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Evangelism in America: Is the Religious Right taking the helm of America’s Christian traditions?

March 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The headlines have said it; Evangelical Christianity is on the rise while the more moderate Protestant Christian denominations are in decline. But is this really the case? And if it is, how long will it be before the more radical aspects of Protestant Christianity hold sway over the majority of Americans? Imagine if most people bought into the inane garbage spewed by the Pat Robertsons, Billy Grahams, and Jerry Falwells of the world. A frightening projection indeed; so what does the major research into this field tell us about this supposed unstoppable growth?

The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS)[1] conducted out of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut found in 2008 that so called Mainline Christianity is indeed in the decline while Pentecostal and other Charismatic and Evangelical denominations are increasing; however, it is the Non-Denominational and Unspecified Christians who take the lead in areas of growth. While Pentecostals grew from 1.8% of the population to 2.3% the former groups grew from 4.7% to 10.9%. It seems that hand over fist it is the more generic Christians who are taking charge of the faith but another interesting conclusion of the ARIS report is that Christianity as a whole, while still adhered to by a majority of Americans, is in decline. From 1990 to 2008 the number of Christians in American dropped by nearly 10% while the irreligious went from 8.2% to 15%, gaining nearly the whole loss from Christianity. It is safe to say that according to ARIS the US won’t face an Evangelical takeover anytime soon.

Then there is the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life,[2] a great research tool for anyone with questions concerning demographics of religion and politics. They found in 2010 that only 39% of Americans attended a religious service once a week, only a third of Americans believed that the Bible was the literal and unaltered word of God, and only 56% of Americans consider religion to be very important to one’s life. Striking figures when one considers that Christians make up 76% of the US population. Finally, according to the Pew Foundation the irreligious grew by 1.1% in the two years between the 2008 ARIS report and the one done by Pew in 2010.

From this we can clearly see that while Evangelism is a growing trend within Christianity it is by no means the fastest growing nor is it the dominant trend. On top of that Christianity as a whole is in decline, it would seem that the denominations are more so cannibalizing current members from other churches than gaining new members from outside the faith resulting in a net loss in the pews. Secularism and irreligiosity is one of the fastest growing trends in the American religious landscape possibly by Christianity’s step toward the political right as it becomes less mainstream and more Evangelical. Whatever the reason it, it would seem that the reports about the evangelization of the nation are all taken out of proportion.