equation, that doesn’t necessarily hold true, at least not according to a study published in 2012 by (

    But the generosity ranking changes when religion is taken out of the picture. People in the Northeast [who are statistically less religious] give the most, providing 1.4 percent of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared with those in the South, who give 0.9 percent.

    As for sports, are you saying that religious people have a greater interest in sports than the Nones? Where are you getting this information?

  9. Membership numbers are deceptive. In my ward, we have approximately 50% of our ward members who are inactive or who have never attended.

  10. Pete (9), that’s why most people discussing these issues use self-identification statistics rather than official member of record statistics. So the 1.6% (Pew) and 1.4% (ARIS) figures are for self-identification. Of those the majority are active. (Actually according to Pew, the vast majority are tithe payers and attend church regularly)

    Brad (8) that’s not looking at tithe paying but community involvement in general. For the data look at my post on the Nones I’d linked to earlier. I’m doing an other one later this afternoon with the latest data. The particular data on sports and so forth came from the studies in American Grace and Pew’s studies.

    Pew Research Center surveys offer limited evidence along these lines. For example, a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that the 40% of Americans who describe themselves as “active” in religious organizations – a higher bar than affiliation with a religious group – are more likely than other Americans to be involved in all types of volunteer and community groups, from sports leagues to arts groups, hobby clubs and alumni associations.19 The new Pew Research Center/Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly survey also finds that religiously unaffiliated Americans are less inclined than Americans as a whole to feel that it is very important to belong to “a community of people who share your values and beliefs” (28% of the unaffiliated say this is very important to them, compared with 49% of the general public).

    Cameron (6) I’m not saying people can’t be converted. I’m just saying that a slight shift in message isn’t apt to do anything. I don’t think it’s inevitable that the US/Canada will parallel continental Europe in terms of a move to low religiosity. In any case other situations (like war or massive disaster) can change things quickly. It’s an error to extrapolate indefinitely. All that said I’d be shocked if our absolute numbers get much above 2%. I’ll have more on what I perceive as the problems proselytizing the Nones later. It’s true that our missionary work has had the most luck with slightly disaffected protestants. And that has been our focus. A portion of the Nones probably still fits that category. But I think we really need to expand.

  11. I think people who leave the LDS Church usually identify things specific to the religion for why they leave (historical issues, feminism, gay rights, etc.). But this suggests that there are broader societal forces that are probably contributing as well, perhaps on a subconscious level. The more people with no religion, the more accepted it is to be non-religious, and the more people are comfortable questioning their religion, and it creates a feed-back loop.

  12. Joel I think there’s a broad consensus that certain changes typically happen socially which make such other issues matter for people more. That might be a change of peer group, a feeling of not being a part or other such changes. This isn’t to say there aren’t some for whom theological or historical questions aren’t huge. Just that in aggregate I’m far from convinced they are as major as others do given how well we do relative to other Christian sects in retention. (Doubly so considering that a lot more is demanded to be a Mormon versus to be an Anglican)

    While I suspect there might be a feedback loop and perhaps the internet helps that socially, I also suspect there’s larger social factors at work. What’s interesting to me are people who switch from the Nones to the ranks of Christians.

  13. I would say that transitions in belief and faith are probably a lot more subconscious and involuntary than we later rationalize them to be. Certainly society, peer groups, new information, and life experience all play a factor.

  14. Religious identification is in decline, but the survey is about identification and not religiousity. Also the “backdoor” problem really isn’t quantified or established by the survey, at least for Mormons. Other surveys better cover that and the issue has a lot of biases and agendas to work through.

    This type of info is great but remember the n is pretty low, so drawing too many inference from some of the numbers is problematic.

    America’s religiousity and identification ebs and flows. That’s why great awakenings happen.

    It looks like secularism and decreasing civil engagement are at play but where do things go from here? People are very limited at accurately predicting because people are complex.

    Besides that, carry on.

