Is American Christianity Witnessing a Revival?
If there's one thing pastors constantly pray for, it's a revival. Well, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, published Tuesday, their prayers are being answered — right now.
More than a quarter of Americans (27 percent) say they currently attend services at least once or twice a month, but did not do so earlier in their adult lives. More Christians are among this group than non-Christians. Even better, about half of these people say the main reason they attend church more frequently is due to changes in their religious beliefs — they are growing closer to God.
Different denominations are growing at different rates, but 65 percent of Christians overall attend services at least once or twice a month. Evangelicals enjoy the highest church attendance rate, at 75 percent, while historically black Protestants also have a high rate (68 percent). Even over half of mainline Protestants attend regularly (53 percent), as do 60 percent of Catholics.
A full 44 percent of evangelical Protestants in the survey said they attend more frequently than in the past, as do 33 percent of members of historically black churches, 31 percent of mainline Protestants, and 28 percent of Catholics. Among non-Christians, only 36 percent attend services regularly, and only 18 percent said they attend more frequently now than in the past.
But the reasons why these Americans are attending church more frequently are even more heartening.
Of the 27 percent who say they attend services more frequently than in the past, 49 percent cited changes in their beliefs as the reason for increased attendance. A full 20 percent said they became more religious, and 15 percent reported needing God, religion, or church in their life! Forteen percent reported that they were merely more mature or older, which means that their religious faith has deepened with age.
Social factors also explain the spike in church attendance. Thirteen percent said family changes, such as marriage or the birth of a child, drove them to church. Six percent pointed to their entering a different phase of life, and 4 percent said they attend church more regularly due to a desire for church fellowship.
One fifth of the increase in church attendance can be traced to practical issues. Ten percent said they have more time than they did in the past, and that church finally fit into their schedules, while 6 percent listed convenience or habit, and 3 percent said they found a congregation they like more.
The Pew report also found that not everyone is attending services more regularly, however. More than one fifth of Americans (22 percent) say they do not attend church frequently — no more than a few times a year — but they did attend more frequently in the past. Fewer Christians (19 percent) fit into this category than non-Christians (30 percent), but Mainline Protestants have a higher dropout rate (27 percent).
Among those who attend services less frequently, half said practical issues were the reason. Twenty percent explained that they were "too busy," and 10 percent listed personal priorities above church as the reason for their drop-off. Eight percent listed practical difficulties, while 6 percent pointed to health reasons, and 5 percent said they were looking for a congregation.
Only 17 percent said they attend services less frequently due to a change in their beliefs, while 6 percent said they disagreed with the teachings at their old church. Only 2 percent said the church itself had changed. Another 17 percent listed social factors, like family changes, friends no longer expecting them to attend, or a lifestyle change.
The numbers suggest a greater increase than a decrease, especially among Christians and especially among evangelical Protestants. This does not mean Christians should rest on their laurels, but the reports of the American church's death have been greatly exaggerated.
This does not mean Christians should grasp for political power — that is a huge temptation for the church which usually results in negative consequences for both church and state — but it gives us reason to hope that God is answering some prayers for revival. Let us watch and pray, never shying away from preaching the Gospel and confident that whether the church grows or shrinks, Jesus Christ will indeed return.