Monday, February 25, 2008

American Religion - some interesting numbers

The Pew Forum on religion in America has just published a new survey and its figures are very interesting and well worth a look. A link to the survey is at the end of this entry.

On a very general scale, it is interesting to see what percentage of the overall population is still considered "Mainline": 18.1%.

Breaking that figure down into individual denominations produces the following: All Anglican groups (but primarily TEC) represent 1.4% of the total population. Other Mainlines: Presbyterians 1.9%; Baptists (mostly American Baptists - not Southern Baptists) 1.9%, Lutherans (all brands) 2.8%; Methodist (all brands) 5.4%

The "Maps" pages are not well presented, and so the information is difficult to determine, especially where the largest number of the Mainline Christians (as a percentage of the overall population) actually live (again, see the link below). However, it is possible to say that "Evangelical Protestant" is stronger in the South, especially the Deep South. They also have a higher percentage nationwide of the general population than do the Mainlines (26% to 18%).

A slightly different set of numbers is unrelated to the general population. This set breaks down where members of the Mainlines and the Evangelicals are located as a percentage of that denomination or affiliation group (rather than of the general population). If you want to look at the pie-charts then go to "portraits" (again, see link below). I include here general figures for "Evangelical" and "Mainline", and then additionally break out "Episcopalian" from "Mainline".

These figures show that the largest percentage of Mainline Christians live in the South (34%) as do the majority of Evangelicals (50%), and of Episcopalians (40%). Next comes the Mid-West (Mainlines 29% & Evangelicals 23%), though here Episcopalians only represent 13% of Episcopal Church membership. The last two regions are the smallest generally, though, again, our denomination is different. There are 19% of Mainlines in the North-East, 10% of Evangelicals, and 26% of Episcopalians. In the west the story is similar: Mainlines 18%, Evangelicals 17%, Episcopalians 21%. We are weaker in the Mid-West and stronger on the Coasts than Mainline denominations generally. This tells me we are stronger in urban and suburban areas than in rural areas.

Interpreting the significance of other numbers is also very interesting - here's an overview of some of them.

1. When Membership is broken down by age it becomes readily apparent that a picture of a vibrant Evangelical denominational group and a dying Mainline denominational group -or a dying Episcopal Church - is a myth.

That said there is some divergence between Mainline and Evangelical and Episcopalian in each of the age categories. Overall the numbers show only an average 3 percentage point difference between the first two groups (statistically that divergence is not really greatly relevant), but a greater divergence in the Episcopal Church. The Evangelicals have slightly more young people (age 8-29 +3%) than Mainlines, but 6% over the Episcopal Church. With young to early middle-aged (age 30-49) there is a +3% of Evangelical over Mainline, but 10% over the Episcopal Church. Mainlines have slightly more of the middle aged and older folk than Evangelicals (age 50-64 and 65+) at +2%, and +4% respectively with the Episcopal Church being+ 8% and +6%.

2. Educational background. There's a larger statistical difference between educational levels than age levels. Mainlines have more members reach higher levels of education, with Episcopalians again leading this pack. For college & post-graduate there are 70% more Mainlines than evangelicals and four times as many Episcopalians; and Evangelicals have 77% more members without high school diplomas than Mainlines, and sixteen times as many as the Episcopal Church (that’s really staggering).

3. Children at home. Surprisingly there's not a real difference here, except that Episcopalians seem to stop at two children per family. Given the age break-down in #1 above I'd say that Evangelical families produce no more children than Mainlines/Episcopalians do. This is particularly relevant considering the criticism leveled at recent comments by our Presiding Bishop.

4. Income. For incomes between $30,000 and $75,000 there is no difference between Mainlines and Evangelicals, though there are fewer Episcopalians in this income spread. But in two other income groupings there's a significant difference. Below $30k there are 36% more Evangelicals than Mainlines, and 47% more Evangelicals than Episcopalians, and above $100k there are 62% more Mainlines than Evangelicals but five times (yup! FIVE times) as many Episcopalians than Evangelicals.

5. Both Mainline and Evangelical denominations are predominantly white: Mainlines at 91% and Evangelicals at 81% of membership, and the Episcopal Church at 92%. This compares with a general population that, according to the Census Bureau (in 2006) is 66% white.

Overall the figures present a very revealing picture of Protestantism in America. We Episcopalians have a particularly well-educated membership with nearly 80% having attended college, and 57% being awarded a degree. We are somewhat wealthier than other Mainlines, and significantly so when compared to Evangelicals. While more than half of Mainline membership is under 50 only 40% of Episcopal membership is under 50. No Protestant group is doing well with the minority population -- the only one that's growing compared to the other ethnic groups.

With regard to our Church we clearly have work to do! But the myth of a vibrant young Evangelical group as compared to a moribund overly-elderly Mainline/Episcopalian group is clearly that: a myth.

These figures also give us an idea of who is attracted to our denomination - well-educated and financially successful/secure folk. It tells us both where we could focus our evangelistic efforts, and who is less likely to be attracted through the doors of the local Episcopal Congregation.

The actual report itself can be found here:
The Census Bureau information can be found here:

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