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Future of Evangelicals in U.S. Looks “Brighter Than Christianity at Large,” Says Pew Research

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The Pew Research Center, aiming to straighten up data left from the denominational self-reports and the lack of religion questions on the U.S. Census, reports that Christianity as a whole may be declining in America, but evangelicalism is holding its own.

Pew’s huge 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study reports that evangelicals have lost less than 1 percent of their share of the population since 2007 and have even added more than 2 million, remaining the largest religious segment (and a majority of the Protestant segment) in the U.S. at one in four American adults. In contrast, mainline Protestants have lost almost 3.5 percent of their population share and are currently less than 15 percent of American adults, while Catholics lost about 3 percent of their population share and are currently about 21 percent of adults. These declines have allowed the religiously unaffiliated, more recently known as the “nones,” to become the second-largest group at 22 percent of American adults.

In fact, all Christian groups are more likely to self-identify as “evangelical” or “born-again. Half of all Christians call themselves evangelical, including 72 percent of historically black Protestant churches. By contrast, 15 percent of adults in evangelical churches do not identify as born-again or evangelical. Neither do 21 percent of those at nondenominational churches, or 10 percent of those at Pentecostal churches.

In addition, Pew Research found evangelicals tend to retain most of their children. Evangelicals retain two-thirds of their children, placing fifth among all religious groups and second among Christian groups. By comparison, Protestants at large retain less than half of their children. Overall, about half of Americans raised as Protestants remain in their childhood denominational family (47 percent). About one-quarter now identify with a different Protestant group (27 percent), while 3 percent became Catholic, 4 percent became non-Christians, and 19 percent became unaffiliated.

More than one-third of evangelical Christians are non-white, up from 19 percent in 2007. Nineteen percent of Hispanics identify as evangelicals, as do 14 percent of blacks and 23 percent of other minorities.

Interesting to note:

  • Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God have drawn recent attention for their growth, but Pew finds that it’s actually the nondenominational churches which are growing the most.
  • More gays, lesbians, and bisexuals identify as evangelical (13 percent) than as atheist (8 percent) or agnostic (9 percent). Overall, evangelical ranks as the third most-common identity among this group, after Catholics (17 percent) and “nothing in particular/religion not important” (14 percent).
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Toni Ridgaway is a content editor for the Outreach Web Network, including churchleaders.com and SermonCentral.com.