The Pew Research Center is releasing the results of its “extensive new survey” on religion in America. In “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” it summarized changes for reported religious identification: Evangelical Christians dropped 0.9% (from 26.3% of the US population in 2007 to 25.4% in 2014), Catholics fell 3.1%, Mainline Protestants fell 3.4%, and “Unaffiliated” rose 6.7% (from 16.1% to 22.8%). Overall, adults identifying themselves as Christian dropped from 78.4% to 70.6%. America is becoming less religious and less Christian.
There is a handy link at that article that lets you drill down to the denominational data. The Mormon percentage is largely unchanged (from 1.7% in 2007 to 1.6% in 2014). Rollover each state on the handy map and you will find only three states with more than 9% Mormon population (Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming). A few other Mountain West states have a notable presence, but once you hit the Great Plains, it’s all 1% or less. Even California shows only 1%. We’re still a regional church.
Another article at the site gives “5 key findings about the changing US religious landscape.” The key findings are: (1) Christians are declining; (2) largest losses among Catholics and Mainline Protestants; (3) the “nones” are rising, which includes who respond “nothing in particular” as well as atheist or agnostic; (4) young adults are more likely to be in the “nones” category than older Americans; and (5) modest growth in non-Christian faiths like Islam and Hinduism. For Mormons, this means work harder to keep young adults in the Church and figure out how missionaries can talk meaningfully to “nones.”
The Salt Lake Tribune published a summary story as well, “Christianity Shrinking in US; Mormon numbers essentially flat.” It features this quote from David Campbell: “While many Mormons are coming in the front door, many others are leaving out the back door.” Mormons have always had a proselyting plan and program; we’re newer to the retention game, which is actually a lot trickier. Defection is a much more complicated process than conversion. But the bottom line is: We have a back door problem.
Anything else that was interesting in the survey results? It’s nice that the LDS Church is not suffering overall declines to the extent of some other denominations, but it is clear we are well into an era of declining religiosity. Once upon a time Americans, even young Americans, asked “Which is the true church?” Now they seem to be asking, “Who needs a church?”