Church Membership
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Gallup: Fewer than Half of Americans Belong to a Church or Other House of Worship

By Bob Smietana

Ask Americans if they believe in God and most will say yes. But a growing number have lost faith in organized religion.

For the first time since the late 1930s, fewer than half of Americans say they belong to a church, synagogue or mosque, according to a new report from Gallup.

Forty-seven percent of Americans now say they belong to a house of worship, down from 70% in the mid-1990s and 50% in 2019. The decline is part of a continued drop in membership over the past 20 years, according to Gallup data.

The polling giant has been measuring church membership since 1937 when nearly three-quarters of the population (73%) reported membership in a house of worship. For much of that time, membership remained at about 70% but began to decline after 1999. By the late 2000s, membership had dropped to about 62% and has continued to fall.

Pollsters at Gallup looked at survey data from more than 6,000 Americans and compared data from 2018 to 2020 with two other time frames: 2008 to 2020 and 1998 to 2000.

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The decline in membership coincides with the rise of the so-called “Nones” — those who claim no religious affiliation. Gallup reports about one in five Americans (21%) is a None — making them as large a group as evangelicals or Catholics. Other polls put the number at closer to 30%. 

Few Nones belong to a house of worship, Gallup found.

“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 (survey) — say they do,” the report from Gallup states. “That figure is down from 10% between 1998 and 2000.”

Gallup also found a decline in membership at churches, synagogues and mosques among religious Americans, who make up about 76% of the population. In the time frame from 1998 to 2000, about three-quarters (73%) of religious Americans were members of a house of worship. That number has fallen to 60%.

Younger Americans are increasingly disconnected from organized religion, according to the report from Gallup. But the number of older Americans who are members of a house of worship has also declined in recent years.

In the time from 2008 to 2010, 73% of “traditionalists” — Gallup’s term for Americans born before 1945, were church members. That number has dropped to 66% in 2018 to 2020. Membership among Baby Boomers dropped from 63% to 58% during that same time frame, as did membership among Generation X (57% to 50%) and millennials (51% to 36%).

The gap between those who believe in a specific religion and those who participate in the life of a specific congregation is likely to prove a challenge for houses of worship. And the decline in church membership is likely to continue, according to Gallup.

“Churches are only as strong as their membership and are dependent on their members for financial support and service to keep operating,” said the report. “Because it is unlikely that people who do not have a religious preference will become church members, the challenge for church leaders is to encourage those who do affiliate with a specific faith to become formal, and active, church members.”

Measuring church membership and religious affiliation remains a challenge for researchers. From 1850 to 1950, the U.S. Census Bureau collected data on religious congregations in the United States and from 1906 to 1936 published a “Census of Religious Bodies.”

“The Census of Religious Bodies was conducted every 10 years until 1946,” Pew Research noted in a 2010 article on religion and the Census. “The 1936 Census of Religious Bodies was the last one published, however, because the U.S. Congress failed to appropriate money either to tabulate or to publish the information collected in the 1946 census. By 1956, Congress had discontinued the funding for this census altogether.”

Statisticians from more than 230 religious denominations and other religious bodies also compiled membership statistics for the 2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study. That study, which includes county by county data, found religious organizations claimed just under half (48.7) of the United States population as adherents. Similar reports have been compiled every 10 years since 1980. 

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.

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21 thoughts on “Gallup: Fewer than Half of Americans Belong to a Church or Other House of Worship”

  1. History is repeating. Christianity in the first century was the gathering of the Saints in homes. God is allowing the apostate denominations to fall because each true Saint is a temple for the Holy Spirit. Christianity is a relationship with the Father not a religion. So, True Christians will meet back into homes as they did in the first century until our Savior returns!

    1. Wishing thinking, sorry to say. There is no evidence of religiously observant Americans abandoning traditional places of worship to form house churches in the numbers required to significantly affect the surgery results.

      I’ve seen the same argument made for survey after survey over the last ten years of declining numbers but nobody’s been able to find any evidence for a mass of hidden unchurched christians.

      The basic fact is that the vast majority of people who no longer go to church are simply no longer interested enough in the faith of their childhood to continue in worship of any kind.

      When you dig through the numbers you find that a large majority of the unchurched still have some belief in the spiritual or supernatural, including god, but it rarely impacts their day-to-day lives, and most readers of this blog would barely recognize it as Christianity or religious faith at all.

      The article is right to state that the decline in church attendance is likely to continue, with each passing generation becoming more and more disconnected from their family religious traditions. Many of those who stopped attending church when they left home, are now having kids of their own and unlike their parents, are unlikely to return to ensure their children get a religious education.

      This is the pattern that has already played out in other Western nations like the UK and Scandinavia, starting almost 50 years ago. Now church attendance in many of those places is down well below 20% or even 10%.