  15. Thanks for pointing that out, Clark. I suppose those who live community-based religious lives gravitate more towards community involvement. The Nones are probably more individualistic, thus gravitating away from community involvement and more towards activities that are personally empowering. That certainly is one nice thing about religion is that it puts you in situations in which you interact with people you may not normally interact with, and it can create an interactive, communitarian spirit. Of course, religion can create a culture of guilt-motivated, ascetic self-sacrifice. There are those who are essentially stuck in religious environments, or at least in environments where a certain traditional cultural prevails (this would include all religions, although some religions, such as Islam, create an environment which is more imposing than others), who are in need of empowerment against and liberation from oppressive community norms that individualism provides. And then there are those in individualist environments who suffer from the loneliness, structurelessness, and lack of interpersonal involvement who need the motivation, connection, and dedication that communitarianism provides. I welcome the wave of individualism in many regards, but there are certainly negative consequences that come from it.

  16. One thought about the above statistics: Are Church finances in trouble? With growth almost nonexistent in the US and Western Europe, and it booming in developing countries, in the future, less money may come in while more money will be required to support areas with limited incomes.

  17. Ryan (14) religiosity is a tad harder to define. Pew has prayer staying relatively constant but doubts about God increasing somewhat (around 10 percentage points). While it’s now somewhat dated the 2012 Pew survey had 58% of Americans saying religion was important. Of those self-identifying Christian 68% did. Of the unaffiliated 14% did. Of the unaffiliated who weren’t atheists/agnostic 19% did.

    I’m not sure thinking it’s important is a good measure of religiosity though. Going to services is probably better as a marker although obviously an imperfect one. The GSS gives a good graph on this, although the GSS is probably somewhat misleading. It has regular attenders dipping slightly but the less than once a year or never increasing a fair bit. (From 17.8% in 1972 to 28.9% in 2010) Polls measuring attendance tend to vary widely (PRI got 31% weekly attendance in 2013, Gallup got 41.6% in 2009. Gallop released a recent survey on it, but didn’t have national data that I could see – just state data.

    The best data on the question is probably Pew’s yearly worship statistics. Regular attenders have dipped slightly from 2003 from 39% to 37% while seldom/never have increased from 25% to 29%. I should add that this is compatible with the notion that the rise of the Nones are basically people who self-identified with religion but weren’t very religious and now just identify less with religion.

    So I agree that religiosity isn’t declining as much as the rise of the Nones might suggest.

    Roger (16), I wouldn’t say growth is non-existent. Keeping up with the rate of growth of the country is actually pretty good growth. I do think growth in poorer countries could be an issue but then I also thought trying to build in those countries as if they were American suburbs was a bad idea if a nice egalitarian move.

    Boeobq (15) Whether the Nones are more individualistic isn’t really established from what I can see. A lot of people are saying that (including several I quoted in my post I linked to). I’m not sure we should make the mistake of assuming disengaged is the same as individualistic though. I can’t recall if I made that point in the original post but it’s an important one to keep in mind. Actually “individualistic” is probably just a bad term since as it carries lots of ambiguous connotations. There are some people not terribly social and some people much more socially involved. The ones socially involved tend to be more religious in terms of social religion. But that gets back to the problem of measuring religiosity. One can imagine very religious people who aren’t terribly social.

  18. Membership numbers are deceptive. In my ward, we have approximately 50% of our ward members who are inactive or who have never attended.

    That’s actually a pretty good activity rate – I think our ward is probably about 33% active.

    But this isn’t something unique to Mormons. For example, about 90% of France is Catholic, but I’d be surprised if more than half self-identified as Catholic. Of those, I doubt more than 10% attend mass on any kind of regular basis.

  19. Also activity rates are distorted, especially in high convert areas, by people baptized but who fell away within 6 months. (Statistics vary on this but typically it’s at least 50% of baptisms) It’s hard to say that these are really converts IMO. Admittedly that’s an other word loosely defined.

  20. I think declining numbers are here to stay as far as religious affiliation goes. The rising generation and people in general are not believing the myths of their fathers any more, due in part to the pesky internet.

  21. Clark (#12),

    “…given how well we do relative to other Christian sects in retention”

    Do we? Are we better at retaining those we have or at maintaining the overall numbers with a relatively massive proselyting effort and marketing budget? I wonder if Protestantism and Catholicism would be fair better if they had tens of thousands knocking doors for two years and spent on advertising campaigns.

