This is some months old, but I recently ran across a spectacular piece of wrongheaded analysis by Christianity Today:
The article concentrates on just the last 10 years, but claims no change for evangelicals “despite Trump.” Hmmmm. For 2016-18, the biennial survey shows a drop for evangelicals, a bump for mainline Protestants, and the continued rise of “no religion.” How is that “no decline”? And looking at the past decade, I see a lot of ups and downs that add up to a general decline. Here’s the graphic from that article that I doctored up:
First, notice “the change” in 1980-85, which I’ve drawn a rectangle around. Evangelical and mainline shares of the population reversed in five years. Why? Remember that this poll doesn’t reflect actual church attendance, but denominational identification. Essentially, during the heady days of Reagan’s first term and the Moral Majority, a whole bunch of people switched their religious identification from mainline to evangelical.
Practically overnight, evangelicals were the largest religious group. Since then, they have been patting themselves on the back for “holding the line” and blaming the decline of mainline denominations on their liberal theology. Nope. The change was driven by politics and culture, not doctrine and theology.
The dotted lines that I have drawn are not true trend lines. All that I did was put a dot at 1985 and connect it to the most recent survey. Even with that crude methodology, it’s not hard to see that Evangelicals have been in a steady decline for 35 years, though not as steep as the mainline denominations. We haven’t yet seen the true impact of this administration. It’s far too early to be claiming “No Decline!”