      I believe the more conservative nature of the United States means that church attendance is unlikely to fall to those levels, but I suspect there is still some way to go before the bottom is reached.

  2. If history is “repeating” like Acts, then we can also expect a huge awakening of new Saints in an increasingly pagan world!

    Come Great Awakening!

  3. Many young people watch the neo zealots of the Christian Nationalist movement and see nothing but lies and hypocrisy and legalism. Love of neighbor is secondary and not that important in the church. Why get involved?

    1. The Christian Left has been irrelevant for decades now (this explains why the mainlines have been cratering for much longer), now the same thing is happening to the Christian Right. The sold their birthrights for bowls of political power stew. And we all know how well that deal turned out in the OT.

      The Evangelical church’s overwhelming support for their unregenerate pagan Orange Dear Leader is another nail in their coffin of being influential or even relevant in society, culture, and politics moving forward. I am old enough to remember when these same Evangelical leaders and members insisted that “character counts” during the Monica Lewinsky scandal of Bill Clinton and that he should resign as POTUS. But 20 years later, they go all in their support of a womanizing, adulterous, pagan because he is _their_ guy.

      Some principled conservatives (such as myself) were kicked to the curb when the Cheeto Jesus got the nomination in 2016. And when we did point out the inconsistency and hypocrisy we we called every name in the book by the Kool-Aid drinking followers of said Cheeto Jesus.

    2. Not just young people. I’m 58, have a degree in theology and consider myself a believer, but I am right with those young people.

  4. 1 Peter 4:17 For the time has come judgement must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that do not obey the gospel of God? (KJV)

    1. Duplicated one line but hey some things are worth repeating. :) Praying for a great awakening and revival in the hearts of all believers.

  5. Susan Vonder Heide

    Certainly there is a decline of religious faith these days but I would caution against making church membership an absolute determinant of that. Many people join churches to have a nice venue for a wedding or for some other reason unrelated to serious Christianity and many other people may not be an official member of any church but may be serious Christians attending more than one church (this is particularly true when there is some denominational conflict in a marriage or when an individual feels some denominational ambiguity).

  6. I am a Christian but I would be counted among those who lack “membership” in any house of worship. Mostly because I don’t feel I can find a spiritual home in American evangelicalism because of how spiritually bankrupt it has become. Not all of us in the wilderness are faithless. Not all who wander are lost.

    1. JL

      Excellent…

      You write…
      “Not all of us in the wilderness are faithless.”

      ——-

      Heb 11:8 KJV
      By faith Abraham,
      when he was called to go out
      into a place which he should after
      receive for an inheritance,
      obeyed;
      and he went out,
      not knowing whither he went.

      ——-

      You write…
      “Not all who wander are lost.”

      Jer 50:6 KJV
      “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
      **THEIR shepherds**
      have caused them to *go astray,*

      Notice, it says THEIR shepherds.
      NOT, God’s Shepherds.

      1 Pet 2:25 KJV
      For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
      BUT are now returned to
      the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

      {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

      ——-

      Heb 13:13 KJV
      Let us go forth therefore
      unto him
      without the camp,
      bearing his reproach.

  7. Every day there are fewer and fewer since now there are more Christian investigative journalists than good solid preachers.
    Thanks, Julie Roys.

  8. This is a sad report, but I kind of understand why. My husband and I have been Christians for a long time but we haven’t been to church regularly in several years. We would like to be, but part of the problem is many churches are not welcoming of manly, strong men, which my husband is. Every time we try he ends up feeling out of place. There is a touchy-feely environment he is expected to conform to and he can’t be himself. I keep hoping one day we will find a place where this is not so.

    1. Can’t be himself? What possible behavior of your husband would you consider acceptable in church that they refuse to allow? The mind boggles…

  9. Hmmm? This author writes…
    “ But a growing number have lost faith in organized religion.”
    Could the problem be… Todays pastors? Wanna-be leaders?

    Seems, in the Bible, God WARNS His Ekklesia, His Body…
    About THE PASTORS who will, who have…
    Scattered His flock, and…
    Driven them…
    Away…

    Jeremiah 2:8 KJV
    …”The Pastors” also transgressed against me,
    and the prophets prophesied by Baal…

    Jeremiah 10:21 KJV
    For ”The Pastors” are become brutish, ( beastly, carnal )
    and have not sought the LORD: therefore they shall not prosper,
    and all their flocks shall be scattered.

    Jeremiah 12:10 KJV
    Many “Pastors” have destroyed my vineyard,
    they have trodden my portion under foot…

    Jeremiah 22:22 KJV
    The *wind shall eat up ALL “Thy Pastors,”
    (*wind = ruwach = breath, mind, spirit.)