  22. The easiest way to discuss retention is retention of those born within the movement. Retention by converts is much trickier to tease out statistically. There are works that do so but they also tend to be figures fairly dated now. (Often applying to data collected in the 80’s or 90’s)

    I’m a little skeptical of Pew’s retention figures for Mormons for a variety of reasons although others have figures not that far off. Pew has us at around 70% for those raised Mormon. To my eyes that seems staggeringly good. Of those who leave about half become Nones and half join other faiths. While the data is dated, earlier work suggests that many people go inactive for some years and then return later in life. (Without looking I think the figure was around 40%) It’s not clear to me if that is still true. Likewise it’s not clear if those going inactive cease self-identifying as Mormon for a time. They may still identify as Mormon but simply not attend services. Pew has some data on this but some of the figures just seem so self-evidently wrong I’m loath to trust them too much.

    With regards to converts, at a minimum our US converts (those who stay more than a year to avoid froth issues) make up loses due to raised Mormons leaving the Church and then some. Again, keeping up with the growth rate of the US even with the lower rates of the last 15 years is nothing to sneeze at.

    Would Protestants and Catholics do better were they more aggressive proselytizing? Hard to say. I’d say Protestants do proselytize quite a bit. They may not be terribly effective in their methods. But then I’m far from convinced tracking is effective anymore. (I notice the Church has deprecated it a lot compared to my mission in the late 80’s) With Catholics it’s an interesting question why they don’t.

  23. To add, comparing Mormon retention to others is a bit trickier given how blurry the difference between different Protestant sects are. It’s fairly common to switch sects without viewing it as a significant religious switch. Closer to how we view switching wards. So if someone becomes a non-denominational evangelical when they were raised southern Baptist is that a loss of retention or not? If we view people who just continue to self-identify as Christian is that retention? Again given how loose Christianity broadly speaking in terms of both demands and meaning of switching what does that mean?

    Personally I think the meanings are so different that it’s dangerous to compare conversion to Mormonism to in-Christianity switching. That tends to mean retention is difficult if not meaningless to compare. (Others might disagree of course)

    The more interesting question might be those who switch from Protestantism to Nones or from Mormonism to Nones. That seems somewhat more comparable. Although again I’d argue that the primary difference is that in much of the 20th century the religiously disengaged would still identify with religions whereas now they don’t. That is I’m skeptical this is as big a change as some suggest.

  24. BL (#3), I think you’re onto something. The Corporation of Jesus Christ is doing all the marketing it can dream up. But the organization is obviously missing something. Maybe a lot of Mormons are sensing a disconnect between the heavenly visions and angelic visits of yesteryear and the corporate suits giving correlated talks on television. When was the last time you heard one of the apostles talk about seeing a vision, entertaining an angel, or speaking in the flesh with the Savior? How many members of your ward do you know who have had an Alma experience, or an Enos experience? Take away the Word of Wisdom and tithing and how different are we from any other Christian denomination? Just askin’.

  25. I think BL (#3) is on to something, but not for the reason TA (#24) lists. I love many things about the gospel, but attending church has become almost unbearable as I hear people insisting that Noah put 2-7 of every species on a boat, that everything a GA has ever said in conference is the Word of God (and you can not point out inconsistencies without someone saying they felt the spirit just leave the room), and that women are so wonderful that men “put” them on a pedestal. I’m not even that young (50 something), but it is just about more than I can take.

  26. By the way, TA (24), we DO have a man in our ward who every year or so testifies that he has had the first vision himself. It always makes everyone distinctly uncomfortable. He’s not otherwise senile.

  27. On the income chart, it appears that we are pretty “average”. Aside from the outliers (Jehovah’s Witnesses have the highest number of people in the below $30k mark and Hindus and Jews are on the other end of the spectrum with the highest numbers of persons earning above $80k.) Mormons are pretty average. As much as we revere and respect corporate wealth and culture, our Mitt’s and Hunstmans, we’re about as middle class as the next guy.

    When marketing Mormonism, we tend to have non-members “meet the mormons” who are wealthy and successful. Nearly all of the CES and church videos and commercials from the mid-80’s forward have depicted Mormons who (according to this) represent less than 20% of our demographic. Our GAs and leaders are certainly outliers. As we look at Mormonads, Ensign articles, church commercials, and other outreach materials, it would be nice to see a more proportionate representation of the classes.

