More Nones

June 25, 2012

Not long after posting my piece on Australia, I ran into a news item from York County, PA: not only has church membership declined there in the past 10 years, the decline has considerably exceeded the national average. 14% as against 2%. The ELCA, which had been the largest denomination there, lost almost nine thousand members, or over 20%, making them less numerous than the Catholics who only lost two thousand. Presbyterians and UCC also suffered large losses percentagewise; Methodists aren’t doing quite so badly, more in the same range as the Catholics.

Conservatives may say all those liberal denominations are losing because they’ve lost touch with the Biblical roots of their faith and thus alienated most of their adherents; but in fact Southern Baptists are down also, and as I’ve noted before, the more conservative Lutheran denominations aren’t doing much better than ELCA.

All these numbers are from ARDA, the Association of Religion Data Archives; they’re all available online, so you can pick your favorite county or denomination or whatever and track its growth or decline over the past 30 years.

What I want to know is what, if anything, is special about York County. I know that it’s in a part of the state where overall population is growing somewhat; that’s about it. Someday I’ll have to go through the ARDA database and check out all the neighboring counties, then look up what else is happening there, politically, economically etc.

Meanwhile I’ll close with this: the article quotes a church spokesman as saying, “These people have not stopped practicing over any serious doctrinal disagreement… mostly, they stopped attending out of habit.” I think this is probably true to some extent; but the opposite side of the coin is that their former attendance didn’t imply any serious doctrinal agreement either; it too was largely out of habit, and the same is true of most of those who still attend.

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2 Responses to “More Nones”

  1. Ken Ranos Says:

    Your last sentence hits the nail on the head. Everyone looks at the church of the 1950’s and says, “Ah, the days when everyone went to church!” But I think Leonard Bernstein in his MASS says it perfectly:
    “God said it’s good to be meek
    And so we are once a week
    It may not mean a lot
    But oh, it’s terribly chic.”

    The churches are losing numbers numerically. But I would agree that a lot of them are just figuring out they never really wanted to be there in the first place.


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