The decline in Americans describing themselves as evangelicals is larger than most evangelicals imagine. Do evangelical churches have a plan to address this?
Several polling firms have detected a decline in the share of Americans who describe themselves as white evangelicals. The Pew Research Center found a two-percentage-point drop from 2007 to 2012. But when the center expanded the study to cover 2006 to 2016, it found a six-percentage-point drop in the share of the population that identify as white evangelicals, from 23 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2016.
An ABC/Washington Post poll found a still larger decline of eight percentage points. More troubling is Pew’s data indicates just eight percent of young Americans aged 18-29 say they are white evangelicals (26 percent of those aged 65 or older are white evangelical Protestants). The younger the population, the more steep the decline.
This population is becoming a tribe. They’re called “ex-vangelicals” or “exvies.” They’ve left the faith because they feel evangelicalism is formulaic, privatized, politicized, and/or guilty of moral failures they see in the wider world. They’ve uncoupled.
Uncoupled is the key word. In a paper published in 2017, Paul Djupe, Jacob Neiheisel and Anand Sokhey found that people stop attending church when they lose social attachments to their congregations. The social world they live in feels increasingly at odds with the so-called spiritual world they hear about in church. They “uncouple.”
Sociologist Diane Vaughan coined the word “uncoupling” thirty years ago. She studied divorce and discovered it’s rarely due to a momentous event such as an affair or loss of a child. More often than not, it’s a slow drift away from one another, an “uncoupling.”
Ten years ago, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life surveyed 35,000 Americans and discovered that those who are now unaffiliated with their faith said they had “just gradually drifted away.” They uncoupled. Now several polling firms are detecting this uncoupling is accelerating, happening faster than most evangelicals imagine.
Does the evangelical church have a plan to address this? I don’t know. I do know more of the same is not an effective plan. Planting more churches that mainly appeal to just eight percent of young Americans is hardly an effective plan. It’s insanity—doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result.
I run Clapham Institute. We have a plan. It begins with recognizing our decline, working with young leaders like the sons of Issachar who “understood the times, so they knew what to do” (II Chr.12:32). Does this describe you?
If yes, we have a short course for you on March 23rd. We’ll overview two millennia of church history. We’ll discover how the church for 18 centuries changed the world in significant ways. We’ll also discover why we’re seeing two centuries of decline in cultural impact. But here’s the best part. We’ll discover a way forward.
You can register at: http://www.claphaminstitute.org. Main page, upper right, click DONATE. The fee is $20. Once registered, I’ll email the pre-course reading. By taking this course (9:00am-12 noon), you’ll discover why our exile is similar to the Babylonian exile. You’ll see how our plan is based on what the sons of Judah did in Babylon. Will our plan prove effective? Depends. We must draw young believers who recognize our current exile (or, as we like to say, “smell the Babylonian bacon”).
Our plan is bold. It reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt’s speech at the Somme. He lauds the man “who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Clapham has a plan for those who dare greatly. If you are one of those souls, join us on Saturday morning, March 23rd.
 These statistics are taken from “Flocks away” which appeared in the February 28, 2019 edition of the Economist.
 Diane Vaughan, Uncoupling: Turning Points in Intimate Relationships (Vintage, 1990).