Surprising Stats Every Pastor Should Know

Even though I read it a few years ago, Robert Wuthnow’s After the Baby Boomers continues to influence the way I think about ministry and the people with whom I do ministry. Here are some big demographic takeaways I got from his book:

  • In the 1970’s married couples were a majority of the population (59%). Now they are atypical (31%). This shift alone accounts for most of the membership “decline” of churches because the biggest predictor of church membership is marital status. (p. 23)
  • Young adults are more likely to be financially strapped. They have lower wage growth and higher bankruptcy. This is one major variable in later average age of marriage and the general decline of marriage. (p.35)
  • Belief in the afterlife has risen since 1972. Other beliefs have not changed much. Views of the Bible’s inspiration have not changed much since 1976.  Views of Jesus’ divinity have not changed much either. (p. 97 & 98)
  • So-called literalists “hedge their bets” when describing the exclusivity of their faith. While claiming belief in Jesus’ divinity is necessary, they do not claim their own religion is for everyone. Most say “it is best for me.” (p. 105)
  • Young adults with no college education have become less orthodox while college-educated adults have become more so. (p. 108)
  • 1 in 3 young adults has attended a mosque or temple. (p. 116)
  • 4 in 5 young adults say they talk with friends about religion once a year. 2 in 5 say they talk about religion once a week. (p. 119)
  • There’s a huge discrepancy between attitudes toward premarital sex and actual behavior. Evangelical unmarried adults do it about as much as every other demographic even though they disapprove at much higher levels. (p. 139). I have a theory about this that I will share in a later post.
  • Opinions against premarital sex have risen since the 70’s among all denominations except Roman Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated, which remain about the same. (p. 140)
  • Mainline Protestants voted more consistently for Republicans than evangelicals did until 1980. That’s when a major switch began to happen. (p. 169)
  • More young adults than older adults believe it is okay for political candidates to talk about their faith. (p. 171)