[Thanks to Peter Robinson for gathering the data  and thoughts on this topic]


Two sources have provided the following information:

The first is an article titled ‘Fewer Americans than ever are Christian as more say they have no religion’ by Mike Stunson,15 December 2021, which appeared in Flipboard 10 today, it is based on a poll by the Pew Research Centre.

Key conclusions of the Poll are that:

– 30% of the American population see themselves as atheist, agnostic or nothing, nearly double from 16% in 2007.

– 63% identify as Christian, compared to 78% in 2007.

– 41% see religion as ‘very important’ to them, down from 56% in 2007

– 45% say they pray daily, down from 58% in 2007

– The decline is most noted in Protestantism. 40% of adults down from 52% in 2007. Catholics 21% adults down from 24 % in 2007.

– Other US Polls demonstrate results similar to the Pew Research Centre Poll

– For the first time, fewer than 50% of adult Americans belong to a house of worship.

Ryan Burge, a political scientist at Eastern Illinois University and a Baptist minister, is quoted as saying “Church attendance is the first thing that goes, then belonging, and finally belief – in that order, Belief goes last”. (I’ll come back to this).

(On the American situation, I think the noted trends tie in with other evidence that there is growing interest in progressive theologies, among younger generations in particular.)

The second comes from Australia, the most recent National Church Life Survey (NCLS) results from their November 2021 Australian Community Survey (ACS). Australia has always been seen as a less ‘religious’ society than America, and Australians generally consider themselves to be more spiritual than religious – around half say they are both, but of these just half again are practicing.

Some key conclusions from the Australian ACS survey are:

–  Just 40% of Australians have contact with churchgoers, 60% have no contact

– 30% of Australians might attend a Christian church service if invited, if the invitee is a close friend

– The cruncher coming into Christmas is that around 51% of adult Australians do not see Jesus as a living historical figure (23% see Jesus as a mythical or fictional creation, and 29 % simply do not know). The survey suggests younger people are more likely to hold this view.

– 16% of Australians are willing to use on-line platforms to discuss matters of religion and faith.

(Around 20% of Australians might attend fairly regularly).

Reflecting on these findings

One has to ask why 51% of Australians do not see Jesus as having been a living person? It’s not because they have been reading the theories of authors like Volney, Dupois, or Bauer or more recently Doherty or Price. Neither because of a conscious choice to reject evidence in wide sources of non-canonical texts, apologists Clement, Ignatius and Justyn Martyr, or factual accounts of prolific historian Josephus, Seutonius or Pliny the Younger, independent sources who freely acknowledged Jesus as a living historical figure. Yet the survey results are not surprising, as the church has cloaked Jesus with an aura of classical mythology and supernatural elements, culminating in divine titles, that makes it difficult for many to understand Jesus as someone truly human who gave to the world a unifying social gospel message. In its preoccupation with symbol, the church at large faces a crisis of language and representation. Images and symbols that engaged early century minds have little place in the imagination of a majority of people today, whose worldview is shaped by contemporary rational knowledge and understanding. The church must ask itself, has the humanity of Jesus been lost? The evidence is in the data of polls conducted by NCLS and others.

So, attendance is first to go, then belonging, then belief, and finally ground of reality!


1 thought on “TRENDS IN RELIGION

  1. Greg Jenks

    Peter, thank you for this timely drawing together of the trends from two recent sets of surveys.

    No doubt the current NCLS cycle, somewhat delayed due to COVID impacts but likely to conclude by late February, will reinforce this data. I expect the NCLS data will be skewed by the age of the church-attending population and perhaps by the absence from the survey of the Pentecostal churches who may be less likely to participate.

    Before too long we shall also have the results of the 2021 Australian census.

    That means your data set will be greatly enriched during the next, say, six months. I look forward to your update of this report in light of those two additional rich sources of relevant data.

    And for those of us who are still engaged to some extent with the Jesus movement, there is a real challenge here to persuade our peers and our younger neighbours to give the historical Jesus further attention as a spiritual guide quite separate from the crumbling edifice of Christianity in the West.

    Next month I am going to be in a public conversation with my Westar colleague, Bandon Scott, about the new book (After Jesus Before Christianity) which has just been published. The data you have gathered here will provide me with valuable material for that conversation.

    Greg Jenks

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