Taking the temperature of America’s congregations might seem like an impossible task, given the country’s vast array of religious institutions, but a new survey from The Hartford Institute for Religion Research paints a vivid portrait of the status of American faith communities. In “A Decade of Change in American Congregations 2000- 2010,” survey author David A. Roozen shows that in the past decade, despite “bursts of innovation and pockets of vitality,” America’s congregations have slowly declined in strength.
Some of their most salient findings:
• Of the congregations which boast a significant number (20%) of young adults, 12.9% are white, 20.9% are black, and 28.1% are “other” or “none,” suggesting that racial/ethnic minority congregations are better at “keeping their young adults.”
• The decade was marked by a declining number of people in the pews; more than 1 in 4 American congregations had fewer than 50 in 2010, and just under half had fewer than 100.
• Congregations showed continuing high levels of conflict in four key areas: worship, finances, leadership and priorities. Nearly two-thirds of congregations reported conflict in one or more of these key areas in the past five years.
One crucial area where many religious bodies seem to be in conflict with young adults is on the issue of gay and lesbian rights. Recent PRRI research showed that 69% of Millennial Americans (age 18 to 29) agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues. Similarly, more than 6-in-10 Americans (63%) believe that negative messages from America’s places of worship contribute to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth. For more qualitative work on what Millennials, specifically, look for in a Christian church (and what turns them off about Christianity in particular and religion in general), check out our report from last May, Doing Church and Doing Justice: A Portrait of Millennials at Middle Church.