Who is going to church? Not who you think, study finds

Contrary to popular perception, college educated white Americans more likely to practice religion than the working class-

Who is filling the pews in American churches? It is increasingly likely that they won’t be working class white people, according to new research.

While religious service attendance has decreased for all white Americans since the early 1970s, the rate of decline has been more than twice as high for less educated, lower and lower-middle class whites compared to more educated and presumably more affluent whites, according to a study presented Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Las Vegas.

“My assumption going into this research was that middle America was more religious and conservative in general than more educated America,” study author Brad Wilcox told msnbc.com. “But what is surprising about this is that when it comes to religion as well as marriage, we find that the college educated are more conventional in their lifestyle than middle Americans.”

In the last four decades, monthly (or more) participation in religious services dropped from 50 percent of moderately educated (high school and perhaps some college) whites to 37 percent, according to the study, “No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life Among the White Working Class.” Attendance by the least educated (high school dropouts) dropped from 38 percent to 23 percent, by sociologists Wilcox, of the University of Virginia and Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University found.

Church attendance by higher-income whites with at least a bachelor’s degree barely dipped, from 50 percent to 46 percent.

The figures represented those aged 25-44 and were gathered from two national surveys, the General Social Survey from the National Opinion Research Center, and the National Survey of Family Growth, which is conducted by the U.S. government’s National Center for Health Statistics. The new study focused on white Americans because black and Latino religious worship is less divided by education and income, the researchers said.

Most whites who report a religious affiliation are Catholic, evangelical Protestant, mainstream Protestant, Mormon or Jewish.

In their paper, Cherlin and Wilcox attribute the falloff to two things: “the deteriorating labor market position of the moderately educated, and cultural changes that have made non-marital family forms more acceptable.”

This is a kind of melding of the two researchers’ differing world views. Wilcox, who is affiliated with the Institute for American Values founded by David Blankenhorn, a leading opponent of same-sex marriage, argues that the loosening of sexual and marital norms, and less restrictive divorce laws, have had disastrous effects on society — such as higher divorce rates, and extramarital sex — and have lessened religion’s influence on the average American.

Wilcox thinks part of the church-going falloff may be due to the reluctance of divorced people to join congregations where most people are married.

Cherlin tends to emphasize the impact of unemployment and wage struggle as a social disrupter. People who have been unemployment at some point over the last 10 years go to religious service less often, the researchers found.

Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and family studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, thinks there has been a general and widespread loss of faith, not just in religion, but in many institutions.

“I relate it to all the certainties [Americans once had], the sense of entitlement people held in the post- World War II era,” Coontz, author of “A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s,” said. “We thought the world would get better, and there was solidarity in this country. Inequality was decreasing and if you were willing to work, you could get a job.”

The wealthier one is, the more one is likely to think that this social compact, which included church-going, still holds. But for many this no longer exists. As it has eroded, Coontz said, it has taken commitment to traditional religious institutions along with it.

Lessons Learned in the Fields by Neil Cole


Recently I was asked to describe what I would do differently if I were to start church planting again. Here was my response.

If I were to start over knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?

1. Begin in the Harvest and Start Small.
Don’t start with a team of already saved Christians. We think that having a bigger and better team will accelerate the work, and it doesn’t. In fact, it has the opposite effect. It is better to have a team of two, and the right two makes the work even better: and apostle and prophet together will lay the foundation of a movement. The churches birthed out of transformed lives are healthier, reproductive and growing faster. It is about this- a life changed, not about the model. Never forget that!

2. Allow God to Build Around Others
Don’t start in your own home…find a person of peace and start in their home! Read Matt. 10/Luke 10…and do it!

3. Empower Others from the Start
Don’t lead too much…let the new believers do the work of the ministry without your imposed control. Let the excitement of a new life carry the movement rather than your intelligence and persuasiveness.

4. Let Scripture Lead Not Your Assumptions
Question all your ministry assumptions in light of Scripture with courage and faith. There is nothing sacred but God’s Word and Spirit in us…let them lead rather than your own experience, teachings, and tradition.

5. Rethink Leadership
The Christian life is a process. There is not a ceiling of maturity that people need to break through to lead. Set them loose immediately and walk with them through the process for a while. Leadership recruitment is a dead end. We are all recruiting from the same pond and it is getting shallower and shallower. Leadership farming is what is needed. Any leadership development system that doesn’t start with the lost is starting in the wrong place. Start at the beginning and begin with the end in mind. Mentor life on life and walk with them through their growth in being, doing and knowing. The end is not an accumulated knowledge but a life of obedience that will be willing to die for Jesus. The process isn’t over until there is a flat-line on the screen next to their bed.

6. Immediate Obedience in Baptism
Baptize quickly and publicly and let the one doing the evangelizing do the baptizing. The Bible doesn’t command us to be baptized, but to be baptizers. It is absolutely foolish the way we hold the Great Commission over our people and then exclude them from obeying it at the same time! We need to let the new convert imprint upon the Lord for protection, provision, training and leading, rather than upon men.

7. Settle “Your” Ownership Issues
Stop being concerned about whether “Your” church plant will succeed or not. It isn’t “yours” in the first place. Your reputation is not the one on the line…Jesus’ is. He will do a good job if we let him. If we have our own identity and reputation at stake in the work we will tend to take command. Big mistake. Let Jesus get the glory and put his reputation on the line…He can take care of Himself without your help!”



©2011 Neil Cole

Originally posted on ChurchPlanting.com here 
Neil tweets @Neil_Cole
Used with permission.