Even though 78 percent of Americans are self-proclaimed “Christians,” the latest Barna Poll gives a clear indicator that Christianity is losing its grip across
“While the United States remains shaped by Christianity, the faith’s influence — particularly as a force in American politics and culture — is slowly waning,” the Barna Group reports from its recent study. “An increasing number of religiously unaffiliated, a steady drop in church attendance, the recent Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, and the growing tension over religious freedoms all point to a larger secularizing trend sweeping across the nation.”
America might house the world’s largest Christian population, but research shows that the country founded upon biblical principles more than two centuries ago is actually in the midst of transitioning into a “post-Christian” nation from coast to coast.
Christianity gauged by fact, not self-perception
Statistics tallied by Barna researchers over a seven-year period from nearly 61,000 interviews exposes the “irreligion” setting in on U.S. cities.
One major finding reveals that from 2013─2015, the number of “post-Christian” Americans rose ever closer to 50 percent. But what exactly does “post-Christian” mean?
Wanting to find the ultimate spiritual thermometer of Americans’ faith, the Barna Group set out to get a better idea about the true faith of the population by looking for a number of key faith indicators determined by both practice and belief. To do this, researchers used 15 metrics to measure factoring in participants’ lack of Christian identity, belief and practice in their daily lives. In order to qualify as “post-Christian,” individuals in the study needed to meet nine (60 percent) of the 15 criteria below … and the “highly post-Christian” designation was met by individuals meeting 12 (80 percent) of the following factors:
Do not believe in God
Identify as atheist or agnostic
Disagree that faith is important in their lives
Have not prayed to God (in the last year)
Have never made a commitment to Jesus
Disagree the Bible is accurate
Have not donated money to a church (in the last year)
Have not attended a Christian church (in the last year)
Agree that Jesus committed sins
Do not feel a responsibility to “share their faith”
Have not read the Bible (in the last week)
Have not volunteered at church (in the last week)
Have not attended Sunday school (in the last week)
Have not attended religious small group (in the last week)
Do not participate in a house church (in the last year)
And the survey says …
Barna researchers are confident that their exhaustive analysis more accurately portrays where Americans stand when it comes to living out and identifying with their faith.
“These kinds of questions — compared to ticking the “Christian” box in a census — get beyond how people loosely identify themselves (affiliation), and get to the core of what people actually believe and how they behave as a result of their belief (practice),” Barna’s research team contends. “These indicators give a much more accurate picture of belief in America.”
According to Barna, the numbers don’t lie.
“Whether one believes this decline of ‘Christian America’ calls for a time of lament, or presents great opportunity (or both) for the Church, one cannot help but accept the changing landscape,” the Barna Group insists. “In just two years, the percentage of Americans who qualify as ‘post-Christian’ rose by 7 percentage points, from 37 percent in 2013 to 44 percent in 2015.”
Top cities losing their faith
Pinpointing areas where Americans’ Christian faith is on the decline, Barna found that cities in every state are becoming more post-Christian, with some states replacing Christian ideals with a secular mindset faster than states.
“As was the case in 2013, the religiously unaffiliated and unchurched are concentrated in New England and the Northeast,” researchers divulged. “Touted as the foundation and home-base of religion in America, and a region that often sets the political tone of the nation, New England dominates the post-Christian metrics, claiming five of the top 10 most post-Christian cities, including Boston, Massachusetts (65 percent), Providence, Rhode Island (60 percent), and Portland, Maine (60 percent), with eight of the top 10 in the greater Northeast region.”
But America’s spiritual temperature toward the Pacific has also cooled.
“The West Coast is also fairly well represented among the top 15 cities, with San Francisco, California (66 percent) climbing up the rankings from 6th place in 2013 to top the list as the most post-Christian city in America, and Los Angeles, California (54 percent), coming in at 15th place,” fhe Ventura, California-based research firm indicated. “But other West coast cities like San Diego, California (50 percent), and Portland, Oregon (51 percent), actually dropped out of the top 15 from 2013, either because of a decrease or minimal increase in post-Christian metrics compared to 2013. Other outgoing cities include Denver, Colorado (52 percent), and Cedar Rapids, Iowa (51 percent).”
America’s gambling mecca, which many say is fittingly dubbed “Sin City,” is on the rise when it comes to post-Christian populations, along with several other major cultural hubs in the U.S.
“Newcomers to the top 15 cities include Las Vegas, Nevada (59 percent), Fort Myers-Naples, Florida (56 percent), Chicago, Illinois (54 percent) and Los Angeles, California (54 percent),” researchers continued. “These markets, and many others saw a higher than average increase, Las Vegas being a striking example, with an increase of 16 points over 2013. Boston, San Francisco and Chicago all have similarly strong growth in their post-Christian populations, with increases of 12 to 13 percentage points in each city.”
However, not all of America’s most populated metropolitan areas are following the dramatic post-Christian trend.
“The county’s largest cities are a mixed bag with northern cities like New York City (59 percent), Chicago (54 percent) and Philadelphia (54 percent), all shooting up the rankings, compared to their 2013 spots,” Barna clarifies. “But southern cities like Houston (40 percent), Phoenix (51 percent), San Antonio (35 percent), and Dallas (32 percent) all dropped an average of 10 spots in the post-Christian rankings compared to their 2013 positions. In most cases, the percentage of post-Christian residents did not change much in those cities.”
As opposed to the West Coast and New England states, regions in South the nation’s interior aren’t losing their Christian roots quite as fast.
“The South and Midwest have both lower comparative and slower rates of post-Christian growth,” the Christian polling group pointed out. “This is in line with these regions’ typically higher rates of church attendance and self-identified Christians.”
In particular, cities where church attendance is high and the Christian tradition is generally strong were less affected by the post-Christian shift.
“Cities like Birmingham, Alabama, grew only slightly from a post-Christian population of 16 percent in 2013 to 18 percent in 2015,” the survey revealed. “This is a similar story with cities across the South and Midwest like Nashville, Tennessee (23 percent), Charlotte, North Carolina (25 percent), Dallas/Ft Worth, Texas (32 percent) and Columbus, Ohio (46 percent). These are all cities that have — and maintain — a much lower percentage of post-Christian individuals.”