Surveys say Conflict with Science is a Big Reason for Declining Christian Trends

I have been studying/analyzing the surveys/polls that were mentioned in BioLogos’ “5 Common Objections to Evolutionary Creation” and “Who are these 22% that believe Evolution was ‘Guided’ by God?” The most helpful were the Pew, 2014 survey and the Barna survey in 2011 (expanded on in the Barna book “You Lost Me”). There are some very interesting trends. Obviously, the biggest overall trend has been the very fast growth of those who self-identify as “Unaffiliated”. This trend has been going on for a long time, and seems to currently be growing about 1%/year over the last 7 years. However, that overall picture belies the deeper story. The biggest drop off by far is in the latest generations (Millennials 18 to 35 year olds). To be sure, “Unaffiliated” started from a small base, but they are now over 35% of Millennials, significantly higher than Catholics and as high as all Protestants put together.

The biggest drop off over the last 50 years have been in Mainline Christians, from 1 in 5 to 1 in 10. However, that drop off seems to have leveled out in the younger Millennials (18 to 25). Catholics have dropped over the same time period from 1 in 4 to 1 in 6, with much of that drop off occurring in the last 30 years. Where the real action is now, especially among younger Millennials, is with Evangelicals, who have had slower but growing drop offs over the years. Amongst Millennials, they are the only group showing any drop offs from older Millennials to younger Millennials: even greater drop offs than the gain in “Unaffiliated.” That seems to indicate that while many Evangelicals drop offs are moving to “Unaffiliated,” some are moving to Mainline churches.

Overall, currently among the overall population/young Millennial population, there are 23%/36% “Unaffiliated”; 25%/19% Evangelicals, 15%/11% Mainline Christians, and 21%/16% Catholics. By the way, these surveys generally start at age 18, but there are many who believe that the drop offs among Christian tend to start at about 16.

These statistics probably understate the magnitude of the problem because presumably younger generations drop out of active church or Christian involvement long before they stop “self-identifying” with a group. I suspect that there are quite a few people in each of the Christian groups who are uninvolved or ‘nominal.’

In-depth surveys (like the 2011 Barna Research study of 18 to 29 year olds) seem to indicate the biggest current rates of drops among young Millennials. Unfortunately neither they or any other surveys that I found determine how the differences break out for Evangelicals, Mainline, and Catholics. However, it is possible to make certain assumptions based on what we know about each group. It seems likely the biggest movement is from young Evangelicals who don’t like the way:

  1. “Christians are too confident they know all the answers,” (52% overall, possibly higher for Evangelicals)
  2. “Churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (41% overall, presumably higher for Evangelicals and perhaps for Catholics concerned about birth control)
  3. “Christianity is anti-science” (34% overall, presumably much higher for Evangelicals)

It also appears that another young Millennial major complaint is that “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” at 34% overall, presumably much higher for Evangelicals, since their churches seem to be more at odds with secular society (including science and politics).

To be sure, some of the drop off may be that young people just tend to want to move away from the restrictiveness of religion. Some of those may come back as they have children of their own. However, it seems highly unlikely that young people will return to Evangelical churches in large numbers, unless the church greatly reduces its hostility with science.

This shows the importance of BioLogos in general and the need for high school and college age materials and programs about serious reconciliation between mainstream science and reasonable Christian faith. Unfortunately as @BradKramer and @Jstump noted from “5 Common Objections to Evolutionary Creation” where they represented BioLogos at a conference, nothing is going to happen very fast in the Evangelical Church movement (and there is clear evidence that high school youth leaders are not addressing the scientific issues). On the other hand, there are whole new opportunities with students who go to secular colleges, where they are more in a searching mode and there is likely less blowback from their parents. I think EC efforts geared to such colleges, including presentations in various venues, debates, and opportunities to get be in a support group that not only shares EC beliefs but also is a place for fellowship and growth are very good ways to do that. I will be launching a website that will have that as one of its ultimate goals.

What do you think about these statistics and what should be done?

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I think the question every Evangelical should be asked is:

How do they know they are not this generation’s equivalent of Samuel Rowbotham who, before dying in 1884 (less than 80 years before Sputnik was launched), convinced thousands of fellow Christians that the Bible taught the Earth was round-like-a-table, instead of round-like-an-apple.

Did the children of these converts to “Flat Earth Faith” (FEF) who lived to hear about Sputnik - - and the inevitable pictures of Earth from orbital space - - suddenly have a DIFFERENT religion? Did it changed their ability to pray to God? Did it change the way Christianity redeemed our Souls?

I would say the answer is No.


Good point. But closer to home, to ask Evangelicals, “Will your approach help drive your offspring away from Christianity?”

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I agree with your analysis. Regarding new opportunities with students who go to secular colleges, well I think any efforts there will produce massive blowback from groups like Freedom From Religion Foundation and other groups who work hard to keep secular institutions secular.

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