  28. TA (24) ake away the Word of Wisdom and tithing and how different are we from any other Christian denomination?

    That’s a good point. Ignore the Mormon focus on authority and it’s an excellent question. Clearly we have a pretty different theology however the dirty little secret is most Christians don’t believe the doctrine their sect espouses. I think that while it’s an error to downplay doctrine too much, in practice it’s hardly the concern of most people. Indeed most people are very ignorant of doctrine.

    Leaving doctrine then the conservative Protestant groups are what we have the most in common with. Many have similar sexual mores and many even have similar views on alcohol and drugs. (That’s changing somewhat though) Mainstream Protestantism we have less in common with both in terms of social mores and politics.

    All that said if one views Mormonism purely as social then yes, we’re very similar to Christianity in general. We are perhaps much more organized and as a practical matter Mormons are more involved than most of those in the other sects are. But you don’t have to be that involved with say callings, you don’t have to pay tithing (and many sects have tithes or equivalents even if payment rates are likely lower).

    But if we’re talking about religiosity more broadly and not just being social and nice then I think there really are tons of differences between Mormons and regular Christianity and they often matter a lot to the people who stay or who leave.

    DavidOwens767 (28) When marketing Mormonism, we tend to have non-members “meet the mormons” who are wealthy and successful. Nearly all of the CES and church videos and commercials from the mid-80’s forward have depicted Mormons who (according to this) represent less than 20% of our demographic.

    I too see this as a problem. Likewise if you look at who the converts are the majority don’t tend to be that demographic. (Although of course for many they may be aspirational towards such a life) That said I think films like “Meet the Mormons” are more targeting Mormon acceptability within our culture rather than necessarily focused on conversion. i.e. it’s more getting at the “we’re not weird” factor.

    I definitely do think though that we need to focus more on the poor. Both in terms of changing them (I think Mormon culture and of course how God’s grace works through us) but also just because they are a part of our nation that needs the help more than the middle class. Look back in the time of Joseph or even the early Utah period and who were the main people who joined? It wasn’t usually rich easterners.

  29. The church grows when our faith increases. Our faith increases when we make sacrifices as a part of our lived faith. You’d think paying tithing and the WoW would be practically enough as is to be that kind of sacrifice, and perhaps for some it is but in the modern safety net, easy credit society, the sacrifice just means deferred spending or less money to upgrade your phone plan.

    From the tone and some comments I get the impression that the church would grow and thrive if only we adopt a more progressive milquetoast version of our faith. People flocked to the church when we were doing great things, that involved life changing commitment and sacrifice. Attending every Sunday for a few hours and adding a new bill pay account in your online bank doesn’t live up to changing our lives.

    It shouldn’t be a surprise that true conversions don’t take place when we just live our everyday lives like most other people and then expect to not be like them in our faith (ie. Society’s faith is declining and so is our collective faith if we by and large do the same things on a daily basis).

    This isn’t a screed against liberals but a desire to see leadership lead(ie take us somewhere) more and preach and plead less.

  30. Leadership already leads by example. What more can you ask of a former bishop of a ward with 1000 people and 100 widows? Some people just need to wake up and take things to the next level. Others are oblivious to the sacrifice already taking place.

  31. From an Australian perspective, I think that there are fewer religious people here, so perhaps we are more like Europe. I am pretty sure the church is not growing here though some areas are, it is usually move ins from NZ or the islands.

    I think the biggest problem for the growth of the church is the conservative american culture that comes as part of the package.

    I also think the succession to the Prophet is a problem, statstics on Zelopheads Daughters show that we will have Prophets over 90 years old when called unless the system changes.

    When I was younger we still talked about rolling forth to fill the earth, what happened to that?

    The only way I can see the church growing is for a leader like Uchtdorf (who doesn’t have the conservative baggage, that he thinks is gospel) as a Prophet when Monson goes. If we continue through those above him it may be too late.

    We also need a leader who hes sufficient vigour to recieve revelation, so the church can progress, and be seen to.

    The future of the church hangs on who the next Prophet is and how old they are.

  32. DavidOwens767 (28) “When marketing Mormonism, we tend to have non-members “meet the mormons” who are wealthy and successful. Nearly all of the CES and church videos and commercials from the mid-80’s forward have depicted Mormons who (according to this) represent less than 20% of our demographic.”

