By Aaron Earls
While U.S. Catholic church attendance has been in the midst of a precipitous slide since the 1950s, Protestant churchgoing rates remain steady.
But other indicators aren’t so rosy for American Protestants.
Church Attendance Steady
According to new research from Gallup, 39 percent of Catholics attended church weekly in 2017. That’s down from 75 percent in 1955.
Among Protestants, Gallup has found weekly churchgoing to be consistent. In 2017, 45 percent attended at least once a week. In 1955, it was 42 percent.
The large drop among Catholics is largely seen in the change of habits among younger Catholics, those aged 21-29.
In 1955, there were no major differences in church attendance among Catholics of varying ages. Three-fourths of U.S. Catholic adults attended each week, regardless of age.
While weekly Catholic church attendance has fallen in every age group, it has fallen most dramatically among those in their 20s.
Close to half (49 percent) of U.S. Catholics over 60 still attend each week, but now only 25 percent of those 21-29 show up each week for Mass—a drop of 48 percentage points among young Catholic adults.
Meanwhile, among Protestants, church attendance rates remain mostly unchanged across the age demographics.
After falling 10 percentage points from the 1950s to the ’70s, weekly attendance rates among 21- to 29-year-old Protestants rose in the ‘80s and ‘90s and steadied at 36 percent last year—only a 4-point decline from 1955.
Since the 1950s, church attendance rates are actually slightly up among Protestants in their 30s (42 to 46 percent) and those 60 and older (40 to 48 percent).
Today, weekly church attendance is similar among Protestant and Catholics in most age ranges. The notable exception is the relatively high attendance rate for 20-something Protestants compared to Catholics.
Identification Slide Continues
While the percentage of Protestants who attend church remains about the same, the percentage of Americans who are Protestants continues to decline.
In 1955, 71 percent of Americans were Protestants. According to Gallup’s latest research, that number has fallen to 47 percent.
For Catholics, the percentage has fallen only 2 percentage points—from 24 to 22 percent. Gallup says American Catholicism has been buoyed by the growth in the U.S. Hispanic population.
Both Protestants and Catholics are failing to maintain young adults among their numbers.
In 1955, 66 percent of Americans aged 20-29 were Protestant. In 2017, that has been cut in half to 33 percent.
A smaller but still significant decline happened among young Catholics. They fell from 29 to 19 percent of the population.
Much of that can be attributed to the religiously unaffiliated jumping from 1 percent of 20-somethings in 1955 to 33 percent last year.
So while Catholic pews may be emptier because fewer Catholics are attending each week, Protestant pews may be emptier because fewer Americans are Protestant.
- Why I Sleep in on Sundays
- Who Are the Unchurched and How to Reach Them
- Going to Church May Postpone Going to the Morgue
- Stop Renting Your Church Home
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.