The predominant theory is that religion is especially appealing to women and older Americans. However, there’s a new Barna Poll out that reaches radically different conclusions:
Church attendance by women has actually dropped by 11 percent since 1991, to a current level of 44 percent.
“A majority of women no longer attend church services in a typical week,” Pollster George Barna reports.
Bible reading by women also fell, by 10 percent, and Sunday school attendance dropped 7 percent.
According to Barna, “The only religious behavior that increased among women in the past 20 years was becoming unchurched.” That jumped a startling 17 percent.
By contrast, “Baby Busters,” young adults born from 1965 through 1983, increased their Bible reading by 9 percent, reaching 41 percent in 2011, and the number of them volunteering at a church doubled from 10 to 19 percent. Making a personal commitment to Jesus Christ also became more important among Busters in the last 20 years; 60 percent have done so today, a rise of 12 percent.
On the other hand, Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are decidedly less involved. Church attendance plummeted by 12 percent; Sunday school attendance fell by 9 percent and volunteering dropped by a third from 28 percent in 1991 to only 18 percent in 2011.
The percentage of unchurched Boomers nearly doubled, rising dramatically by 18 percent, with 41 percent who now do not go to church except to attend weddings and funerals.
What about the Elders, those born before 1946? They are getting bored with church too. Their unchurched numbers jumped by 8 percent so that three out of ten Elders now do not attend, Barna reports. Their Bible reading outside of church fell by 8 percent from 54 percent to 46 percent. Sunday school attendance fell by a similar amount.
Traditionally, women have been the backbone of most congregations. A higher percent were members, church attenders and volunteers, while men lagged far behind. No longer. Barna reports that the religious gender gap has largely closed.
Twenty years ago 50 percent of women read the Bible outside of church vs. only 40 percent of men. That pattern has reversed, with 41 percent of men and only 40 percent of women now reading Scripture.
“The elimination of that gap is what is striking,” comments George Barna.
In fact, though male church attendance and membership is down, two out of five men read the Bible outside of church today, the same as two decades ago.
Another notable reduction in the difference between the genders: Men were 12 percent more likely to be unchurched than women in 1991, but the gap is now only 4 percent.
“The frightening reality for churches is that the people they have relied upon as the backbone of the church can no longer be assumed to be available and willing when needed, as they were in days past,” Barna commented.
The ethnic group experiencing the greatest changes were Hispanics. Their church attendance plunged from 54 percent in a typical week twenty years ago to 33 percent this year. Adult Sunday school attendance nearly disappeared, falling from 28 percent to just 9 percent.
Hispanic Bible reading used to be 55 percent but is only 30 percent today, only about half of what it had been. Conversely, the percentage of Latinos who are unchurched doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent today.
By contrast, blacks are more likely than whites or Hispanics to say their religious beliefs are very important in their life today, to believe that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches, and are more likely to have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. Blacks are also more likely to share their religious beliefs with people who might believe differently, than are whites and Hispanics.
African-Americans are also more likely to attend church and/or Sunday school, to read the Bible and to volunteer at their church in an average week. Finally, blacks are only half as likely as whites or Hispanics to be unchurched.
Weekly white church attendance fell over the past two decades from 46 percent to 39 percent; adult Sunday school attendance fell 9 percent; volunteering dropped a similar 8 percent from 26 percent down to 18 percent; and the percentage who believe the Bible is accurate in what it teaches dropped by 7 percent.