    When we lived in Bulgaria I noticed that the church videos are re-filmed in the East Bloc, to provide images and living circumstances with which the populace can relate. For the average person in that region of the world, showing the videos shot in the US might as well have been a bunch of “Friends” episodes without the laugh track.

  33. When I was a missionary in Ireland in the late 1960s we used to take “investigators” from the slums on tours of the mission home which was a mansion. I could never understand what that was supposed to achieve.

    An extension of showing how wealthy mormons are?

  34. Good post and comments. While I agree we need to teach missionaries how to speak to the “nones” – or at least better understand the perspective of non-members given the sheltered background from which most of them are coming – I think we’re missing a bigger point. It’s probably incorrect to assume that teaching missionaries how to talk to “nones” will achieve any meaningful objective. The vast majority of “nones” aren’t in that category because they’re searching and just haven’t found the right church yet. Rather, they’ve made a conscious choice to avoid organized religion because they don’t like the idea of one true church seemingly pitted against the others. Their world view is more “why can’t we all just get along?” or “who cares?” than “which church is true?” Mormonism won’t appeal to them by trying harder to sell them something they don’t want.

    When I served a mission in east Asia (early 1990’s), it was awkward enough to start discussions with the somewhat faulty premise, “Most people believe in a Supreme Being….” The fallacy in that premise is much greater today.

    I’m not convinced that reinventing ourselves as a church will do much good for missionary efforts either. Even if the church were to soften its stance on issues such as gender equality, I doubt we would see membership trends change much. There would likely be as much or more attrition from conservative members feeling betrayed by any such change than any inflow or improved retention of members who feel alienated by the church’s current stance. I think we meed to stop worrying about numbers so much (how many members we have, how fast we’re growing, how many missionaries are in the field, etc.) and get back to making the experience of church more meaningful.

  35. “It’s probably incorrect to assume that teaching missionaries how to talk to “nones” will achieve any meaningful objective.”

    I disagree completely. Perhaps one of the reasons the church is having such limited success in places like Europe is because missionaries are often not prepared to really engage “nones.” One of my most spiritual experiences on my mission was talking to a “none,” whose sister, previously a none, had just been baptized. The missionaries who taught her were smart enough to know that they shouldn’t approach that teaching in the same way they’d teach someone who was faithful Catholic. Likewise, when we spoke to her brother we focused solely on God and prayer, even though we’d been taught to teach a whole “first discussion” to every new contact–and so we had to deviate from what we’d been taught.

  36. Tim, I don’t oppose adjusting discussions to Nones. I just think people are fooling themselves if they think we’ll make big inroads. There’s a fundamental shift taking place from people not being associated with any religion but being hungry to people not being hungry. But there are many among the Nones and also other faiths who are ready to hear. And we have to be prepared for them.

    I think the problem is that we’ve focused primarily on those loosely connected to Protestantism but haven’t been able to shift more broadly than that. Thus the weakness in Asia and Europe. However even with the shift (which I think we have to make) I don’t think you’ll see a significant change. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

  37. Right. I don’t think we’ll see huge waves of new converts; I do think, however, that we will see a few more of the nones and other non-protestants trickle in, and that they’ll be exactly the kind of converts that the church needs.

  38. I would like to see the correlation between declining church attendance and increased Sunday-select-sports participation. I belong to the United Methodist Church and 5-7 years ago, 35-40 youth would be in attendance at church regularly. The past two years have seen a sharp decline. Many of those same youth belong to select cheer, basketball, baseball, soccer, and football programs. They travel, practice, and play all weekend. In my opinion, this sends a strong negative message to young children: That family free time centers around them. Expensive equipment, hotels, eating out during tournaments, gasoline expenses, and other costs can be a heady experience for a young person…especially when it is all being spent on “one child.” Where do families go from there as the child gets older?

    There is a generation of youth growing up who aren’t going to church because their parents are choosing sports as their church. One reason the LDS numbers remain flat could be due to the LDS emphasis on keeping the Sabbath holy. I grew up in the LDS church, in varying levels of activity, and can say that church attendance, or having a church home, has never been an option. Our church is a vital, important part of our family life. Trading church for other Sunday commitments was, and never will be, an option.

  39. @JoAnna C.,
    a Catholic co-worker was complaining to me that she had to miss normal Easter services because her son’s club team had a major tournament that weekend. His team was scheduled for 9 AM on Sunday.

