U.S. Church Membership Down Sharply in Past Two Decades

Latest from Gallop on Church Membership:

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I fit into this phenomenon as well. I attend a church or church-related gathering between two and three times per week—yet I’ve not gone through the membership process for said church.

Church membership is not as important to as many Protestants as it once was. As for me, I’m more interested in a relationship with Jesus Christ and a local assembly of Christ-followers than I am in a formal membership affiliation.


I haven’t been a member of a church for nine years, but I attend regularly. The church I attend knows why I can’t affirm their membership statement, but they let me vote in church matters anyway.

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I joined the last two churches we have attended (over the past 15 or so years) but my wife has joined neither. She’s just a rebel, though. :slight_smile:

I even teach regularly at this Bible Belt church, despite my lack of membership.

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Me too, to man’s standards. God’s, not so much.

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And less there are of those, the easier for me.

I am not familiar with “Membership” in a church. Can you please explain what is meant by membership in a church. Thanks

Membership varies with various church traditions. Some require memorizing a catechism (of “programmed” Q&A, such as Westminster Confession if one is Lutheran Missouri Synod) while some evangelical churches just require things like a membership class (perhaps 3 to 6 weeks) and then meeting with an elder to confirm one’s salvation experience etc. Baptist is usually required sometime in one’s past and in the mode appropriate to that church. Other churches are very minimalist. All require agreement with a church doctrinal statement (or virtually all.) Some require a pledge to tithe 10%. It varies.

Some will simply accept a “membership transfer letter” from another church in that denomination.

Membership can mean very little or a lot depending on the church.


The Westminster Catechism is Church of England, Luther’s Small Catechism is Lutheran - I know you know that and you just had your wires crossed. The Book of Concord is a large book that is a collection of many of the most important Lutheran writings from the Reformation. Of central importance is the Augsburg Confession.

And the Catholic Church has a lengthy process where you have to take a lot of classes to become a member and their Catechism is a rather large book that covers a lot of topics.

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Indeed! Thank you for that correction of a senior moment, Intjer. I had meant to include three examples but my sentence got collapsed into just two. My original intention had been to say that various Presbyterian traditions require the Westminster Confession and Catechism. Believe it or not, long ago I knew an Orthodox Presbyterian pastor who required the memorization of The Westminster Larger Catechism of his own children before they could become members of his church.

@Patrick, you may find it interesting to compare the Westminster Larger Catechism with your memories of your Roman Catholic Church experiences:


Thanks, however, my Catholic Catechism was taught at a very primary level starting in 1st grade at age 6 by nuns in the 1960’s. By 8th grade, I was fully indoctrinated in it and could recite any pray, doctrine, or dogma. Starting from 2nd grade 9 (age 7), I was very skeptical of the “realness” of it all especially the transubstantiation of tiny wafers into flesh and blood of a 2000 year old corpse. It was really easy to be a good Catholic Atheist. I was even an alter boy. (It is important to note that I was never abused as an alter boy but a priest at my parish was accused and later convicted of abuse with alter boys)

I can certainly understand how that idea could impact a young person.

Something foreign to my own childhood heritage but quite fascinating nonetheless are the distinctions between transubstantiation and consubstantiation. The history of Christians seeking to understand the Eucharist is quite a complex subject.

Actually it was the talking serpent in the Kindergarten story about Adam and Eve that made all of Genesis seem like a fairy tale to me at a very young age. It was actually presented as allegory - a story for children to learn about God. Regarding transubstantiation, we had to know how to spell it in 2nd grade. Along with Immaculate Contraception. :sunglasses: It wasn’t discussed as a complex subject. Just as fact.


I grew up in a non-denominational protestant congregation that could be described as Baptist-lite. The only thing you had to do to be a member of our church was be baptized and fill out an address card. During my younger years, my dad was part of a gospel trio that sang at churches of all denominations across the immediate area. This meant that I got to go to Sunday school in a whole bunch of different churches, and the differences were quite fascinating. One week it was a Lutheran church, then a Methodist church, and even some Seventh-Day Adventist churches. I learned early on that there was quite a spectrum of just protestant churches.

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There is quite a spectrum. One dividing line, if one wanted to make distinctions, is between churches where the pulpit is at the center of things and churches where the altar is at the center of things.

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Another article on the same Gallop poll.

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This is not a surprise and not a tacit endorsement of atheism, as seems @Patrick would like.

“…the love of many will grow cold.”

We also read that persecutions will increase, and we have already talked about that the Carpenter from Galilee speaks to global warming and climate change, @Patrick, if you will recall.

I am glad this is not a surprise as there are millions like me all around you. For me it’s that there is no positive evidence whatsoever, there is no reason to believe in any kind of supernaturalism, so I live my life as though there is nothing supernatural.

Atheism is the absence of religion, there are no Gods. For millions of Americans, and especially young millennials, living a purposeful and meaningful life with any religion or Gods is their chosen pursuit of happiness. Soon it will be the default position in secular America. Better get use to it.

But how much of the decline in church membership becomes an increase in the number of atheists?

Many people my age, even very religious ones who go to church every week, are not members of a church. Even the Nones are often still spiritual/religious and not atheists I think. Most are rejecting formal, institutional structures, but they may not be rejecting the faith itself.

In my area there is a growing “house church” movement of millennials who are very missional and passionate about being Christ-followers, but will generally never step foot in a church. My church has supported some of that, even though they know it results in a decline in “membership”. If I weren’t contractually obligated to be a member of a church, I probably wouldn’t bother. It wouldn’t change my involvement either way.