Christian Church

Americans Still Overwhelmingly Identify as Christian

on September 16, 2016

The vast majority of Americans still identify as Christian, according to a new report by the Barna Group. Furthermore, Christianity maintains an important place in American culture. Indicators as wide-ranging as church attendance, belief in God, and charitable giving show the pervasive influence of the Christian faith.

Barna said that 73 percent of Americans labelled themselves as Christian in “The State of the Church 2016” published on September 15.  Six percent of Americans said they followed another religion, and only 21 percent identified with “no faith” or were “not sure.”

Barna also found that the majority of Americans (55 percent) were “churched,” meaning they had “attended a church service—with varying frequency—within the past six months,” not counting special events like weddings or funerals.

Another significant finding by Barna was the Church remains the undisputed nexus for charitable giving in the United States. Most Americans (54 percent) contributed money to a church. More than twice as many Americans gave to a church than all other charitable organizations combined. By way of comparison, only 22 percent of Americans gave to a non-profit besides a church. (As an interesting aside, 96 percent of Christians said they made a charitable contribution, compared to 60 percent of atheists and agnostics.)

Many Americans also behave religiously outside of church, too.  Within the previous week, 73 percent of respondents said they prayed to God, while 34 percent said they read their Bible.

Almost all Americans also believe in God. Only 10 percent responded: “There is no such thing as God,” meaning 90 percent believe that God existed in some form. Fifty-seven percent of Americans affirm the relatively orthodox statement that “God is the all-powerful, all-knowing, perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today,” as phrased by Barna.

While Barna attempted to measure “religious decline” in the U.S., this required combining various measures to achieve more complex metrics. For example, Barna classified Americans based on a “triangulation of affiliation, self-identification and practice” in an effort to demonstrate “the reality of a secularizing nation.” They also combined a “set of factors” that reportedly showed “almost half of all American adults (48%) are post-Christian.”

Yet, the most basic measures show the continued importance of Christianity and the Church in America. Personal spiritual activity, some level of church attendance, tithing, and religious identity all support this idea.

While some have heralded the imminent collapse of Christendom, Barna’s data seem to indicate that secularization in America has only occurred gradually at most. Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) President Mark Tooley challenged Christians who celebrated the intellectual popular idea of “fallen Christendom” in a blog post in 2014.

“Reports of Christendom’s death may be overstated,” Tooley wrote. “The percentage of Americans who report attending church regularly has stayed about the same for 80 years.”

Celebrating American secularization is not only statistically questionable, but also philosophically flawed, according to Tooley. This stems from the assumption that “cultural Christianity often suffocated authentic faith and facilitated superficial religion.” However, in reality, Christendom actually “offered a moral architecture for liberty, for humanity, for beauty and culture, for equality under the law and for respect for dissent.”

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