  40. @JoAnna C, you may be correct that a large number of parents have effectively chosen Sunday “sports as their church.” Some may prefer to not have sports activities on Sundays but feel pressured to participate. But I know plenty of families who just don’t like attending organized religious services regularly. The latter group wouldn’t attend church even if no games or practices were being held on Sundays. They just don’t want to go to church. It’s not that they don’t know what they’re missing; it’s that they just don’t miss it at all. They find meaning in other aspects of life. Many of them are closer as families than a lot of the LDS members I know, who are supposed to be singularly focused on family.

    I’ve been active LDS my entire life. Like you, skipping church was never an option. Only in the past couple of years with one of my children getting more involved in travel sports have we faced a conflict on Sunday scheduling. I feel strongly about the principle, “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.” (Side note: I wish more LDS leaders would take this approach, for example, to modest dress standards instead of the prevalent approach of dictating hyper-specific black & white rules that have the unintended result of making youth more self-conscious and critical of their physical appearance.) Our solution to Sunday sports has been to attend church whenever possible (we rarely miss) and we lean in favor of church when there is conflict. But there have been a few times when we’ve chosen to travel to away games instead of church, and I honestly can’t say that I missed church. LDS services in our ward have become so business-like that they hardly feel worshipful or uplifting. I’m sure I’m accused of “fence-sitting” or otherwise being judged by other LDS for trying to have it both ways. And I’m sure people will say you get out of Sunday what you put into it. I just know there are without question Sundays that I feel closer to God by being outdoors with my family, free from the stress of meeting-after-meeting-after-meeting church.

  41. JoAnna (41) I don’t know if Pew’s released the hard data so you could calculate correlation coefficients.

    One thing to keep in mind is that there are several different demographics in the Nones. For example there’s a very big difference between the Nones who are in the under $30,000 income demographic and those who are above. The under $30,000 group make up 40% of the Nones. Also 45% have only a high school diploma or less. So contrary to what some might suspect the main rise in the Nones is among the less educated and less wealthy.

    Also we have to distinguish those who consider themselves part of a religion but don’t attend regularly from those who don’t consider themselves anything.

    This is all very significant and probably has a lot to do with feelings of alienation. While the media hasn’t portrayed it that way, to my eyes a lot of this seems like a very class situated demographic change. While women Nones are rising most tend to be men as well.

    While it’s just a guess I’d expect that it’s primarily among the better educated and wealthy that there’s a shift from religious to simply adopting different social networks such as Sunday sports, political activism, art or whatever.

    What’s of more concern to me personally is the other demographics as I sincerely feel like a huge group of America is just becoming alienated entirely from America. It makes me worry about something like the rise of Orwell’s Proles. The social integration that was more present in the 20th century is disappearing. (And it was never as good as it should have been even then)

  42. JoAnna C: In my current ward the Mormons are just as guilty of this. So many children’s sports activities on Sunday, including ballet recitals for the 3-year olds. Also, several adults missing church for an endless stream of marathons it seems, all on Sunday.

    Maybe I was simply oblivious to these things, as I grew up in an inner city ward that could not afford these things, and now live in an extremely affluent area in Southern California where events are year round due to excellent weather conditions. It has surprised me to say the least, but since my wife and I are not sports people, I suppose it’s easy to judge. To coin a phrase from President Uchtdorf, I suppose I simply sin differently.

    My experience is the more I miss church, the easier it becomes.

    Not sure what this comment has to do with the “nones” but I think a lot of LDS are becoming “nones” themselves indirectly.

  43. I couldn’t find the breakout for the current survey for other activities. (Pew usually likes to dole out all the data over several months so as to keep people paying attention) For their prior survey in 2011 they had a lot on community involvement.

    For that data set 35% of people in general are active in sports or recreation leagues while 17% of the Nones are. 34% are active in charitable or volunteer organizations like Habitat for Humanity while 15% of Nones are. 30% are active in community groups or neighborhood associates while 11% of the Nones are.

    As I said there is an education aspect but not the way most assume. College graduates are the group most likely to be involved in religion. Likewise the wealthier one is the more likely one is to be religious.

