The Unchurched

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Unchurched Population Nears 100 Million in the U.S.:

A new survey released by The Barna Group, which has been tracking America’s religious behavior and beliefs since 1984, reveals that one out of every three adults (33%) is classified as unchurched – meaning they have not attended a religious service of any type during the past six months….

Some population segments are notorious church avoiders. For instance, 47% of political liberals are unchurched, more than twice the percentage found among political conservatives (19%). African Americans were less likely to be unchurched (25%) than were whites (32%) or Hispanics (34%). Asians, however, doubled the national average: 63% were unchurched….

There has been some talk about the boom in Asian American evangelical Christianity, but it is important to keep in mind that the rate of growth is in part a function of the fact that the “untapped” market is still rather large. Of course, The American Religious Identification Survey found:

…between 1990-2001 the proportion of the newly enlarged Asian American population who are Christian has fallen from 63% to 43%, while those professing Asian religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc) has risen from 15% to 28%.

Many of the non-Christian religions don’t have as strong a congregational tradition as Christianity. But, the finding that Asian Americans are more secular than other ethnicities is a pretty robust and consistent finding.

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10 Comments

  1. Looking at whether the subjects have attended any religious services within the past six months is setting the bar too low. Doing so will pick up as “churched” some people of little or no religious faith who’ve attended events such as weddings, christenings or funerals, as well as people of somewhat uncertain faith who may have attended a Christmas or Easter service out of a sense of tradition. 
     
    It would be more meaningful to consider religious-service attendance on a regular basis. That would show the real dividing line between the “churched” and “unchurched.” What would constitute a regular basis is open to discussion.

  2. A lot of the unchurched will described themselves as Christian, though, and they might be quite hostile to unbelievers. People feel quite free to rewrite Christianity according to their own whims. For example,some forms of revivalism and Catholicism are attractive to crooks and thugs who want to believe that they are, at some deep level, fundamentally good people. Jesus can be like a courthouse connection fixing parking tickets for you.

  3. ……But, the finding that Asian Americans are more secular than other ethnicities is a pretty robust and consistent finding…… 
     
    Hmm, could it be that Asian American = higher G? 
     
    It would be interesting to see a breakdown of say, Korean-Americans who were raised in a Christian tradtion (the only Asian immigrant group I can think of with a consistently Christian background), and see how many of them are “un-churched” as adults.

  4. Korean-Americans who were raised in a Christian tradtion (the only Asian immigrant group I can think of with a consistently Christian background), and see how many of them are “un-churched” as adults. 
     
    filipinos are catholic. the majority of japanese americans are xtian.

  5. Many Christians (usually Catholic) among the Vietnamese too.

  6. Many Christians (usually Catholic) among the Vietnamese too. 
     
    usual estimate is 1/3. higher % of xtians amongst south asians as well, lots of xtians from kerala (though likely no more than 10%, max).

  7. I think that for most groups (including Syrians, Lebanese, and probably Iraqis) the Christians are more likely to immigrate to the US. About 2% or so of Taiwanese are Christian, and my guess is that they are disproportionately represented in the US. (In some cases conversion mare a precursor and indicator than a cause.)

  8. I think that for most groups (including Syrians, Lebanese, and probably Iraqis) the Christians are more likely to immigrate to the US 
     
    yes. but please note that middle easterners are listed as white.

  9. The linked CUNY report states that a significant minority of Jews in the United States are not religiously Jewish; of 5.3 million “American Jews”, 1.36 million are “estimated to be adherents of a religion other than Judaism”. This is consistent with my personal experience. Many ethnic Jews I’ve met are Christians or attracted to new religious movements. 
     
    Many East Asians who are “unchurched” nonetheless cling to religious beliefs and practices as strongly as “churched” Christians or Buddhists. Especially among Han Chinese and Sinicized peoples (Koreans, Vietnamese, etc.), people can be very religious without ever attending organized religious services. They may not even identify themselves with a particular religion in surveys. But if one were to look at hours/day spent engaged in religious activities, one might discover a covert world of intense religious devotion which far exceeds the twice-a-year church attendance of secular Christians.

  10. I think the “unchurched” measure catches something a bit different from proclaimed belief. You can imagine four categories, of which I can point to examples and reasonably large populations for three: 
     
    1 Nonbeliever, non-churchgoer 
    2 Nonbeliever, churchgoer 
    3 Believer, non-churchgoer 
    4 Believer, churchgoer 
     
    I expect that the change in the social acceptability of not being religious, and the drop in importance of church as a part of social life, has seriously decreased the number of people in (2). I can point to people in my own family who have at times fit each of the other categories–my atheist sister who sometimes goes to Mass with her fiance, my nonbeliever father (I don’t think it’s a philosophichal position, just disinterest in the whole business) who never darkens the door of a church, my mother who believes in God but seldom makes it to churce, and me, going to church and believing.  
     
    I think there are substantial numbers in each of these categories. I’d expect belief to be correlated with churchgoing, but I expect there’s a certain structure of these four categories that changes over time. If your society becomes more inclined to mix religious life into secular life, you probably get more people moving from 1 to 2. If other groups provide most of the social life for families, so that churches are only one of many good places to raise your kids and be part of a community, I’d expect to see more people moving from 2 to 1, and from 4 to 3.  
     
    One thing I wonder. Does churchgoing affect belief? That is, if you took 100 atheist volunteers, and sent them to Mass once a week, with a control group of 100 atheists meeting at the local coffeeshop instead, would you see more conversions among the churchgoers or the coffee drinkers? And does it matter if you choose to go to church (say, because you want the social benefits)?

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