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Incremental Decline

The number of self-identifying Christians in the U.S. remains high, but keeps dropping.

Although three out of four Americans still identify as Christian, the percentage who say they are part of the faith has declined every year since Gallup began tracking religious identification in 2008 — when four out of five claimed to be followers of Jesus.

The newest data, tracking the responses of 174,000 American adults interviewed in 2015, shows that 75.2 percent call themselves Christian and 19.6 percent say they don’t belong to any particular faith.

The number of Christians has dropped annually since the Princeton, New Jersey-based polling organization started questioning about personal beliefs in 2008. In the intervening span, those declaring no religious affiliation have incrementally increased, from 14.6 percent to nearly one out of five.

The ratio of U.S. residents involved in a non-Christian religion has fluctuated little in seven years, from 5.3 percent in 2008 to 5.1 percent in 2015.

While the dropping proportion of Christians in the U.S. has been more noticeable in recent years, Gallup reports that the trend has been going on for more than half a century.

“More than 95 percent of Americans identified as Christian in the 1950s,” says Frank Newport, Gallup editor in chief.

A glance at demographic responses suggests that the share of Christians in the mix will continue to decrease. The highest percentages of those who say they are Christians are the elderly, topping out at 89 percent for those ages 80-84, according to Gallup. The lowest quantity of self-identifying Christians is young adults, the response of 62 percent of both those 18-24 and 25-29 in the U.S. The number of professing Christians rises with age from 18 to 85.

The highest rate of people with no faith is among adults ages 25-29 at 32 percent. Adherents of non-Christian faiths are highest among younger adults, 7 percent for those 18 through age 34, Gallup reports.

Another recent report, by the Barna Group suggests the actual number of non-Christians is much higher. Barna determined that 44 percent of Americans qualify as “post Christian,” a rise from 37 percent only two years earlier.

The Ventura, California-based researchers used 15 metrics to reach their findings. Barna places those who met nine or more of the factors – such as not believing in God, not considering the Bible as accurate, and not attending church – in the post-Christian camp.

“An increasing number of religiously unaffiliated people, a steady drop in church attendance and the growing tensions over religious liberty all point to a larger secularizing trend sweeping the nation,” Barna says.

L. Alton Garrison, assistant superintendent of the U.S. Assemblies of God, says if pollster numbers are correct, the Church has a task of educating people about practicing what they say they believe.

“We must become convinced that Christian activity alone doesn’t always produce fully devoted Christ followers,” Garrison writes in his new book, A Spirit-Empowered Church: An Acts 2 Ministry Model, “The ultimate goal of discipleship is Christ-likeness. Relevant discipleship doesn’t begin with doctrines or teaching, parable or principle, church polity or stewardship. It begins with loving the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. The Spirit calls us to a life of loving intimately and empowers us in it.”

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.