The working class gone missing

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There was news last month that contrary to most people’s expectation, the more educated an American is, the more likely that person is to attend church regularly. So why are the mainstream churches in the U.S. losing membership across the board? Apparently it’s because the working class Americans are less and less likely to be found in congregations.


Brad Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, finds that moderately educated people (who have a High School degree but have not attended college) show a correlation between their marriage rate and their participation in regular religious activity.

The Wall Street Journal reports on his finding:

“Pooling data from the 1970s, from the General Social Survey, the researchers found that, in that era, 50% of moderately educated white Americans, ages 25 to 44, attended church at least monthly. That was basically indistinguishable from the figure for the college-educated: 51%. For people accustomed to asserting that “elites” scorn worship, the latter figure in itself might be surprising. Churchgoing rates were much lower for whites lacking a high school degree: 38%.

By the 2000s, however, moderately educated whites had begun to drift away from church. Among those aged 25 to 44, only 37% attended church monthly. Church-going rates also dropped, but less sharply, for the college-educated: 46%. Meanwhile, the figure for the least-educated whites was 23%.

[…]“While we recognize that not everyone wishes to worship,” they write, “and that religious diversity can be valuable, we also think that the existence of a large group in the middle of the American stratification system that is increasingly disconnected from religious institutions is troubling for our society. This development is especially troubling because it only reinforces the social marginalization of working class whites who are also increasingly disconnected from the institutions of marriage and work.””

More here.

This labor day weekend, it’s worth pondering what is happening to the working class in this country. And what the Church needs to do better to be able reach them.

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A Facebook User
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A Facebook User

I wonder whether part of the problem is the rise of near-universal seminary education for clergy since WW2? Not sure whether this was the case in TEC, but in other denominations 50 years ago churches were often served by preachers with minimal training or circuit preachers who only visited a given congregation every month or so. In between, they would depend on lay preachers. While these lay preachers may have been less sophisticated theologically, they may well have connected better with the average parishioner. I pastored while I was in seminary and found that I often had to restrain myself from talking over peoples' heads.

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John B. Chilton
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John B. Chilton

Blue laws give people another use of their non-work time as well -- that's more blue collar folks than are working on Sunday.

But I really doubt that blue laws are much of an explanation. It's blue laws and all the other attractive uses of your time on Sunday morning.

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John Bassett
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John Bassett

Well, to some degree these are the people who are now working on Sunday at the stores and restaurants and in other service occupations. Blue Laws at least gave the working class the option of going to church.

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