Tag Archives: data

Growth Of Non-Denominational Protestantism

Among American religious groups, Protestants comprise the largest, with 49% of the adult population, compared to Catholics with 23%, according to the latest Gallup poll conducted in December, 2017.1

Within the Protestant community, the fastest-growing group, by far, are “non-denominational” churches, which the Pew Religious Landscape Study of 2014 estimated as including from 4.9% to 6.5% of the U.S. population, depending on how you define the data.2 The largest Protestant denomination was the Southern Baptist Convention with 5.3% of the population, making “non-denominational” Protestant churches the de facto largest or second-largest denomination.

Data from the General Social Survey revealed that from the 1970s through 2014, the number of non-denominational Protestants grew at a much faster pace than any of the denominations—more than 400% over a forty-year period, shown in the following graph:3

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U.S. Church Participation Changes: Detail

How has membership changed in the largest U.S. religious bodies? The previous post was a bit data-heavy so I’ve created a slightly different version that shows more clearly what occurred in American church participation from 1990-2010.

Below is a list of reported membership totals for the largest groups, in five-year increments from 1990-2010, also from the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA).

The data below are different because they show “membership” figures where the previous was reported “attendance.” For some groups the totals are very close and for others not close at all. (Please see the “Notes” at bottom). But there is only one major discrepancy, and overall the data show the same trend.

Change in U.S. Church Membership, 1990-2010 (negative in red)

Source: ARDA databases, http://www.thearda.com/denoms/Families/groups.asp

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U.S. Church Attendance 1990-2010

As mentioned in previous posts, religion and funeral practices in the U.S. are related, although who influences whom in the relationship is not always clear. People who work in or comment on the funeral business have noted changes in customer preferences that seem to be influenced by religion, and surveys of customers have also noted different attitudes toward funeral options among those with different religious beliefs.

Changes in American religion, therefore, seem worth discussing. Among the most interesting of the changes have been in church participation.

During the past few decades, churches that occupied dominant roles in American culture for a century or longer saw their participation drop steadily while others rose to numerical prominence. If we look at rates of change the trends are dramatic.

Let’s start with the big picture:

From 1990 through 2010 (year of the last comprehensive survey), the U.S. added 11,269 congregations, bringing 5,755,745 new adherents, for a total increased church membership of 7%.

In a secularizing world, it seems pretty impressive that we have such a big, rising tide of faith here in America.

The picture is not so simple, however.

First, as you can see on the graph, some groups have increased while others have decreased.

More illuminating, perhaps, is the data detail, below, for that 7% rising tide:

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Funeral Price Increases Since 1986

Since at least the fourth century BC when Herodotus, the Greek philosopher, reportedly criticized lavish funeral practices1, a common complaint about the funeral business has been that the cost of dying is too high. We’ll look at funeral price ranges in detail in a later post, but for now I’ll note the price of a funeral can easily surpass $10,000, depending on where you live, and cremation might be had for as little as $1,000, also depending on where you live.

In his 1921 study of funeral costs, Quincy Dowd recommended cremation “because enlightened choice sees therein a beautiful and economical, not to say Christian, practice.”2 Forty-two years later, Ruth Harmer said the rate of increasing funeral prices was so steep that regardless of how frugally they lived, most people were “dying beyond their means.”3

And we won’t even mention She Who Shall Not Be Named.

Whether something is “too expensive” is not an easy question to answer without context. Providing that context is one of the main rationales of Rational Death.

In comparison to other things we buy, prices of caskets and overall funeral expenses have increased more quickly. That is the conclusion of a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) titled “The rising cost of dying, 1986–2017.”

As shown in the following graph “the price of funerals in the United States has risen almost twice as fast as consumer prices for all items. From December 1986 to September 2017, funeral expenses rose 227.1 percent, while prices for all items rose 123.4 percent.”4

Change in consumer prices, 1986-2017

Below is a summary of the BLS data covering 1986-2017.

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