“Religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many.” So says Barry Kosmin, co-author of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), a study by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.
Overall, the report describes a significant decrease in those who identify themselves as “Christian,” and an increase in those who claim no religious affiliation at all. This last group has almost doubled since the last survey done in 1990, and is larger than any religious group except Catholics and Baptists. The report comments, “”the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.”
ARIS 2008 is the third large, nationally representative surveys of U.S. adults conducted by Kosmin and Ariela Keysar. Professors Kosmin and Keysar are, respectively, director and associate director of Trinity’s Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture.
Christians now constitute 76% of the population in America, down from 86.2% in 1990. Most of the decrease is among Protestant denominations; Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians/Anglicans, and the United Church of Christ are now 12.9% of the population, down from 18.7% in 1990.
Some growth has taken place among those who would identify only as “Christian,” “Evangelical/Born Again,” or “non-denominational Christian.” Partly due to the expansion of “megachurches,” the last group has increased from less than 200,000 in 1990 to 2.5 million in 2001 to over 8 million today. These groups grew from 5 percent of the population in 1990 to 8.5 percent in 2001 to 11.8 percent in 2008. Significantly, 38.6 percent of mainline Protestants now also identify themselves as evangelical or born again.
Some representatives of minority religious groups, notably Jews and Muslims, are concerned that surveys such as ARIS tend to under- or over- count the actual number of adherents, which would skew the results somewhat.