When I was a youth pastor a few years ago, I came across some interesting statistics regarding teenagers. I don’t remember exactly where each stat came from, but I certainly remember the numbers because they created an impression on my mind. One of the sources that I do remember was the National Study of Youth and Religion,1 which is perhaps the most reliable social study on teenagers and their faith.
So, this isn’t going to be one of those academic posts, but rather a useful discussion-starter. Anyhow, let’s get into it.
If you survey American teenagers (13-17 years old) and ask them, “What percentage of your classmates are sexually active?” on average they will reply with somewhere between 75 – 90%. In other words, teenagers see the vast majority of their age demographic as being sexually active. That is their perception. In reality, however, only about 20% of American teens are actually sexually active.
So, here’s the question: On the whole, are American teenagers a sexually active age demographic?
I would argue that regardless of what most teenagers think, the truth is that people between the ages of 13 and 17 do not constitute a sexually active demographic.
Now, let’s maintain that line of logic and move on over to a different topic.
According to recent studies from the Pew Research Center, if you asked Americans in 2014 what their religious affiliation was, a little over 70% of them claimed to be some sort of “Christian.” This is down from 78%, which is what the studies showed back in 2007. Even so, that is a clear majority. But is that really an accurate representation?
Consider that even though the vast majority of Americans claim to be “Christian,” only about 40% of Americans actually admit to attending church weekly. Now, while that might not seem so bad (it’s almost half… sorta), when you actually look at attendance, it turns out that only 20% of Americans actually attend church!2 To make matters worse, ask any pastor and they will tell you that on average only about 20% of those who do attend church are actively involved.3
When you do the math, it turns out that even though the vast majority of Americans claim to be “Christian,” in actuality only about 4% of Americans are actively involved in their faith.
So, here’s the question: On the whole, is America a Christian nation?
I would argue that regardless of what most Americans claim, the truth is that people who live in the United States do not constitute a Christian nation.
What do you think?
1: See Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, (Oxford University Press, 2005).
2: See Thom and Joani Schultz, Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore (Group Publishing, 2013).
3: Of course, there are always outlier churches with a much higher or lower participation rate. But, on the whole, having discussed this with church leaders all across the country, 20% seems to be the norm.