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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...



Connections: Mark Chaves
March 24, 2013


Dissecting Religious Trends



Mark Chaves is professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke University in Durham, N.C., and the author of American Religion: Contemporary Trends. He recently sat down with Pentecostal Evangel News Editor John W. Kennedy after speaking at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Mo.

evangel: Your research reveals people don’t go to church as much as they claim.


MARK CHAVES: A phenomenon in our culture is that people over-report anything that is socially desirable. But regarding church attendance it’s interesting how much people over-report. If we ask people how often they attend, 35 to 40 percent say they are in church in any given week. But it’s really more like 20 to 25 percent. I don’t like to say people are outright lying about it. I think it’s mainly people who think of themselves as church people, but they slightly overstate how much they go.
 
evangel: You also report that nonreligious people increasingly believe in an afterlife.


CHAVES: It’s one of the few traditional beliefs that might actually have increased in recent decades. It’s mainly happening among nonreligious people and also Jews, populations that have not traditionally had high levels of belief in life after death. I connect it with the increase in people who say they are spiritual, but not religious.

evangel: Will the number of “nones” — those claiming no religion — continue to increase?

CHAVES: It depends on several factors. One thing that will limit the increase is that nones have fewer kids than religious people. Another factor is we don’t know what will happen with immigration — immigrants are less likely than the general population to say they have no religion. Also, if more of the less-religiously-active part of the population takes that final step and says, “I’m nothing,” I would expect the trend to continue. But it will hit a limit at some point.

evangel: Do truly diverse congregations remain a rarity?


CHAVES: It’s still rare. We haven’t seen any increase in the percentage of truly diverse churches. But we did see an increase in predominantly white churches that have at least some minority presence. It is significant when there is some minority presence in a church as opposed to no minority presence.

evangel: Is it both good and bad that two-parent families account for the largest number of church attendees?


CHAVES: I don’t know if it’s good or bad. Two parents with kids are the core demographic of mainstream American religion, but this base is a shrinking percentage of the population. It’s certainly something churches have to face: people marrying later, not marrying at all, having kids later or not at all. The aging of the population means more and more older people will not have spent their lives in traditional families.

evangel: You contend there is no religious revival happening in America.

CHAVES: There is no indicator that traditional religious belief or practices are increasing. The debate is whether it’s stable or declining. An increasing concentration of people in big churches can fool us into thinking there is a religious revival. A 2,000-person church is more visible — and culturally, socially and politically influential — than 10 churches of 200 people each.

evangel: Speaking of megachurches, you say the Assemblies of God is on the leading edge.


CHAVES: Across the Protestant spectrum since the 1970s every denomination shows an increasing percentage of people in the very biggest churches. A quarter of AG adherents are in the biggest 1 percent of AG churches. That’s the biggest percentage I’ve seen of any Protestant denomination. Something fundamental has shifted in organized religion to make big churches so common.

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