    Jeremiah 23:1 KJV
    Woe be unto ”The Pastors” that destroy
    and scatter the sheep of my pasture!

    Jeremiah 23:2 KJV
    …thus saith the LORD God of Israel
    against ”The Pastors” that feed my people;

    **Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away,**

    and have not visited them: behold,
    **I will visit upon you the evil of your doings,**
    saith the LORD.

    YUP… In the Bible it says…
    The pastors have scattered His flock…
    And driven them away…
    ——-

    Jer 50:6
    “My people” hath been “lost sheep:”
    **THEIR shepherds**
    have caused them to *go astray,*

    1 Pet 2:25
    For ye were as *sheep going astray;*
    BUT are now returned to
    the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}

  10. Francis Schaeffer said, “The spirit of the church is the spirit of the age.” A rebirth of house churches and smaller churches that focus on people and not some evangelical machine. It allows for Socratic teaching and learning.

    The main caveat is that it is through, with and coincides with Biblical truth. Biblical truth isn’t right or left. It needs to be rightly divided! Cut it straight because we are living in a time where people have moved beyond wanting to have their ears tickled. They do not believe in absolute truth, much less watered down lameo positive non gospel truth. More than ever we need to get back to house churches with simplicity and biblical polity. The evangelical machine is not answering questions that people are asking. We need to be knowledgeable of the Bible and the world we live in! The church as it is needs continuous reformation. Not a to reform, but passive reformation via the Word of God.

  11. After reading on the other stories on your website for a few months I can see why church membership is going down fast. . The corruption and lies are incredible. Moreover, no one seems to have any shame about either treating church as a bank or a brothel. A shallow apology and back they go ripping off Christ again. I’m strong in my faith and belong to a good church but I’m very cautious that people are weak. I feel it’s going to take strong faith in the years to come to testify publicly about the Bible when so many sheep in wolves clothing have destroyed the reputation of God in this country. There will soon be more mockers than members.

  12. It takes a real believer to:

    A) Obediently get himself and his family out of bed on a cold rainy Sunday morning and attend a small church gathering of fellow believers OR

    B) Lie in bed Sunday morning and watch T.D Jakes or Kenneth Copeland on the television in your bedroom?

    Go to church.

    1. Hi Jackson – Was wondring….

      You write… “Go to church.”

      But… In the Bible?
      Did any of **His Disciples** ever “Go to church?”
      Or teach “Go to church?” Attend a church? Tithe to a church?

      NOPE…

      If being one of **His Disciples** is important? To you?
      Wouldn’t what Jesus taught **His Disciples** be important?
      Wouldn’t what **His Disciples** DID, be important?

      Shouldn’t WE, His Sheep, His Kings and Priests, His Body…
      His Friends, His Bride, His Servants, His Redeemed…
      His Ekklesia, His Called Out Ones, His Church…
      His Followers, His Ambassadors…His sons…
      His Disciples…

      LQQK, at least a little, like… Act like…
      One of **His Disciples** in the Bible?
      ——-

      What is popular is NOT always “Truth.”
      What is “Truth” is NOT always popular.

    2. Jackson

      In the Bible? What is this thing called “church?”

      Makes an interesting study. An interesting challenge.
      Printout evey verse with the word “church” in it…
      Read them, over and over, again and again…
      And ask yourself… Ask Jesus…

      In the Bible?
      Did any of **”His Disciples?”**
      Ever?

      1 – *Go to* Church?
      2 – *Join* a Church?
      3 – *Lead* a Church?
      4 – *Plant* a Church?
      5 – *Pastor* a Church?
      6 – *Attend* a Church?
      7 – *Tithe* to a Church?
      8 – *Look for* a Church?
      9 – *Teach* Go to Church?
      10 – *Bring their friends* to Church?
      11 – *Become Members* of a Church?
      12 – *Apply for Membership* in a Church?
      13 – *Call themselves, Pastor,* in a Church?
      14 – *Call themselves, Leader,* in a Church?
      15 – *Call themselves, Reverend,* in a Church?
      16 – *Give Silver, or Gold, or Money* to a Church?
      17 – *Build a building with a Cross* and call it Church?

      18 – *Were any of **His Disciples,** ever Hired?
      As a Paid, Professional, Pastor, in a Pulpit?
      Preaching, to People in Pews?
      Weak after Weak?
      In a church?
      ——-

      NOPE…
      NONE of these 18 things exist in the Bible…
      For one of **His Disciples.**

      These things only exist in “The church of man?”

      If, In the Bible…
      Jesus did NOT teach **His Disciples** to do these things?
      And, **His Disciples** did NOT do these things?

      Why do WE?

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