Congrats, Billy: Stats Show Your Evangelical Movement Is Still Going Strong

Born-again believers have kept the faith over four decades, while most religious switching has been between mainline Protestants and the “nones.”

Editor’s note: In 2014, CT reported how a massive survey by the Pew Research Center found that American evangelicals were weathering the “rise of the nones” much better than other Christian groups. Today, as Billy Graham’s funeral takes place, an analysis of social science data shows the movement the 99-year-old evangelist embodied remains surprisingly strong.

The religious landscape is a volatile one, with nearly 1 in 5 Americans switching their religious tradition from 2010 to 2014.

We’ve previously examined how Protestants and Catholics changed churches, as well as which segment of the religiously unaffiliated returned to church most, during that four-year window examined by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES).

However, what happens when the time period under study is expanded, from four years to more than four decades? Are evangelicals managing to hold on to their share of the US population? Have those with no religion made significant gains? And what is causing the shifts?

The General Social Survey (GSS) has tracked religious affiliation biannually, beginning in 1972. It provides an unmatched summation of a generation of religious movement. The visualization below, which displays the distribution of seven major religious traditions, tells a compelling story.

For smaller groups, the movement is relatively minor. Since the early 1980s, the Jewish share dropped by about a single point; black Protestants stayed relatively stable; and those with “other faith” remained about 6 percent of the US population.

Similarly, evangelicals and Catholics have almost the same proportions of the population as they had back in 1972. While evangelicals saw a surge in the early 1990s, that …

Continue reading