  44. For Mormons, what the rise of extensive, organized extracurriculars does is make it hard to run a youth program. Some significant percentage of your youth will have a conflict with whatever evening you pick, plus an even greater percentage with Friday night/Saturday during the school year. Much ingenuity and flexibility required.

  45. @Adam G, I’m curious if you would you prefer quantity or quality in the youth program? I don’t think we can have it both ways. Our family has three teenagers and two parents in youth leadership callings. It takes a toll. Early morning seminary (no chance for family time at breakfast), weekly YM/YW activities and prep work before each, Scout stuff on many weekends, Scout committee meetings and Board of Review meetings, stake activities, “firesides” and dances, class presidency meetings, BYC and BYD once a month, lesson prep, and more. Almost forgot multiple day-long training sessions on Saturdays for youth counselors going to YW camp. Exhausting. Have we unconsciously or consciously decided as a church that we’ll create as many activities as we can in the hope that sooner or later we’ll catch all the youth in our net?

    Many members seem to believe that the more meetings and activities you have, the more “active” you are and the more you are “magnifying your calling.” There is also a notion, perhaps calculated, that if you keep every member busy at church or doing church callings and assignments, they are less likely to stray. That may be true to an extent. But I’ve seen it backfire. And either way, the fallout is that we don’t spend nearly enough time with the people the church teaches are the most important: our families. And we don’t have many opportunities to share the gospel because this hamster-wheel existence means we spend too much time at church with fellow ward members to expand our circle of friends/acquaintances.

  46. As I said there is an education aspect but not the way most assume. College graduates are the group most likely to be involved in religion

    You should read this study, which shows the correlation between higher education and religiosity to be rather tenuous.

  47. Likewise the wealthier one is the more likely one is to be religious.

    If you look at all countries, there is a negative correlation between religion and wealth:

    In poorer nations, religion remains central to the lives of individuals, while secular perspectives are more common in richer nations.

  48. Clark, you should also consider a 2013 study, which reviewed 63 scientific studies over decades, that finds that in 53 of the 63 studies there was shown “a reliable negative relation between intelligence and religiosity.” There is a paywall to access the study, but a brief review of it can be found here.

  49. Brad (51) I’m actually familiar with that study. Mormons and Jews actually buck that trend. Which is surprising given the large number of converts and that converts tend to come from more humble means. We should also note that while there was a difference between the religious and non-religious it was pretty small and the correlation coefficients were pretty small as well. (I have in my notes they are 0.6 but I’ve not had time to check that) So the relationship is definitely there but it doesn’t apply to all groups and the effect isn’t huge one. (That is it’s a significant statistical relationship but not necessarily a significant practical relationship – people often conflate the two senses of significant) The relationship also breaks down when you shift from the US to the world as a whole.

    As you noted (50) there are some very interesting religious correlations. So there’s a fairly strong wealth/religiosity inversion and a strong innovation/religiosity inversion. For both those trends the US is a huge outlier.

    The issue of education and religion in the gss is limited as you note (49). There’s a relationship but a small one but the key point is that the relationship though weak is the opposite of what most people expect. i.e. what’s really at issue is the assumption more education = less religion, whereas as the paper you linked to notes that’s been falsified. Further the analysis of the Nones shows a significant group who are poorly educated and not religious. But then there’s an other group very educated but not religious. We need to not conflate the two. Further we also need to distinguish between the religiously disengaged and the agnostics/atheists who care enough to say they have some clear ideas on the topic. It gets more interesting when you dig down yet further. There’s a huge gap between STEM and non-STEM fields in terms of religiosity. This phenomena tends to appear with those getting education beyond a Bachelor’s. I have a post on religiosity among elites from a few months back.

  50. As stated in this radio show: our society is quickly adopting an attitude not unlike that of Esau who squandered his birthright for a bowl of soup. The problem as I see it is that Americans, and most western Europeans, are perfectly willing to sacrifice family and even spirituality in order to follow the “god” of consumerism. They like those little trinkets on their ankles and their designer cars and clothes. Sad part is that all this does not fill the thirst for God and perhaps this is why westerners are so unhappy.

  51. “Esau who squandered his birthright for a bowl of soup”

    Speaking of conventional interpretation, am I the only one who reads this as a story of exploitation of the desperate by the self-righteous? I wonder if pyramid schemes do so well in Utah because of an Esau-Jacob effect.

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