Losing my religion...
women drop out of church

Barna Group has been conduction tracking surveys on women and men and religion for 20 years. New analysis of that data shows a decline of interest in church by women.

Women and Faith

No population group among the sixty segments examined has gone through more spiritual changes in the past two decades than women. Of the 14 religious factors studied, women have experienced statistically significant changes related to 10 of them. Of those transitions, eight represent negative movement – that is, either less engagement in common religious behaviors or a shift in belief away from biblical teachings.

Five of the six religious behaviors tracked showed significant change.

Church attendance among women sank by 11 percentage points since 1991, declining to 44%. A majority of women no longer attend church services during a typical week.

Bible reading has plummeted by 10 percentage points, declining from half of all women reading the Bible during a typical week (excluding that done during church events) to just four out of ten doing so today (40%).

Sunday school involvement is less common among women these days, down seven points from the 24% mark noted in 1991.

Women have traditionally been the backbone of volunteer activity in churches. However, there has been a nine point slide in the percentage of women helping out at a church during any given week. That drop reflects a 31% reduction in the non-paid female work force at churches.

The only religious behavior that increased among women in the last 20 years was becoming unchurched. That rose a startling 17 percentage points – among the largest drops in church attachment identified in the research.

The only religious behavior tracked among women that stayed stable was the percentage who attended a church of 600 or more people, which has remained at 16%.

Although the core beliefs of women have undergone comparatively less turbulence, five of the eight beliefs tracked registered significant change.

Women are six percentage points less likely to say their religious faith is very important to them than they were in 1991. Even so, nearly two-thirds of them (63%) hold their faith in high regard.

When it comes to views on the devil, women are five percentage points less likely to write off Satan as merely a symbol of evil. Sixty-one-percent did so in 1991, but that has been reduced to 56% now.

Perceptions of the reliability of the Bible have taken a hit, as the percentage of women who firmly believe the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches has declined by seven percentage points to 42%.

An even larger drop has occurred in the proportion of women who possess an orthodox view of God. Those who contend that God is the “the all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today” has slumped from 80% in 1991 to 70% today.

The percentage of women whose beliefs qualify them to be classified as born again Christians has risen significantly in the past 20 years. In 1991, 38% of woman said they had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that remained important in their life, and also said they believed they would go to Heaven after they died solely because they confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Since then, the figure has increased slightly to 44%.

What do you think is behind these trends?

Comments (2)

It's important to remember that, though their research methods are rigorous, Barna polling skews Evangelical. So, for instance, the questions about the Bible as "accurate in all of the principles it teaches" would probably have showed less change among mainline and progressive Christians. So, too, questions about Satan key into Evangelical theologies that are not representative of broader patterns of Christian belief over time. And, "orthodox view of God" is a pretty loaded phrase. Finally, changes in women's patterns of church involvement are more meaningful if we examine them in the context of men's involvement as both of these are impacted by wider cultural changes. That is, are men more involved in church school and volunteer activities because they're more involved in parenting than they might have been a generation ago.

It seems to me that what we're seeing in this study are changes among Evangelical women--an ideological, theological, and practical mainlining of Christianity. Evangelical analysts carry forward the practice of universalizing their understanding of the category "Christian," but it's important to understand that when they say "Christian women," they mostly mean "Evangelical Christian women."

Thanks, Elizabeth.

I gathered as much, as soon as I read the phrase "a shift in belief away from biblical teachings."

[I trust every *Episcopalian* immediately had the mental rejoinder, "'biblical teachings' according to WHOM???" ;-/]

JC Fisher

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