Christianity in America

September 28, 2018 • Volume 28, Issue 34
Can churches reverse declining membership?
By Susan Ladika


Christians pray during a stop on the “Decision America” tour (Cover: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)
Christians pray during a stop on the “Decision America” tour at the fairgrounds in Turlock, Calif., in May. In the weeks leading up to California's June primary, the tour, led by the Rev. Franklin Graham, aimed to encourage evangelical voters to go to the polls. Experts say evangelicalism remains strong but that the movement's conservative policy positions have cost it support among some young people. (Cover: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan)

An increasing number of Americans describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, and while 89 percent profess belief in God, many Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant and evangelical churches are losing members. Among Catholics, polls show that disagreements over church teachings, along with the effects of clergy sexual misconduct, have led many to leave the church. Protestant churches, meanwhile, have struggled with their own scandals and problems, including the disillusionment of many young adults. Some experts speculate that American Christianity is shifting toward a European model, in which many profess to be Christian but attend church only occasionally. As religious trends shift, experts debate their long-term implications. Some note that despite declines in older denominations, many newer churches — including so-called megachurches that draw thousands of attendees — are thriving. To attract members, especially teens and young adults, some churches are making services more contemporary and emphasizing social and environmental messages.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Oct. 28, 2022  Church and State
May 29, 2020  Christians in the Mideast
Sep. 28, 2018  Christianity in America
Jun. 23, 2017  Future of the Christian Right
Jun. 07, 2013  Future of the Catholic Church
Jan. 2011  Crisis in the Catholic Church
Sep. 21, 2007  Rise of Megachurches
Sep. 14, 2001  Evangelical Christians
Feb. 26, 1999  Future of the Papacy
Dec. 11, 1998  Searching for Jesus
Jul. 22, 1988  The Revival of Religion in America
Dec. 02, 1983  Christmas Customs and Origins
Jun. 10, 1983  Martin Luther After 500 Years
Aug. 08, 1975  Year of Religion
Jul. 26, 1972  Fundamentalist Revival
Jan. 04, 1967  Religion in Upheaval
Aug. 03, 1966  Religious Rivalries in South Viet Nam
Nov. 11, 1964  Church Tax Exemption
Aug. 05, 1964  Catholic Schools
Oct. 14, 1963  Churches and Social Action
Jun. 19, 1963  Vatican Policy in a Revolutionary World
Jan. 05, 1962  Rome and Christian Unity
Mar. 26, 1958  Church-Related Education
Dec. 18, 1957  Church Consolidation
Jun. 05, 1957  Evangelism in America
Jun. 23, 1955  Religious Boom
Aug. 13, 1952  Church Unity in America
Feb. 12, 1947  Relations with the Vatican
Dec. 21, 1923  The New Schism in the Church and the Immaculate Conception
Abortion, Contraception and Reproductive Issues
Campaigns and Elections
Campaigns and Elections
Conservatism and Liberalism
Immigration and Naturalization
Lobbying and Special Interests
Party Politics
Religion and Politics
Religious Movements